We’re continuing with our “Three Needs” series, in which we take a look at the chief issues to be addressed for clubs that have fallen out of contention. Next up: the Blue Jays, who ran up 95 losses but also installed some highly promising core pieces at the MLB level.
1. Open The Wallet For Starters
The Shapiro/Atkins regime has rarely lured significant starters with hefty promises, due in part to the organization’s need to transition away from some big preexisting commitments. (That task is now all but complete, with only eighteen million more Troy Tulowitzki dollars left to pay down.) To this point, J.A. Happ (3/$36MM) and Marco Estrada (2/$26MM) are the biggest pitching deals the current front office has done.
It’s time for more. With Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez finally dealt away, there’s a mile-wide opening in the rotation. The Jays may like their long-term outlook for graduating pitching talent, but at present the returning unit would be anchored by Trent Thornton and Jacob Waguespack. The 2019 Jays relied upon Clayton Richard, Edwin Jackson, Clay Buchholz, and a smattering of other pitchers to get through the season.
Bringing back Matt Shoemaker and/or adding another bounceback candidate is well and good, but if this club is going to make strides it’ll need to spend — perhaps significantly — to bring in multiple quality arms. Avoiding overly lengthy and massive entanglements may still be wise, but the club ought to be willing to take some financial risk with a short-term, high-AAV deal (as in the John Lackey-Cubs signing) and/or mid-length, lower-AAV contract (e.g., the Twins’ deal with Phil Hughes) — depending upon what’s achievable on the market.
2. Deal Ken Giles
This runs somewhat counter to the above point, but the Jays aren’t in a position to point the bus down the road and slam the gas. They still need to meander around and make some additional finds before moving on down the road. Spending on some starters will boost the quality of the team significantly in the near-term and enhance the outlook for the next few seasons. Hanging onto Giles for his final season of arbitration eligibility would be a luxury.
The Jays almost certainly would’ve dealt Giles this summer had it not been for an ill-timed injury episode. He bounced back and finished strong, wrapping up the campaign with a 1.87 ERA and 14.1 K/9 vs. 2.9 BB/9 over 53 innings. That’s high-end relief output. With 23 saves also finding their way onto his ledger, Giles is going to command a pretty big raise on his $6.3MM salary, so he’s not cheap. But think about it from a contenders’ perspective: would you rather take a one-time, ~$10MM shot on a 29-year-old with elite stuff or risk as much or more annually over a multi-year term for one of the best-available free agents? There’s value here for Toronto to cash in and it’ll probably make sense to do so this winter.
3. Take Risks In The Relief Corps
Giles’s own year-to-year volatility is emblematic of a broader phenomenon that is by now well-recognized. It helps boost the reasoning behind dealing him. It also provides cause to believe that the Jays can dig up real talent on the relief corps by taking some shots.
This is hardly a new strategy. The Jays have used it themselves of late, inking veterans David Phelps and Daniel Hudson (since spun off via trade) and acquiring castoffs such as Derek Law, Ryan Dull, and Brock Stewart. So … suggesting this isn’t exactly earth-shattering. But it’s not the right approach for every team and every situation. It does seem to fit perfectly for the Jays. If they move Giles, as suggested above, the team will be left without a single relief pitcher who turned in a clearly productive 2019 season.
There’ll be plenty of internal hurlers who will and should get to compete for jobs in camp, but the Jays can legitimately offer free agents an opportunity to step right into prominent late-inning roles. Splashing some cash on short-term relievers isn’t going to hamstring the club in the long run. Waiver claims and minor-league signings offer other routes to bringing in talent. The Jays can fill out their group for the spring, then make late-camp changes as other clubs make their own tough calls. There’s no real need to focus on stability — something the club will be hoping to establish on the position-player side in 2020 — so much as to grab the most, best talent and let it all play out.