A forgotten Blue Jays transaction that could finally pay off in 2023

Toronto Blue Jays Photo Day
Toronto Blue Jays Photo Day / Elsa/GettyImages

Following the electrifying 2015 and 2016 postseason runs, the club opted to part ways with franchise icon Edwin Encarnación, a move that left the fanbase perplexed.

Looking back on it, it’s a good thing the Jays didn't extend him. Encarnación would have been playing on a losing baseball team for the next few years, meaning his big contract would not have much of a purpose for the organization. But most importantly, his departure allowed the club to bring in Nate Pearson

If a team wants to gain compensation (in the form of a draft pick) from losing one of their top free agents, they will extend said player a "qualifying offer". The QO is worth the mean of 125 of the highest-paid players' salaries around the league. If the player rejects the deal, the team losing him is awarded a free draft pick. In this case, the Jays were rewarded with the 28th overall pick in the 2017 MLB draft, which they subsequently took Pearson with. 

It has not turned out for Pearson like most would have hoped in the early going of his MLB career. Just a few years ago, he ranked as high as the No. 10 prospect in all of baseball and the second-highest ranked pitching prospect. His major league debut also got off on the right foot, as he hurled five shutout frames against the Nationals. But fortune was not on his side following his debut. Over the next couple of years we saw him on the injured list with what seems like anything possible. Just this past season, Mononucleosis and a Lat strain caused him to not throw a single inning in the bigs.

From all of these injuries, and the (questionable) depth the Jays have in the rotation, he may never start a game in Toronto again. But that may not be a bad thing if he is destined for a bullpen role. Yes, the Jays bullpen is a lot deeper than in recent years and boasts some of the best in the league. But Pearson brings something that the group is lacking, and that is a high fastball velocity, and strikeouts per nine innings. 

Looking at the projected 2023 Blue Jays bullpen, the team only has three players who had over 10 K/9 in 2022: Jordan Romano, Trevor Richards and Erik Swanson. Of that group, only Romano can throw as hard as Pearson does. 

Why is this so important? Think of it this way, if you have to pull your starter in the 6th or 7th inning with a guy on third and less than two outs, you're going to want someone who can punch out the next batter.

As everyone knows, Romano owns the 9th inning, Swanson fill in here but he won’t be available every night, and Richards' 5.34 ERA from last year would deter him from getting any high-leverage situations like this. This is the exact scenario where Pearson’s ability makes him an intriguing fit.

As a reliever Pearson, holds a 2.51 ERA in 14.1 innings pitched across the 2020 and 2021 MLB seasons. A short sample size, but encouraging nonetheless. These stats are further backed up from his success in the Dominican Winter League a few months ago, where he threw 12 innings and struck out 16. Oh, he also had a 0.00 ERA.

Moving onto this spring, he has allowed 3 earned runs in 7 innings of work and struck out 9. These figures are nothing eye popping, especially when you factor in his WHIP of 1.714 during this time. But he has shown exactly what he can bring to the team. He struck out three in one inning of work in his first outing, and just recently he touched 99.4 MPH. 

Pearson’s arsenal is electric, and with a couple more solid outings like these to end Spring Training, he could be only one slow start or injury away from joining the Jays. Most forget that he is only entering his age 26 season and is under club control until 2027. Which gives more than enough time for a Nate Pearson resurgence and the full circle of the Edwin Encarnación saga.

Next. Blue Jays earn high praise in FOX Sports' power rankings. dark