Blue Jays: Tanner Roark on a Short Leash in 2021

David Corcoran
CLEARWATER, FLORIDA - MARCH 05: Tanner Roark #14 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch during the first inning of a Grapefruit League spring training game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Spectrum Field on March 05, 2020 in Clearwater, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)
CLEARWATER, FLORIDA - MARCH 05: Tanner Roark #14 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch during the first inning of a Grapefruit League spring training game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Spectrum Field on March 05, 2020 in Clearwater, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) /
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No Blue Jays player took as much of a beating from critics in 2020 like Tanner Roark, and some of it may have been deserved.

GM Ross Atkins signed Roark to a two-year deal worth $24 Million after his 2019 campaign that saw him split the season between Cincinnati and Oakland, and where he posted a 10-10 record with a 4.35 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP.  Many questioned the heavy contract over a such a mediocre year, however, between 2014-2017 Roark posted 13+ wins three times and had a sub 2.90 ERA in two of those years.  Atkins was betting that Roark was going to be more of the earlier years than the later.

Unfortunately for Blue Jays fans 2020 was by far Roark’s worst season, and saw his ERA balloon up by over two runs per game higher than his career average.  He failed to pitch more than five innings in any of his 11 starts and couldn’t get out of the fourth inning during all of his five starts in September.  These were the reasons why so many are down on Roark and don’t believe he can’t get back to his earlier years.

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The Toronto Blue Jays are in win-now mode for the 2021 season and with that, Roark may be on a very short leash.  The question will be what type of leash will Atkins give Roark this season?  In recent memory Atkins has had a history of giving players that he has brought into the organization an extra-long look (see Derek Fisher), but has eaten large amounts of cash to move the team forward (see Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin).

Going into Spring Training, the Blue Jays have three pitchers that can be penciled into the starting rotation (pending injuries) which would be Hyun Jin Ryu, Robbie Ray, and Nate Pearson, while Steven Matz is as close to a lock in the rotation as possible.  That leaves players such as Anthony Kay, Thomas Hatch, Trent Thornton, T.J. Zeuch, Ross Stripling and Jacob Waguespack, along with Roark battling for the last two spots.  Roark will likely have the inside track on one of those rotation spots, but with lot of pitchers who are younger and have a brighter upside, Roark will likely have to pitch well enough to hold the spot.

Saturday afternoon, Roark took the first steps in maintaining a spot in the rotation.  The veteran got the start against the Philadelphia Phillies where he pitched two innings.  Roark needed just 27 pitches (16 strikes) to get through two scoreless frames where he struck out one and allowed just one hit.  While you may feel done with Roark, if he can return to his numbers from 2014-2017 he could become a valuable part of the 2021 rotation.

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What are your thoughts on Roark? Do you still have hope for the veteran right-handed pitcher?

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