Heading into the 2022 season, the Blue Jays are currently rolling with four confirmed starting pitchers in the rotation: Jose Berrios, Hyun Jin Ryu, Alek Manoah, and Kevin Gausman. With Robbie Ray and Steven Matz signing elsewhere already this offseason and the addition of Gausman, the club currently has one spot in the rotation that is up for grabs.
Some speculate that Nate Pearson might be moved back to the rotation but could start the year in the bullpen given his injury history. The Blue Jays also have a few other internal options that could compete for the last spot as well like Tom Hatch, Anthony Kay, Jacob Waguespack, and Trent Thornton to name a few.
There is a possibility that the Blue Jays pick up another pitcher via free agency or through trade to fill out the last spot this winter, especially with how aggressive the front office was out of the gate for other free-agent pitchers like Justin Verlander and Eduardo Rodriguez (before they signed elsewhere) and having checked in with the Miami Marlins and their group of starters on the trade front.
With the CBA expiring earlier this month and the owners locking out the players, there are no transactions and free-agent signings until a new agreement is in place, which most baseball fans are already aware of. However, once a new CBA is in place, with the likes of Manoah, Berrios, and Gausman all on the payroll for at least the next five seasons and Ryu with the club for two more seasons, the front office should consider dangling some of their top pitching prospects to either solidify the last rotation spot or improve other areas on the roster on the trade front.
While there is currently a lockout on any transactions, once a new CBA is in place, the Blue Jays could use some pitching prospects as trade bait given the current rotation.
There are currently 14 pitchers ranked on the Blue Jays top prospect list and quite a few of them have starting experience like Bowden Francis, Adam Kloffenstein, and CJ Van Eyk while some have yet to play professional baseball because they were drafted earlier this year like Gunnar Hoglund (currently recovering from Tommy John surgery), Ricky Tiedemann, Irv Carter, and Chad Dallas. The top five pitching prospects (and their ranking) are:
4. Gunnar Hoglund
7. Adam Kloffenstein
12. Sem Robberse
13. CJ Van Eyk
15. Irv Carter
With three of the five members of the current rotation on the books for at least the next five seasons and the likes of Pearson and other higher-level minor league pitchers looking to fill out the rotation, Ross Atkins and co. could decide to include one or two prospect pitchers in deals this offseason to improve the current roster.
None of the top five ranked pitchers are estimated to reach the Major Leagues until 2023 (Kloffenstein and Van Eyk) and with that in mind, there is the possibility that the club could decide to part with one or two of these prospect pitchers in order to create a package that could either acquire a veteran arm to fill out the rotation or add a third baseman.
One thing to keep in mind is that the Rule 5 Draft could potentially be rescheduled once a new CBA is in place and numerous pitching prospects could be picked up and taken by other clubs. Some of these pitchers include Murray, Eric Pardinho, and Curtis Taylor (who is not a starter) as well as a few other pitchers who are not on the top prospect list. The minor-league portion of the Rule 5 Draft is scheduled to go forward later today.
The Blue Jays currently sit in a position where the young core mixed with the veteran talent has the potential to be a playoff contender over the next few years. By dealing some prospects/players now, the front office could improve the current roster in regards to adding another starter, a couple more bullpen arms, and potentially trading/signing a third baseman that could push them into playoff territory and beyond. A trade package using a catching prospect like Alejandro Kirk and/or an infield prospect like Orelvis Martinez with a pitching prospect or two could open up a lot of possibilities, obviously depending on the player the Jays are trying to acquire.
While it is unlikely the Jays would configure a deal that sees three to four top pitching prospects sent the other way in regards to a trade package, the current rotation gives Atkins the flexibility to include one or two of these prospects without jeopardizing the future of the rotation considering the other prospects within the organization, as another spot could open up when Ryu becomes eligible for free agency in 2024.
The Blue Jays will have roughly 12 pitching prospects currently on the top prospect list who will be estimated to reach the Major Leagues around the time Ryu is free-agent bound so the club does have some flexibility to trade one or two pitching prospects in order to improve the team now.