This offseason, the Blue Jays have a few different players heading to free agency who had a major impact on the 2021 roster.
Infielder Marcus Semien, LHP Robbie Ray, and LHP Steven Matz are all hitting the open market this winter, and while the club has expressed interest in bringing them back next season and beyond, there has been no recent update as to where the club stands in regards to re-signing any of these pending free agents. This makes sense considering the World Series isn’t over yet but there have been at least some contract discussions with both Semien and Ray, which is better than no news or drama unfolding between both sides.
If Matz and Ray both decide to leave the team, the Blue Jays will have two holes to fill in the rotation behind Hyun Jin Ryu, Jose Berrios, and Alek Manoah.
There are some internal options who could fill in like Ross Stripling, Thomas Hatch, Nate Pearson (if they don’t put him back in the bullpen next year), Anthony Kay, and a few other prospects waiting in the wings. While these players do have some experience at the Major League level, it will be tough to replace Matz or Ray without looking outside the organization for assistance.
That being said, the free-agent market is shaping up to be one of the most stacked in recent memory, with a loaded middle infield class leading the charge as well as some veteran starting pitchers looking for short-term deals. This could work in the Blue Jays favour, as a short term deal with an experienced pitcher could help the club reach the postseason in the while not impacting the possibility for the front office to try and save money for contract extensions or some of the younger core who are reaching the more expensive arbitration-eligible years over the next few seasons.
Some big names are going to be available like Kevin Gausman, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, and Zack Greinke as well as some names who fit lower in the excitement tier like Corey Kluber, Johnny Cueto, and J.A. Happ. There are also some players who could be interesting if they are available at the right price but come with considerable risks like Noah Syndergaard (injury), Justin Verlander (injury), and Jon Lester (recent struggles).
The Blue Jays could lose Matz and Ray to free agency this offseason, with the club potentially looking to sign a veteran pitcher to a short-term contract.
Scherzer will be one of the top names this offseason given how well he pitched in 2021 and that he would not have any impact on the Blue Jays draft considering he cannot be offered a qualifying offer because he was traded midseason. The right-hander would require some significant money to get a deal done but a short-term contract could provide some power at the top of the rotation that could go a long way while not impacting the long-term financial plans of the organization.
Gausman is a pitcher the Jays will likely revisit with this offseason considering they offered him a deal last winter but he eventually signed the QO from the San Francisco Giants. He too will require some significant capital considering he posted some great numbers in his “prove it” year and will be looking for a longer-term contract than someone like Scherzer or Kershaw. Kershaw is another pitcher the club could look to sign but I cannot see a scenario where the southpaw is pitching on a team other than the Dodgers, but stranger things have happened.
While pitchers like Cueto and Happ will be available, flashbacks of the Blue Jays signing Tanner Roark keep flooding my memories and if the club is going to go after an impact type pitcher, it may be best to avoid the more veteran arms who appear to be regressing rather than getting better. At that rate, it would seem more beneficial to pocket the money and spend it elsewhere and let Hatch and Stripling take the last two spots in the rotation if they cannot resign Ray or Matz and strike out on a premium veteran starter.
Lastly, the club could take a gamble on someone like Syndergaard or Verlander who have missed some significant time on the injured list these past couple of seasons. There is the possibility that either player could find their old groove and pitch well but there is also the potential that they don’t pitch well or could end up back on the IL just like Kirby Yates did prior to the 2021 campaign. Verlander does have an impressive track record and Syndergaard does have ties to the Jays organization, but it will be interesting to see if either player gets presented with a QO and how that may impact their free agency.
Could the Jays look to sign a veteran player to a short-term contract if Matz and Ray leave the club this offseason? Should the Jays look for more controllable players like Gausman instead?