The Blue Jays have all kinds of rumours connecting them to upgrades for their lineup, but it’s much quieter on the pitching front. There’s a reason for that.
If there’s a quality free agent position player available, there’s probably at least a handful of reports floating around the rumour mill connecting them to interest from the Blue Jays.
It’s clear that Ross Atkins and the front office have cast a wide net when it comes to improving the big league roster this offseason, and the bulk of the focus has been on the premium position players. We’ve heard various rumours linking them to George Springer, J.T. Realmuto, D.J. LeMahieu, as well as several former All-Stars that could be had through the trade market. Atkins has even gone as far as basically admitting that their focus has been more on position players than on upgrading their pitching staff.
At first glance that seems misguided, as there’s still a clear need in the rotation, especially if they’re serious about competing in 2021. Right now the group would include Hyun Jin Ryu, Nate Pearson, Robbie Ray, Tanner Roark, Ross Stripling, and a handful of others, and that’s not going to cut it. After potentially losing both Ken Giles and Anthony Bass to free agency (Giles is also recovering from Tommy John surgery), the bullpen could use a boost as well. With that in mind, why isn’t the priority on the pitchers?
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Simply put, the free agent market doesn’t have a lot of premium options this winter, at least for starters. My guess is the Blue Jays would ultimately like to acquire a starter that can slot no worse than second in the rotation behind Ryu. Beyond Trevor Bauer‘s ace-calibre performance, there aren’t a lot of top-tier options available. Masahiro Tanaka could arguably qualify, but he’s also nearly certain to re-sign with the Yankees. James Paxton‘s health has been a major hang up for him over the last few years, and a lot would have to go right for him to fill that role. Corey Kluber could be that guy if he’s healthy as well, but it’s been two years since he’s been able to consistently contribute. Honestly, their best bet on the free agent market may be bringing back Taijuan Walker.
The more I’m watching how things are unfolding (or are stuck in limbo) the more it makes sense to me that Atkins and company are focusing their free agent efforts on improving the lineup. In theory, if they can make an impact addition to the lineup, that may also free up a solid player to use as a trade chip. For instance, if they do sign George Springer, that likely means that one of Randal Grichuk or Lourdes Gurriel Jr. gets traded, and the latter in particular could bring back a nice return.
That’s not to suggest that the Blue Jays aren’t kicking the tires on the available starters, as they have been linked to the likes of Kevin Gausman (who accepted the Qualifying Offer to stay in San Francisco) and Jake Odorizzi, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they did sign another arm before Opening Day. In reality, they could probably use at least two more quality starters anyway.
They’ll be at the mercy of what pitchers could be available on the trade market, but that list could grow over the winter, especially if there won’t be fans in the stands again next season. As we’ve seen, many teams are not only reluctant to spend on improvements, but quality players like Brad Hand, Eddie Rosario, and many more have been non-tendered and cut loose. It could get worse if we get to late January or February and the situation hasn’t improved with the Covid-19 pandemic, and that will likely be the case.
For now, it makes sense that the Blue Jays are keeping their options open, but also that they appear to be focusing their attention on free agent position players. Based on the available market, it adds up.