While it would have been fun if the Blue Jays had been able to run the same team back for 2022 and beyond, we knew that was never going to be the case.
That’s what happens when you used to employ two the of the top ten free agents, and another that likely fell somewhere in the top 30-50 players available this winter. That latter player was Steven Matz who just had a bounce back season with the Blue Jays and managed to turn that into a new 4-year, 44 million dollar contract with the St. Louis Cardinals. The first two in Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien remain unsigned as of this writing.
There are many Blue Jays fans that are understandably disappointed to see Matz go, which is more than fair. He was a pleasant surprise in the rotation last year finishing 14-7 with a 3.82 ERA and a 1.334 WHIP over 29 starts that covered 150.2 innings. I’m more than willing to admit that he far exceeded my expectations, and I’m happy for him that he earned himself a really nice deal to secure his family’s future for a very long time.
That said, I’m more than fine with the Blue Jays letting him go at that price.
Don’t get me wrong, 11 million per season has the potential to be a bit of a bargain for the Cardinals if Matz can reproduce his 2021 campaign. What I find far less palatable is the idea of giving him a four-year contract and betting that this level of performance is permanent. The southpaw had a bit of an inconsistent career with the Mets prior to joining the Blue Jays last season, and I would have been nervous about a three-year contract, let alone a fourth year.
Beyond that, I really wouldn’t have cared for the Blue Jays investing that kind of money in a mid-rotation arm, especially on a four-year term. It’s not that I’m anti-Matz by any means, but there are going to be a lot of financial commitments for this front office to consider over the next four seasons, and I think they can find a #4-5 starter for a lot less.
For example, I believe the Blue Jays have their #2-4 starters in place already with Jose Berrios, Alek Manoah, and Hyun Jin Ryu. Ideally they’ll be able to re-sign Robbie Ray to lead the rotation again, but it’s possible that they prefer to pursue Kevin Gausman instead, or maybe even find a top of the rotation arm through the trade market. One way or another, I expect that Ross Atkins and company will add to the top of group, but even if they didn’t and bumped their in-house options up a spot, Matz is still a #4 starter for the Jays.
Assuming the Jays can land Ray, Gausman, or perhaps a premium trade target, they might even elect to fill that fifth spot in the rotation with an in-house option. We can’t forget about Nate Pearson even if it feels like a long shot that he can stay healthy for a full MLB season, and Ross Stripling is still under contract for another year to provide depth. I expect that Atkins will still look for a veteran to provide that needed depth, but I don’t think they’ll spend 11 million to do it, and definitely won’t commit to a 4-year term for that kind of role.
This isn’t a case of the Blue Jays or their ownership group being “cheap”, it’s a matter of looking at the big picture. Berrios is now under contract for seven more seasons, Manoah should be around for five more (depending on what happens with the next CBA), and Ryu has two more years on his deal. Having three big rotation pieces in place is huge for any team, and it’s expected that they’ll look for a fourth to pair with Berrios at the top of the rotation.
This whole thing is also significant because of what I mentioned previously, and that’s the other financial commitments on the roster. Berrios may be extended, but Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. will be free agents in two years, and the same could happen for Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette after the 2025 season. Ryu is still making 20 million per season for the next two years, and Springer has five years left of his six-year, 150 million dollar contract.
My guess is that the Blue Jays will run a payroll somewhere in the 150-160 million range in 2022, and hopefully that figure will climb over the next few years. They absolutely could have fit Matz’s 11 million AAV in the budget, but a four-year term really doesn’t jive with the rest of what Atkins and company need to accomplish with this core. Ideally they’ll be able to sign a pitcher like Ray, and hopefully extend Guerrero Jr., Bichette, and even Hernandez some time over the next year or so. None of that is going to come cheap, and you have to make sacrifices elsewhere in order to make it work.
So I’ll say it one more time, I have nothing big against Steve Matz other than that I personally believe we just witnessed his career best season. That said, I more than understand why the Blue Jays let him go if they would have had to beat St. Louis’ offer in order to retain him.