When the Blue Jays traded for Jose Berrios of the Minnesota Twins, they did it for multiple reasons beyond him just being a talented starting pitcher.
Obviously that was the starting place for Ross Atkins and his front office team, as they’ve been on the hunt for another top-tier starter for a while. They’ve benefitted from the emergence of Robbie Ray, who has joined Hyun Jin Ryu in that tier, but the addition of Berrios gives the Blue Jays another layer of talent at the top, and a much scarier playoff rotation should they qualify.
When the trade went down and the return to Minnesota was announced, there were a lot of fans and writers that were a bit shocked to see both Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson going the other way. I saw several tweets that made statements like, “if you were going to give up that much, why not grab Max Scherzer instead?”. It was rumoured that the Blue Jays were in touch with the Nationals about Scherzer, but ultimately I believe that Berrios was the best fit that was potentially available on the trade market this summer.
The biggest difference between a guy like Berrios and Scherzer is the extra year of contact control. Scherzer is set to become a free agent at the end of this season, and the Dodgers are going to have to pay a premium if they want to keep him around. Despite being 37 years old I sincerely doubt that they have any issue with that (other than their gargantuan payroll that they don’t seem to have any regard for), but that can come with risk at an advanced age for a pitcher, even one headed for the Hall of Fame like Scherzer.
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By comparison, Berrios is just 27 years old and has one additional year of contract control for the Blue Jays. For a team that’s currently on the outside looking in at the playoff race, acquiring a pitcher with control made a lot more sense, as they can look forward to a full season of his services in 2022 when they make another run at the playoffs. My guess is that the Jays will look to sign Robbie Ray to another extension at the end of the season, but Berrios’ presence also helps protect the rotation in the event that he leaves.
Speaking of Ray, trading for a guy like Berrios may give the Blue Jays a better chance of keeping their Big 3 together at the top of their rotation. I say that because the Berrios is making just 6.1 million in 2021, and even as he’s due for a raise through the arbitration process, it’s doubtful he’ll make much more than 10 million in 2022. The Blue Jays will have plenty of payroll considerations that determine their moves going forward, but that relatively low salary gives them a lot more wiggle room, especially when you compare it to the 25-30 million annually they likely would have had to pay Scherzer to get him to agree to an extension. In theory, you might be able to have Ray and Berrios for the same price as one Scherzer, at least for one season anyway.
I’m also excited to see how Berrios fits in with this tightly knit group as he’s welcomed to a pennant race with his new team. There’s no doubt that the Jays will be excited to have him, and they’ve built a culture around this roster that looks like a lot of fun. For a relatively young 27 year old joining a franchise that should have an extremely bright future, the Jays have more than a year to convince him to stick around. As a Latin American player from Puerto Rico, it wouldn’t be surprising to see guys like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and Teoscar Hernandez take him under their wing in an unfamiliar clubhouse. If that’s the case it won’t be long until he’s smiling and laughing along with them in the dugout.
Add it all up, and while Berrios might not have the same pedigree as a guy like Scherzer, his fit in Toronto probably makes a lot more sense. For a pitcher that’s arguably just hitting his prime, he may even have more room to grow. If he can simply be himself with his new team, the Blue Jays may look back at this trade as an important checkpoint in their pursuit of a third World Series championship.