Looking to add more ‘swing and miss’ stuff to the Blue Jays bullpen, General Manager Ross Atkins traded for Cardinals closer Jordan Hicks on July 30 ahead of the trade deadline in exchange for two Double-A pitching prospects, Adam Kloffenstein and Sem Robberse. He was also backfilling somewhat for an injured Jordan Romano, who’d been placed on the 15-day IL on July 29 with lower back inflammation.
Hicks went on to quickly set a Blue Jays record for fastest pitch ever thrown in the Statcast era at 103mph, and filled in admirably for Romano until his return on August 15th. The now-27-year-old Hicks had four saves in four opportunities, with seven holds in his 24 innings of work with Toronto, pitching to a 2.63 ERA in 25 appearances, with only eight walks against 22 strikeouts.
For the season, Hicks had a combined 3.29 ERA, and 12 saves in 65 appearances over 65.2 innings, with 81 strikeouts and 32 walks; his ERA+ was an excellent 132, i.e. 32% better than league average. His eight saves for St. Louis all came in the month and a half after he was named closer on June 17, when he replaced Giovanny Gallegos in the role.
With Hicks an impending free agent, rumor has it that the Blue Jays front office don't see Hicks and his 100mph heat as “a fit” according to front office whispers relayed by Sportsnet's Arden Zwelling on his “At The Letters” podcast and Ben Nicholson-Smith on the JD Bunkis podcast. Jays Journal editor Eric Treuden notes Hicks could potentially return to the St. Louis Cardinals as a free agent.
If Hicks truly wasn't a solid fit for the club, this would continue a troubling trend of Toronto making trade deadline acquisitions of rental players who played well here, but then making no attempt to even pursue them on the free agent market. That was the case with Taijuan Walker after the 2020 season, when the Blue Jays apparently never made a contract offer after he’d pitched to a 1.37 ERA in six starts and 26.1innings after being acquired.
Not to mention that the two arms the Jays traded away, Sem Robberse and Adam Kloffenstein, are now the #8 and #17 prospects respectively in the Cardinals farm system. That seems like a high price to pay for only 24 innings of work from Hicks, who they apparently won’t pursue in free agency.
As the League Championship Series proved yet again, having a lockdown bullpen is a prerequisite for postseason success in MLB. Bryan Abreu, Rafael Montero, Ryan Pressley, Kevin Ginkel, Paul Seward, Aroldis Chapman, José Leclerc, Seranthony Domínguez and José Alvarado are all ‘swing and miss’ arms who played in their league’s respective Championship Series.
Atkins admitted as much after the 2022 playoff exit, saying the Blue Jays needed “one of the best bullpens to be there at the end of the year.” So forgive Jays fans for thinking that trying to re-sign one of the best high leverage relief arms available after Josh Hader on the free agent market this coming offseason should be a high priority. Hicks is also the youngest available reliever in free agency this offseason, and the Jays, who had one of the oldest MLB rosters in 2023, need to get younger.
After making $1,837,500 in 2023, Hicks has his first opportunity to sign a free agent contract. He only just turned 27 in September, but already has five years of MLB experience. He seems to have found his niche as a back of the bullpen, high-leverage arm.
Spotrac estimates his market value at an AAV of $3.4M, and a ‘high water’ mark contract might be the three-year, $22M extension deal Phillies reliever José Alvarado signed when he was age 27. With almost $60M in annual payroll and retained salary dropping off after 2023, that’s certainly a number the Blue Jays can afford.
Jordan Hicks deserves a solid A for his half season with Toronto; and, he should be a priority to re-sign. What do you think Blue Jays fans; would you like to see Jordan Hicks back again in 2024 and beyond?
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