Blue Jays: How many names in ink? Not as many as you’d think

Aug 17, 2021; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Alek Manoah (6) pitches against the Washington Nationals in the second inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 17, 2021; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Alek Manoah (6) pitches against the Washington Nationals in the second inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports /
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Aug 18, 2021; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Jose Berrios (17) throws to the Washington Nationals during the first inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports /

Written in ink into the rotation

Just as there are many questions about how the lineup could look, the rotation could be in a similar spot. Here’s what I’ve got down at this point:

1- Hyun Jin Ryu
2- Jose Berrios
3- Alek Manoah
4- ?
5- ?

The good news is they’ll start with a rock solid foundation of Ryu, Berrios, and Manoah for a top three. Ryu has two years remaining on the deal he signed ahead of the 2020 campaign, and Berrios has one more season before he’ll become a free agent. As a pre-arbitration eligible rookie, Manoah should be around for many years.

After that I would suggest that there are three questions that Atkins and his front office team will need to answer. The obvious place to start is with the pending free agency of their ace and Cy Young candidate in Robbie Ray. A month ago I would have argued that it was a foregone conclusion that the two sides would work out a new deal, but Ray has been so good during the second half (and the entire season, really) that he’s likely pitching himself into one of the top spots on this winter’s free agency list. I’m confident the Jays will try to bring him back, but if and when the bidding gets over 100 million they may have second thoughts.

Ideally the Blue Jays would be able to retain Ray, and if they’re really lucky then Nate Pearson could fill the fifth spot in the rotation. The long-time premium prospect has battled a host of different injuries as he’s tried to get his MLB career started, and I’m sure he’s looking forward to a clean slate in 2022. If he can pitch up to his potential then he could be the best 5th starter in baseball, but that comes with a lot big ifs.

The third is the status of Steven Matz, who has pitched so well in August that he’s making a great argument for a new contract as well. My guess is that he could be a back-up plan if they were to lose Ray, and that’s mostly because of the presence of Ross Stripling, who still has one year remaining of contract control, and who proved himself as a more than capable back-end starter.

They’ll likely seek some additional veteran depth if they can find it, but for the most part the Blue Jays rotation has been quietly excellent in 2021. If they can manage to keep Ray, they could be an elite group next season.