The Top Five Worst Moves by the Blue Jays Front Office in 2021
2. Signing Kirby Yates as the Closer
Kirby Yates threw a total of 4.2 innings in the entire 2020 season, the year prior to his signing with the Jays, and pitched to an ERA of 12.46. He then underwent a surgical procedure to remove bone chips from his elbow. In the ensuing off-season, the results of Yates’ physicals raised further red flags. The Jays chose to move ahead despite the health concerns, reduced their initial contract offer, and signed Yates to a $5.5MM one-year deal, in the hope that he would somehow miraculously recover and return to his all-star form.
The risk did not pay off – before throwing a single pitch for the Blue Jays, Yates underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery. Similarly, coming out of spring training, the back of the Jays’ bullpen was projected to include some combination of David Phelps and Julian Merryweather. Like Yates, they each had a history of major arm injuries, and they each landed on long-term IL by mid-April. Obviously unfortunate outcomes, but given the degree of risk with each player, hardly unexpected. Apparently, the Ken Giles injury saga wasn’t enough to discourage Shapiro and Atkins from investing heavily in a max effort closer with a history of arm health issues.
Examining the top five worst moves by the Toronto Blue Jays front office in 2021 and how they impacted the club’s season altogether
3. Trading Riley Adams for Brad Hand
In an effort to stop the bleeding in the bullpen, at the trade deadline the Jays sent top 30 catching prospect Riley Adams to the Washington Nationals in exchange for former all-star reliever Brad Hand. In his brief time with the Jays, Hand was entirely ineffective, allowing ten runs in 8.2 innings for an ERA of 7.27. Opposing batters hit .351 against him with an OPS over 1.000. Hand made just 11 appearances with Toronto before being designated for assignment less than a month after being acquired. He was claimed off waivers by the Mets days after his release by the Jays.
According to Baseball Savant, Hand’s average fastball velocity in seasons leading up to 2020 was as follows:
2017 93.5 mph
2018 93.8 mph
2019 92.7 mph
2020 91.4 mph
Hand’s declining fastball velocity and effectiveness factored into Cleveland’s decision to release him following the 2020 season, and the Nationals’ subsequent decision to make him available to the Blue Jays at the 2021 trade deadline.
Evaluating the Brad Hand trade with the Blue Jays, SB Nation’s Federal Baseball noted that Riley Adams “… was considered the best power hitter in Toronto’s Minor League system according to Baseball America.” Before the deal, he’d put up a .262/.363/.419 line over 286 games between 2017–2021, with 66 doubles, 5 triples, 28 home runs, 146 RBI, 130 walks, and a total of 153 runs scored over those four years.
Following his arrival in Washington at the trade deadline, Adams made 90 plate appearances, posting an OPS of .887. By comparison, last season Danny Jansen put up an OPS of .772 over 205 PA while Alejandro Kirk posted an OPS of .764 over 189 PA. Heading into 2022, Adams is on the Nats 40-man roster and is expected to challenge for one of the Nationals’ two catcher spots, along with Keibert Ruiz.
In retrospect, it’s hard to understand how – in the heat of a pennant race, with a uniquely talented roster, and a dire need to upgrade their bullpen – Shapiro and Atkins chose to gamble on Hand, assume the balance of his 1 year, $10.5m contract and give away Riley Adams for the right to do so. Adams was part of a crowded catching situation with the Jays, but if he had to be moved – he clearly should have returned someone who would help the Jays organization long-term, or at least far more than Brad Hand ultimately did.