The Blue Jays rebuild has gone very well, and quite quickly as they look to return to contender status. Part of the reason for that is Ross Atkins has avoided repeated mistakes.
There haven’t been a lot of mistakes made by this front office group, and overall they’ve done an excellent job of creating a new era of Blue Jays baseball, complete with a total overall of the identity of the franchise. Youngsters like Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio and more have replaced former stars like Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson, and have already made Toronto an attractive enough destination to land impact free agents like George Springer and Hyun Jin Ryu.
All that said, they haven’t been perfect in their pursuit of building a World Series contender, and one of their projected starters will look to change the narrative about his case in particular. When the Jays signed Tanner Roark to a two-year, 24 million dollar contract ahead of the 2020 campaign, he was seen as a reliable veteran who should pitch well enough to take some pressure off of the bullpen, and to give a high-powered offence a pretty consistent chance to win. After a 6.80 ERA and a 1.781 WHIP over 11 starts in the first season of his contract, let’s just say the Blue Jays are still waiting for the return on their investment.
I’m not saying that Roark can’t bounce back and offer the Blue Jays a lot more value in 2021, and in fact, I’m confident he’ll be better and hopefully at least eat some innings. However, it’s interesting that the Blue Jays had such mild interest in opportunities to upgrade their current rotation, with Jake Odorizzi signing in Houston as their latest miss. The same happened with Taijuan Walker heading to the Mets last month, and James Paxton returning to Seattle on a one year deal. In each case it felt like the Jays could have made a competitive offer, but for one reason or another that didn’t happen. Maybe they are tapped out financially for now, but their recent renewed interest in Odorizzi suggests otherwise.
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My assumption is that Atkins and company just don’t want to hand a multi-year contract to a mid-rotation starter again, and in some ways I can understand that. Roark was viewed as a bit of a “sure thing” in terms of what he should provide, and that didn’t work out at all. Odorizzi would have been viewed in a similar light, although with a slightly highly ceiling. Although when you compare the career numbers of the two, it gets interesting.
Tanner Roark (34 years old)
Career starts: 183
bWAR: 18.7 (8 seasons)
Jake Odorizzi (31 years old)
Career starts: 192
bWAR: 12.4 (9 seasons)
They’re not the same pitcher at all, and I’m only using a handful of stats to make the comparison. However, the point is that the expectation would be for the production a #3-4 starter, and hopefully some rotation stability. As I’ve watched Atkins work over the last couple winters, it would seem that he’s a lot more interested in one-year deals, especially when they’re under 10 million per year. Whether that’s re-upping with Robbie Ray for eight million, or trading for Steven Matz and his 5.2 million dollar contract, the Blue Jays are hoping for similar production at a lesser cost.
As they learned in 2020, there’s no such thing as a sure bet in the starting rotation, even if the expectations aren’t that high. I was definitely in favour of the Blue Jays signing someone like Odorizzi, Paxton, or bringing back Walker, but I can also understand the rationale in saving your money and waiting for even better later on.