Hyun Jin Ryu was the 2021 opening day starter for the Toronto Blue Jays and by the end of the season was arguably the fifth most effective pitcher in the rotation. Normally this would be a cause for concern, but for the Jays, it spoke to how great their rotation was by the end of the year.
As a team, the starting pitchers ended the season with the sixth-best ERA in MLB at 3.79 and 11th in fWAR (13.0) according to FanGraphs. But interestingly they ranked third in both ERA (3.53) and fWar (9.1) from July 1st onward. In addition to the unexpected Cy Young campaign of Robbie Ray and unsung heroics of Steven Matz, their great second half was supplemented by the acquisition of Jose Berrios and a stellar rookie performance by Alek Manoah. Though unfortunately, it all came together a little too late.
Moving forward, the long-term lockup of Berrios doesn’t necessarily mean the Toronto Blue Jays aren’t looking for top-tier pitching, especially via trade. But like many folks in 1999 looking to expand on their repertoire of dance moves, it might be worthwhile, for the time being, to move on from raising the roof, and explore how they could lift the rotation’s floor.
As of now the Blue Jays have three arms locked into the starting rotation, and although Berrios’ status as an ace is debatable, he and a full season of Manoah make for a pretty solid top of the rotation. Ryu who despite a shaky ending to last season, still ought to be productive, albeit his in-game leash may be a litter shorter as he enters his age 35 season.
This leaves two spots that need to be filled as Ray and Matz’s future with the club remains uncertain. While they do have the inhouse possibilities of Ross Stripling, who pitched an adequate 86.1 innings as a starter for them in 2021, and the optimistic option of Nate Pearson who pitched a less than adequate 2.1 innings, it might be worthwhile to search elsewhere for value to fill at least one of those spots.
Fortunately, this year’s free-agent class for starting pitchers is an embarrassment of riches, especially amongst those in the “mid-tier” category, which is exactly where they found Robbie Ray last offseason, so let’s take a look at a few interesting candidates.