The Blue Jays need at least one more starter in 2023, and there’s an available veteran that could be a perfect fit for next season.
If I had to take a guess at what Ross Atkins and company are looking at for an offseason mandate, I doubt they are wanting to sign another long-term deal with a starting pitcher. That might sound odd considering that there’s a need in the rotation, but there’s also a significant financial commitment to the group at the moment.
Last offseason the Blue Jays kicked things off by agreeing to a seven-year extension with Jose Berrios for roughly 131 million, and then made another big splash when they inked Kevin Gausman to a five-year pact worth 110 million. To round things out they signed Yusei Kikuchi to a three-year, 36 million dollar deal, and that’s on top of already owing Hyun Jin Ryu 20 million per season through 2023. I also haven’t even mentioned Ross Stripling, who was a crucial part of the team’s success in 2022, but is also scheduled to be a free agent for the first time and could be pricey to keep around.
If you add up the salary commitments to the rotation, I can’t help but wonder if there might be a much bigger appetite for a one-year commitment than a multi-year deal. The qualifying offer might be a little expensive for the Blue Jays to give to Stripling, but I think there’s a strong argument for doing so. Failing that, I think there’s another veteran who is about to hit the free agent market who might be interested in a one-year pact, and the idea of potentially competing for a championship with the Blue Jays might even have some appeal.
The veteran starter I’m referring to is Mike Clevinger, who is coming off of an up and down season with the San Diego Padres. The right-hander missed 2021 season while recovering from Tommy John surgery, and he was strong early in the year for the Padres. However, the 31 year old faltered quite a bit in the second half, and that’s what makes me think that he might entertain a one year deal so that he can truly re-establish his value.
Prior to his injury, Clevinger was one of the more talented young righties in baseball, and his future looked very bright in Cleveland. He was dealt to San Diego just before he ultimately hit the Injured List and required surgery, and unfortunately the Padres have yet to see the best of what he can offer. This past season he made 23 appearances (22 starts) and finished with a 7-7 record, a 4.33 ERA, and a 1.198 WHIP over 114.2 innings pitched. Not bad by any means, but not exactly screaming for a big multi-year deal.
If you take a closer look, Clevinger was quite good in the first half of the season, and not so much in the second half, as his 3.50 ERA shot up to 4.90 after the break. Fatigue certainly could have played a factor in his first year back from injury, but I also believe there was a more direct cause. Simply put, the Dodgers absolutely destroyed Clevinger in 2022, doing most of that damage late in the season. He posted a 9.69 ERA and a 1.539 WHIP over his three starts against the NL West champions, giving up 14 runs over just 13.0 innings pitched, including five long balls.
However you look at the situation, I don’t think Clevinger’s market is going to be quite as lucrative as his camp would have hoped, and I can’t help but wonder if they might be interested in a one-year deal to reestablish his value before making a long-term commitment. If that’s the case, it’s possible that the Padres give him the QO, although with their payroll reaching franchise-record levels I wouldn’t be surprised if they let him walk either. If they happens (and they able to retain Stripling), perhaps the Blue Jays could step in with a similar one-year offer?
Maybe it requires a multi-year deal with an opt-out in order to get Clevinger to consider the Blue Jays as an option for his next contract, but even then it could be worth entertaining at the right rate. I could be way off on the Padres’ level of interest in retaining him, about Clevinger’s view of his free agent market, or maybe this is just very early offseason speculation on my part. Regardless, Clevinger is one name I’ll be keeping an eye on over the winter, and for the Blue Jays, a lucrative one-year offer could make a whole lot of sense for both parties.