The Blue Jays have made what were viewed as “safe” signings for their rotation over the last few years, and unfortunately that route hasn’t always worked out for them.
Back in December of 2019 the Blue Jays signed a veteran right-hander that looked like the definition of a “safe” play in Tanner Roark. To be fair, the then 32 year old came to Toronto with a 72-62 career record consistently posted an ERA between 4.00-4.50. Not the sexy number one starter that is usually coveted, but for a team with a blossoming offence and a need for stability in the rotation at the time, it made sense. Or so we thought.
Roark’s time a Blue Jay was nothing short of a disaster, as he finished his tenure with a 2-4 record, a 6.75 ERA, and a 1.683 WHIP over the course of 14 appearances, with 12 of them being starts. Perhaps the only reason that he made it to the second of his two-year, 24 million dollar contract was due to the small sample size from 2020, when the season was just 60 games and Roark only made 11 starts.
The safe play didn’t work with Roark, but that didn’t stop Ross Atkins and company from having a similar philosophy ahead of last year’s trade deadline. The pitcher they targeted that time was another arm that came with a reputation for dependability, but also with youth and a higher ceiling on his side. When the Blue Jays were able to extend Jose Berrios to a seven-year pact over the winter, it looked like they had a stabilizing force to build around along with Kevin Gausman and Alek Manoah.
Unfortunately this year has been anything but stable for Berrios, and we’re at the point where it’s hard to predict what we’re going to see on any given night. There have been outings where the Puerto Rican born hurler has looked borderline untouchable, and then others when you’d be justified in wondering if he’s capable of handling a big league rotation spot. Unfortunately Friday’s start was one where he looked incapable of pitching for a team with playoff expectations, but the Blue Jays have no choice but to keep running him out there and hoping for a turnaround.
All of this isn’t to suggest that the Blue Jays only make safe signings when it comes to their pitching staff, and they’ve taken some calculated risks recently as well. You could argue that they did just that with Yusei Kikuchi over the winter when they signed him to a three-year, 36 million dollar contract after he was an All-Star in the first half of 2021, and then one of the worst starters in the American League in the second half. Sadly, that decision has blown up in Atkins’ face so far as well as Kikuchi has struggled throughout the year.
Will the results of these more recent free agent signings change the Blue Jays’ philosophy in the front office at all? It’s hard to say, and we also have to admit that there is always risk when it comes to the free agent market. Having said that, there’s also risk in being relatively conservative at the trade deadline as well, and I’m sure the Blue Jays wish they had some stronger depth in their rotation and their bullpen to navigate the last 50 games of the regular season.
The truth is, hindsight is always going to be 20/20 with stuff like this, and I’ll be the first to admit that I was excited when the Blue Jays locked Berrios up to a seven-year term to help lead their rotation. For a then 27 year old who had been the model of consistency in Minnesota for six years, it made a lot of sense. Going forward, don’t be surprised if Atkins and the Blue Jays are a little less enamoured by the “safer” choices in free agency, because if this is the result, well then you may as well go big or go home.