While Jose Berrios‘ Blue Jays tenure isn’t off to the greatest of starts, it’s far too early to feel any remorse about the blockbuster July trade.
The Blue Jays paid a very big price to acquire the 27 year old hurler, sending two of their top prospects in Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson to Minnesota on July 30. At the time of the deal Berrios was 7-5 with a 3.48 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP over 20 starts and 121.2 innings pitched for the Twins, and unfortunately that success hasn’t followed him to his new team. Through his first five starts as a Blue Jay he’s now 1-2 with a 4.81 ERA and a 1.64 WHIP, throwing 24.1 innings.
Those aren’t exactly the type of numbers that we were hoping to see from the high-priced new addition to the roster, but having said that, it’s way too early to overreact. Perhaps we were spoiled with the magical run that David Price went on in 2015, the last time the Blue Jays went out and got a top-tier starting pitcher on the trade market, but this is a very different situation.
In my mind there are two or even three reasons that Blue Jays fans are already starting to get nervous about the early returns, and that’s on top of the rough start to his tenure in Toronto. For the first we won’t know the value of the deal for at least a few years, and that’ll depend on the futures of both Martin and Woods Richardson.
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It’s never easy giving up top tier prospects, and the duo was among the most exciting in the Blue Jays’ system. It’s entirely possible that the trade comes back to haunt Ross Atkins, but for now it’s simply not worth overanalyzing. Look back at what the Jays gave up to acquire Price and Troy Tulowitzki in separate deals at the 2015 deadline, a time when many accused then-GM Alex Anthopoulos of being reckless, and you’ll likely feel better about the Berrios deal. Prospects are still prospects, at least until they’re not.
The second is the fact that the Jays were hoping to compete for a playoff spot this season, and unfortunately they’ve now fallen 5.5 games back of the 2nd Wild Card position, and have even dipped below a 10% chance of catching up with 38 games to play, at least according to Fangraphs. Acquiring Berrios had extra appeal because in theory they would have at least two seasons with him in the rotation to take a real run at a World Series. Now it appears the first of those two opportunities has gone to waste.
The third is a bit more complicated, and it’s possible that not that many fans are thinking this far ahead. That said, I’ve seen a few connections to Berrios and pending free agent Robbie Ray, and a fair question of whether they can retain both. Ray will be a free agent at season’s end, and has been so good in 2021 that he’s a legitimate candidate for the AL Cy Young award. After signing a one year, eight million dollar pact to return to the Jays this season, it’s a near lock that Ray will at least double his annual salary, and do so on a multi-year pact.
The reason I bring up Ray’s situation is because the Blue Jays are going to have some tough decisions to make this winter, and several more in the not so distant future. Can they afford to pay Ray a salary in the range of 20 million per season, and still have budget room to make an extension offer to Berrios as well? I’m all but certain that the plan has always been to try and get Berrios to stick around in Toronto for more than the season and a half he had left on his contract, but that’s not going to come cheap either. As much as we’d like to think the payroll is endless, with big salaries for George Springer, Hyun Jin Ryu, it’s going to be nearly impossible to keep everybody.
With two more seasons of Ryu, at least one more from Berrios, and the emergence of Alek Manoah, I’m sure I’m not the only one thinking that the Jays are more comfortable letting Ray walk because they acquired Berrios. That kind of thing happens in baseball as teams juggle payrolls, but it would be a little easier to swallow the idea if their newest starter was pitching up to his own standards.
I know I said two or three, but I’ll throw another reinforcement to not panic about the Berrios deal. Quite simply, it’s only been five starts, and the first two were quality outings from the right-hander. It’s far too small of a sample size to make a judgement on, even if his recent struggles have been as ill-timed as the Blue Jays offence going ice cold.