Reinforcing a strength
One of the strongest parts of the Blue Jays roster this season has been their starting rotation. That hasn’t been the case for the entire group of starters, but overall I think the Jays have to be happy with how their pitching staff has performed. Kevin Gausman and Alek Manoah have delivered All-Star calibre performances thus far, Yusei Kikuchi has been solid (although I’ll admit last night was a little rough), and even though it’s been a struggle for Jose Berrios to begin the year, there’s enough upside and history to trust that things will get better for their Opening Day starter.
The Blue Jays have a luxury with four strong arms in their rotation, but the loss of Hyun Jin Ryu to the IL changes the situation a bit. This will already be Ryu’s second trip to the Injured List this season, and while we don’t know how long he’ll be sidelined as of this writing, it doesn’t sound like it’ll be a short absence. Yesterday I wrote about how Nate Pearson could factor into the equation, and how Ross Stripling will be the immediate answer for the #5 spot in the rotation, but I can’t help but wonder if the Jays add another starter before the trade deadline.
In a typical season that might not be a priority for the Blue Jays, but 2022 should be different as they pursue not only a return to the playoffs, but hopefully a much longer stay than their cameo in 2020. That said, I don’t think the Jays will look for a top-shelf candidate to boost the rotation, especially because they’re already very heavily invested in the veteran arms already on their staff.
With that in mind, a veteran on an expiring contract makes a lot of sense, and I’ve got my eye on no Zach Eflin of the Philadelphia Phillies.
It’s entirely possible that the Phillies climb back into the playoff race in the National League, but their season has gotten off to a disappointing start at just 23-29, which puts them third in the NL East and on the outside of the Wild Card picture. The 28 year old wouldn’t be a traditional veteran on an expiring deal, as there could be teams interested in trading for him and then trying to sign him to an extension, but I don’t know if that would be a goal for the Blue Jays.
What would be a goal is finding a starter that can bring reliable production to the table, especially if Ryu is going to be on the sidelines for the long-term, and even more so should they suffer any other injuries to the staff. So far in 2022 Eflin has gone 2-4 with a 3.88 ERA with a 1.14 WHIP over his first nine starts that covered 51.0 innings, striking out 45 in the process. He’s not an ace-level performer by any means, but with the presence of Gausman, Manoah, Berrios, and even Kikuchi, they shouldn’t need that from anyone filling out of the back of the rotation.
Eflin could be a bit of a lofty target even on an expiring deal (that includes a 15 million dollar mutual option for 2023 that I suspect the right-hander would reject), so the Blue Jays could turn to less-inspiring options like Mike Minor of the Reds, or maybe Alex Wood of the Giants should they fall out contention later this summer. Wood is on a two-year contract in San Francisco, but that could have its appeal depending on how serious Ryu’s injury is as well.
For now the Blue Jays have the luxury of having Ross Stripling at the ready on the MLB roster, and thankfully Nate Pearson is getting closer to being able to contribute as well. With other arms like Thomas Hatch, Anthony Kay, and more, the Jays don’t have to hit the panic button in the rotation just yet. However, don’t be surprised if they’re looking for an insurance policy or two when July rolls around, and they could do a lot worse than a hurler like Eflin.