There were many critics of the Blue Jays trade to acquire Jose Berrios at the time, but hindsight gives the deal even more perspective these days.
To be fair, we won’t know who won the huge swap between the Blue Jays and Twins that saw Berrios coming to Toronto, and top prospects Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson head to Minnesota, for at least a few years. It was a steep price for the Blue Jays to pay, but getting a quality starter like Berrios was never going to be cheap, especially with an extra year of contract control in 2022 before he can become a free agent.
As I reflect on the trade as we near the end of October, it makes even more sense to me than it did at the time, and for a variety of reasons. Allow me to explain.
1- The obvious
The Blue Jays wanted to upgrade their rotation in order to pursue a postseason spot in 2021, and ideally to do the same next season. Berrios should help them achieve that goal, even if they came up just one year short of a Wild Card berth this year.
2- We didn’t know Manoah was THIS good already
Once again, the benefit of hindsight provides some pretty valuable perspective, especially when it comes to Alek Manoah. I think I can comfortably speak for most Jays fans when I say that we were all high on his potential, but I’m guessing he passed pretty much everyone’s expectations in his rookie campaign. That’s especially the case after not getting to play professional baseball last year during the pandemic and cancelled minor league season.
At the time that Berrios was acquired Manoah 2.90 ERA across his first eight starts, and was showing some really encouraging signs. However, I’m not sure that even the most optimistic baseball people expected him to keep up the premium production throughout the rest of the regular season, but that’s exactly what he did.
Manoah looks poised to be a huge part of the rotation plans in 2022, but that wasn’t a guarantee at the time that Berrios came along. Having both is obviously even better, but it’s not hard to see why the Jays wanted to secure a top-end starter at the time that they did it, especially with such a special offence coming together.
3- Ryu was showing signs of wear
As much as I think fans are being way too cynical about Hyun Jin Ryu’s future, I’ll acknowledge that he didn’t look like the same pitcher down the stretch, and also that stamina could be an issue going forward.
After a solid start to the season in April and May, Ryu really struggled to get through the month of June. He turned things around a bit in July, but by then the Blue Jays may have already understood that they could use some reinforcements at the top of the rotation, and Manoah hadn’t done quite enough to earn that level of trust just yet.
Again, it’s not that Ryu can’t provide value to this rotation, because he absolutely will, but expecting him to be an ace-level performer going forward is probably unrealistic. Bringing in someone like Berrios knocks him down one rung on the depth chart, and makes the group stronger as a whole. The Jays may have understood all along that this would be a reinforcement that they’ve have to make, and thankfully did just that.
4- Ray truly proved himself down the stretch
As good as Robbie Ray was throughout the entire year, his late-season work was when he turned me from an excited fan into a true believer.
I’m guessing that the Blue Jays probably went through a similar transition, even if they understood his potential a lot better than I did. Ray went from the kind of starter that receives a one-year, eight million dollar contract to potentially winning a Cy Young award and securing a nine-figure deal. He was well on his way to a huge payday by the time the Jays traded for Berrios, but I believe that he cemented his status as an ace-level performer with his work over the last two months, excluding his last start.
This could be applicable to Berrios in one of two ways. On one hand the Jays may not have fully believed that Ray was “the guy”, and could have wanted to shore up the rotation for a playoff run. Like I said about Manoah earlier, having them all is even better, but I don’t know that anyone should have expected Ray to perform the way he did for pretty much the entire season, and even getting stronger near the end. It would make sense if the Jays’ front office still felt a need at that time.
On the other hand, that may have been around the time that they understood that Ray was going to be a lot more expensive than they thought if they wanted to keep him around beyond 2021. The hard-throwing southpaw reigned in the control problems that plagued him earlier in his career, and the results were overwhelmingly positive by comparison. I’m confident that the Blue Jays are still going to be interested in retaining him if they can, but having Berrios under contract for at least one more year makes for a far less urgent situation.
Having covered all of that, imagine that the worst case scenario had played out instead of the Blue Jays ending up with one of the strongest rotations in baseball. Imagine if Ray had fallen back to earth, Manoah needed to go back to Triple-A to work on something, and Ryu showed those signs of wear and tear, or had even ended up injured. That would have left the Jays with Ryu, Manoah, Ross Stripling and Nate Pearson as guaranteed contracts heading into the offseason, and it could have been a bleak situation.
Instead Atkins and the Blue Jays actually sitting in a stronger position with their rotation than they were a year ago. They’ll for sure return a rotation that includes Berrios, Manoah, and Ryu, and they have the resources to make strong offers to Ray and/or Matz as well. A big part of that security comes from knowing that Berrios can pitch at or near the top of the rotation, and even if he came as a costly price, it could be a more than fair one to pay as this team looks to return to the playoffs in 2022.