While a handful of free agents have signed elsewhere, it’s far too early for Blue Jays fans to panic. By now, Ross Atkins should have earned your trust as a Jays fan, in my view anyway.
I realize that this offseason is a lot more complicated with the potential for a pending disruption if the CBA expires without a new deal, but I think we also need to remember that it’s only November 23rd as of this writing. We’re still in the very early stages of free agency, and the Blue Jays’ recent history should be enough proof that it’s too early to panic.
It wasn’t until mid-January that we saw Atkins land last winter’s big fish in George Springer to a six-year, 150 million dollar contract. Two years ago it was December 27th before the Blue Jays agreed to a four-year contract with Hyun Jin Ryu to be the ace of the rotation at the time.
We should also recognize that it’s not like Atkins and his front office team have been sitting around doing nothing. They managed to get Jose Berrios to sign, in my mind, a team-friendly deal that will keep him in Toronto for the next seven seasons. There were also plenty of reports that they were seriously involved with both Justin Verlander and Noah Syndergaard before they signed with the Astros and Angels respectively. Both of those pitchers received short-term deals, and it makes sense that Atkins wanted to explore that route and keep the long-term options open as far as big-money commitments.
I realize that it’s hard not to be nervous at this time, especially because there’s only a little over a week left before the CBA expires, and the Jays haven’t really added to the roster yet while potentially seeing Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien depart for a new team. At this stage though, I’m prepared to sit back and give Atkins the benefit of the doubt for once, because I’m sure they’ve made several market calculations.
Those one or two-year deals were likely always going to be signed early, and the same could happen for other veterans like Max Scherzer and/or Clayton Kershaw. We saw Anthony DeSclafani and Alex Wood head back to San Francisco. I realize that the market for starting pitching is starting to shrink a bit, but the most significant targets are still available and the Blue Jays are in a very flexible position.
It’s entirely possible that they aren’t planning on making a big free agent splash in the rotation, and may even prefer the trade route to fill out the top of the starting group instead. If they plan on using the free agent market to look for more of a #5 starter, those guys are still going to be around after the potential work stoppage. I believe that the Blue Jays absolutely need another top-end arm to boost the current group including Berrios, Alek Manoah, and Hyun Jin Ryu, but they also have some decent depth for that fifth spot with Nate Pearson (if he can stay healthy for once), and Ross Stripling.
Until guys like Ray or Kevin Gausman sign their next contracts, I won’t really sweat the pitching situation too much. Admittedly I may panic a bit if those two sign elsewhere and then the trade market heats up with the Blue Jays missing out on potential trade candidates like Luis Castillo or Sonny Gray from Cincinnatti, or maybe Sean Manaea from Oakland, but there are still a lot of viable options out there. Seeing Verlander, Syndergaard, and DeSclaani fall off the free agent board shouldn’t cause too much panic, and I would say the same if and when Scherzer and Kershaw sign sometime this week, which I expect will happen.
As I said above, I’ll admit that it’s a unique offseason because of the CBA situation, and I completely understand and even agree that I’d like to see the Blue Jays make a reasonably significant move before a potential work stoppage. However, I’m finally at a point where I trust this front office to make calculated decisions, and I really believe that the majority of the fan base should feel the same way.