Ross Atkins and the Blue Jays made some big roster moves last winter, and so far we’re seeing the risks and downsides of a long-term contract.
One of the first moves that Atkins and the front office made last winter was to sign Jose Berrios to a seven-year, 131 million dollar extension. At the time the deal made a ton of sense, as the right-hander had developed a reputation as one of the most dependable starters in the American League, and looked like he’d slot in well along side Kevin Gausman at the top of the rotation, who was later signed to join him.
Instead, the Blue Jays have watched the now 28 year old struggle throughout the 2022 campaign to the point where he has the worst ERA among all starters in MLB. After giving up eight runs over just 4.0 innings against the Guardians on Friday night that number has ballooned to 5.61 over his 23 starts.
For what it’s worth, I believe that Berrios is talented enough to turn things around, but he might need the benefit of an offseason re-set before he’ll find the form that landed him his long-term deal. The Blue Jays will certainly be hoping he’ll find that form too, not only for this season, but also as they look ahead to a commitment of six years and more than 120 million ahead of them.
That wasn’t the only commitment that has already started to turn sour on Atkins and company, and it’s not the only one in the rotation either. Later last offseason they also inked Yusei Kikuchi to held round out the top five starters, and they looked like they had the potential to be one of the strongest in baseball. Instead Kikuchi has looked completely lost at times, had to go on the Injured List with a “neck strain”, and it’s still debatable whether he can be trusted to take the ball every five days. At best, the Blue Jays run the risk of having to completely tax their bullpen when he starts, as there’s no telling whether he’ll last one inning or six on any given night.
For that weekly heart attack the Blue Jays signed up for a commitment of three years and 36 million. On the plus side, the contract was front-loaded and Kikuchi is being paid 16 million in 2022 and then just 10 million for each of the next two seasons, which could make him slightly easier to trade if the front office decides to go that route. At this point, he’s basically still getting starting opportunities because of the lack of rotation depth in general, and I don’t feel good saying that at all.
If we want to look back another year or two, the long-term commitments to both George Springer and Hyun Jin Ryu have shown their downsides this year as well. Ryu is out for the season and likely most/all of 2023 after having Tommy John surgery, and Springer is back on the IL again where he has spent way too much time during his first two seasons as a Blue Jay. I’m not saying that either deal is regrettable, and I’d actually argue the opposite, but there’s no denying that the Blue Jays are experiencing the downside of free agency right now.
The big question will be what Atkins and the team decides to do about it, and a lot of that could have to do with how this team finishes in 2022. The Blue Jays still hold a playoff spot as of this writing, but they’re showing more leaks in the boat all the time, and unfortunately some of their biggest problems are with players they’ve committed to for the long term. I’m not suggesting that free agency is for suckers by any means, but as the Blue Jays are being reminded, there’s always a risk to making a contract commitment.