With the news late last night that former Blue Jays starter Steven Matz has agreed to a four year contract with the St. Louis Cardinals worth $44 million dollars, was it a mistake for the Blue Jays not to give him a qualifying offer?
As recently as yesterday, southpaw Steven Matz was fielding offers from each of the Giants, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Tigers, Cubs, Cardinals, Angels, and his previous team in the Mets, who had apparently already extended a formal offer to reunite.
MLBTR also said the Giants’ offer remained on the table even after they’d re-signed Anthony DeSclafani to a 3 year, $36 million contract and are apparently close to re-signing Alex Wood.
When the Blue Jays didn’t give the $18.4M qualifying offer to Matz, fans were divided on what that meant. Did the Jays know something the industry didn’t? Had Matz already said something to the front office when he rejected their initial multi-year contract extension offer?
Mistake for the Blue Jays Not Making a Qualifying Offer to Steven Matz?
From the perspective of how quickly the market for starters is moving and how teams are locking up quality arms, the decision not to extend a qualifying offer (QO) to Matz may come back to bite the Blue Jays in 2022.
Free agent starters Eduardo Rodriguez (Tigers), Noah Syndergaard (Angels), Justin Verlander (Astros), Andrew Heaney (Dodgers) and Anthony DeScalfani (Giants) are all also already off the board this offseason.
Young established starters are also getting locked up with big extensions to buy out years of arbitration and free agency: see Jose Berríos’ 7 year, $131 million extension, one of the largest ever for a starter with less than six years service time; and, the Marlins are reportedly working on a 5 year, $55 million extension to Sandy Alcantara, who only has 3.1 years of MLB service time; that would be a record extension for someone with less than four years of service time.
Solid Mid-Rotation Starting Pitching Depth
Steven Matz is a solid mid-rotation starter, who only cost Toronto $5.2 million for 2.0 bWAR in 2021.
If the Jays front office had given the $18.4 million qualifying offer to Matz for 2022, that would have averaged out to an $11.8 million AAV over two seasons between 2021-2022.
Instead, he’ll now make $11 million per season for the next four seasons with the Cardinals, with incentives that could bump that tom$12 million AAV.
While that’s probably a bit rich compared to, say, DeSclafani who just re-signed for 3 years/$36 million to return to the Giants, Rogers could have easily afforded that after paying Tanner Roark $24 million to pitch just 54.2 innings for Toronto over 2020-2021. Plus, the one year QO contract would have been off the books after 2022, when only Hyun Jin Ryu, Berríos, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Randal Grichuk and George Springer are still on the books with guaranteed deals.
Matz has been good for ~30 MLB starts and 150~160 major league innings when healthy. Jays pitching coach Pete Walker also seemed to work well with him in 2021. The lefty has put up a 2.1 bWAR per average 162-game season over his career, so his 2.0 mark in 2021 was in line with that. He put up a 2.5 in 2016 and a 2.4 in 2019, and he’s still only 30 years old.
The Jays traded current Mets reliever Sean Reid-Foley, starting pitching prospect Josh Winckowski (who was recently added to Boston’s 40-man roster as their #9 prospect) and Yennsy Díaz for him on January 27, 2021.
Matz rebounded from an awful 2020 season to win 14 games and put up 3.82 ERA over 29 starts and 150.2 innings in 2021. While he didn’t miss many bats, he only walked 6.6% of the hitters he faced, with a 45.5% ground-ball ratio.
He also counts as real MLB starting pitching depth, unlike Toronto’s current minor league starting pitching depth in Anthony Kay, Trent Thornton, and T.J. Zeuch; and, given Nate Pearson is an unknown quantity at this point in terms of where he’ll slot in the pitching staff for 2022 and beyond, plus obvious injury risk for guys like Hyun Jin Ryu, Pearson and Julian Merryweather, Matz on a QO would have been a solid – if expensive – insurance policy.
Instead, Matz now walks away for nothing. It had already appeared doubtful he would resign with Toronto after rejecting their contract extension offer and not receiving a qualifying offer.
We’ll see what happens in 2022, but if Matz builds on his solid 2021 season and the Jays regress, the argument that they made a mistake by not making a QO will intensify.
In today’s league, 30 starts and 150-160 innings is probably good value even at $18.4 million for one season… and if the Jays were to regress in 2022 and fall out of the playoff chase by July, he could have be dealt at the trade deadline for prospects.
Now the Jays don’t even get a compensatory pick, while signing Matz won’t cost the Cardinals a draft pick; which actually reduces his total acquisition cost.
What do you think Jays fans? Will we regret this one?