Before the owners locked out the players in early December, the Blue Jays made a few acquisitions while also losing a few players to free agency. They lost Robbie Ray and Steven Matz from the 2021 rotation but gained Kevin Gausman and signed Jose Berrios to a long-term contract to stay in Toronto. When the dust settled, the rotation currently stands with four guaranteed starters in Gausman, Berrios, Alek Manoah, and Hyun Jin Ryu, forming one of the stronger rotations in the American League with a fifth spot still up for grabs.
This is a topic that has been touched on by fans and myself alike, examining potential internal options who could become the fifth starter while also looking outside the organization for potential fits. One player that I would like to circle back to is right-hander Zach Davies, as I think he checks off quite a few boxes for the Blue Jays when it comes to the fifth starter role.
A former 26th round pick of the Baltimore Orioles back in 2011, Davies would be traded to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2015 and made his Major League debut later that season. With the Brewers, Davies lasted five years in the club’s rotation and would craft a 3.91 ERA through 111 starts. He has spent the past two seasons with two different organizations, posting a 2.73 ERA and an 8.2 K/9 through 12 starts and 69.1 innings with the San Diego Padres in 2020 and a 5.78 ERA through 32 starts with a 1.601 WHIP and a 4.6 BB/9 with the Chicago Cubs last season.
For starters, Davies is coming off an $8.63 million dollar contract with the Cubs and should be willing to take a deal in the $5-$8 million area for next season after posting the 5.00+ ERA (or potentially even less). This provides some considerable value given the remaining free-agent starters that are comparable to Davies in terms of bWAR like Dylan Bundy (one-year $4 million) and Corey Kluber (one-year $8 million) as affordable back-end options.
The Blue Jays have roughly $60 million tied up with Ryu, Gausman, and Berrios next season, and with other areas on the roster needing some improvements (bullpen and third base) to form a more rounded playoff-ready squad, signing someone like Davies to a short term deal provides value without committing too much money to one area and limits long term risk. It would be great if the front office could bring Carlos Rodon or Clayton Kershaw to Toronto but both players could be too much given what is already on the books and what else needs to be done this offseason (once the CBA is in place).
The Blue Jays are potentially in the market for a fifth starter in 2022 and should look to turn to Zach Davies to fill the void.
Davies does possess a dependable track record, posting sub 4.00 ERA’s in 2016, 2017, 2019, and 2020 while also owning a career 3.0 BB/9 and a 1.333 WHIP, which is not bad value for a fifth starter. He is a sinkerball pitcher that uses his changeup as a secondary offspeed pitch and has generated a career 44.6% ground ball rate while keeping the ball in the yard at a 1.1 HR/9, which bodes well at the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre.
He would need to shake off the rough 2021 campaign and would also hopefully perform better than his Steamer projection for next season (5.15 ERA through 29 starts with a 3.6 BB/9 and 6.8 K/9) but could be a prime bounce-back candidate under pitching coach Pete Walker and the Blue Jays coaching staff.
There is some risk here, as Davies could continue to struggle into 2022 and turn into a Tanner Roark or Tyler Chatwood type where the club eventually has to get him off the books midway through the year.
Fortunately, the Jays have some internal depth if this happens, especially if the club wants Nate Pearson to get some more reps in the bullpen this year before trying to start again or have him start in AAA to get some innings under his belt. Thomas Hatch, Ross Stripling, and Anthony Kay are also waiting in the wings just in case Pearson also falters. Overall, low risk as long as it is a short-term deal (which all signs are pointing to it being).
With the Blue Jays looking to play meaningful October baseball, the club should look to adding a veteran starter like Zach Davies who has a dependable record and won’t cost the club an arm and a leg on a short-term deal.
While it would be unrealistic for him to form into Robbie Ray 2.0 and be a Cy Young contender after his 2021 season with the Cubs, working with Walker and the Blue Jays staff could right the ship for the right-hander and help turn his career back on track while allowing the front office to spend money or prospects to improve other areas on the roster (Jose Ramirez or bust).