Depending on how things play out in free agency, the Blue Jays might need to look for more than one starter, however, they do have some in-house solutions as well.
At the end of the season the Blue Jays’ top five starting pitchers were Robbie Ray, Jose Berrios, Alek Manoah, Hyun Jin Ryu, and Steven Matz, making for one of the best and deepest groups in baseball. Unfortunately it’s going to cost them a pretty penny if they want to run it back with the same five, and I suspect that at least one of Ray or Matz will be pitching in a new uniform in 2022.
While I’m more than confident that the Blue Jays are prepared to invest in their rotation, it’s easier said than done. They may have limits are around how far they’re willing to go to retain the two free agent southpaws, and they still have to convince potential free agents to join them in Toronto. That said, I think there’s a pretty decent back-up plan in place at least as far as rounding out the top five.
No matter what, I expect that the Blue Jays will sign at least one starter that will fit into their top four, and likely higher. The ideal fit would be to bring back the likely AL Cy Young winner in Ray, which would give their top four a look like this:
If signing Ray means that they can’t or won’t retain Matz, which I believe would be the case, how can they fill that fifth spot? In my mind, this is the place for Nate Pearson to start the 2022 season.
To be fair, I completely understand the skeptics when it comes to Pearson’s ability to stay healthy. Being able to stay on the mound has been the Achilles heel for the fireballer’s career so far, and 2021 was no exception. That said, Pearson has the kind of elite arm that teams want to provide as many chances as they can for, and I expect the Jays will do just that again next season.
I believe that they can feel fairly confident in doing this because of the presence of a couple of back-up plans that are already on the roster. The first would be Ross Stripling, who has served as a swing-man throughout his six-year MLB career between the Jays and L.A. Dodgers. Stripling’s final numbers from 2021 don’t look that impressive on paper, but fans shouldn’t forget how well he pitched as a starter over the summer. He struggled a bit to begin the year, but was good for a 3.18 ERA and a 1.059 WHIP over five starts and 28.1 innings in the month of June. As far as fifth starters go, he would be more than fine.
If Stripling is not in the rotation then he’ll more than likely fill a role in the bullpen, and hopefully be able to stay stretched out enough to contribute as a starter as well. It’s possible he could also be used to give someone like Ryu the occasional rest, so his role could be a lot bigger than it may look on Opening Day.
The Blue Jays also have some organizational arms that could help reinforce the back of the bullpen, even if there wasn’t a whole lot to build on from the 2021 campaign for this trio. That could include the likes of Thomas Hatch, Anthony Kay, and even Trent Thornton, who battled a variety of injuries and ineffectiveness throughout the year. I’m not suggesting any of the three will be All-Stars in 2022, but I expect each of them to have a better season than we saw from them this year.
On top of all of that, I expect the Jays to be in the market for some veteran depth that they could ideally stash in Triple-A until they need it. That might not come in the form of the sexiest options, but there will be a few guys looking to hang around the league for minimal pay days. There’s also the possibility that Ross Atkins and company could look for another one-year, “prove it” contract to hand out, like the kind that worked so well for both Ray and Marcus Semien in 2021. To that end, how fun would it be to see Noah Syndergaard back in Toronto looking to re-establish his value?
I suspect that it’ll be a while before the Blue Jays resolve their rotation plans for the 2022 season, but the good news is that they have some internal options to cover the back of the rotation. With a lineup that should be as powerful as any in baseball, the Jays have some potential flexibility that could really pay off, and hopefully will result in Pearson not only getting an opportunity, but seizing it too.