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With many of their best young position players now in the majors, the Blue Jays will focus on augmenting that group with some pitching.
- Randal Grichuk, OF: $43MM through 2023
- Lourdes Gurriel Jr., OF: $15.9MM through 2023
- Chase Anderson, SP: $8.5MM through 2020 ($9.5MM club option for 2021, $500K buyout)
Other Money Owed
- Troy Tulowitzki, SS: $18MM through 2020 ($14MM salary, $4MM buyout of 2021 club option)
Arbitration-Eligible Players (projections via Matt Swartz)
- Matt Shoemaker – $3.8MM
- Ken Giles – $8.4MM
- Brandon Drury – $2.5MM
- Luke Maile – $800K
- Derek Law – $1.3MM
- Ryan Dull – $800K
- Anthony Bass – $1.7MM
- Non-tender candidates: Maile, Dull
The Blue Jays wasted little time in adding to the rotation this offseason, acquiring righty Chase Anderson from the Brewers and exercising the $8.5MM club option on Anderson’s services for the 2020 season. The soon-to-be 32-year-old Anderson is also controllable via a $9.5MM club option for 2021, making him more than just a pure single-season pickup.
Anderson hasn’t been overly impressive over the last two seasons, totaling 1.5 total fWAR and a 105 ERA+ over 297 innings. He has worked mostly as a starter, though Milwaukee also tended to limit Anderson’s outings before he faced batters for a third time last season. Still, he has been a relatively durable pitcher over those two years and there is some potential in a change of scenery, even to the tough AL East.
As a pitcher with some degree of success over six MLB seasons, however, Anderson still represents an upgrade for one of the league’s shakiest rotations in 2019. Trent Thornton and Jacob Waguespack are also tentatively penciled into the 2020 starting five based on their generally average results from last season, while Ryan Borucki is an even bigger maybe given that he only pitched 6 2/3 Major League innings due to recurring elbow problems. Matt Shoemaker is also looking to return from an injury-shortened year, though perhaps due to some unease about his projected $3.8MM arbitration salary and how Shoemaker will rebound from a torn ACL, the Jays haven’t gotten far in contract talks with the veteran righty.
Anthony Kay, T.J. Zeuch, Sean Reid-Foley, and Thomas Pannone will also be competing for spots in Spring Training. Top prospect Nate Pearson is likely to debut sometime in 2020, if almost certainly not on the Opening Day roster (for both service-time reasons and because Pearson has only 18 IP at the Triple-A level).
Since 2020 will be another rebuilding season for the Jays, they will have time to evaluate these and probably many other young arms to see who could factor into the plans for 2021, the date that team president/CEO Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins have loosely (though far from officially) mentioned as the starting point for a new era of competitive baseball in Toronto. The front office has been clear, however, that more new faces will be added to the pitching mix, and the Blue Jays will be willing to spend beyond the level of just veteran reclamation projects, i.e. their acquisitions of Clayton Richard or Clay Buchholz last offseason.
There’s certainly room in the budget, as Roster Resource projects the Jays for a payroll of just under $70.25MM, and even that number could drop by a few million if a few arbitration-eligible players are non-tendered. Looking ahead to 2021, the Jays will have only Randal Grichuk and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. on the books since Troy Tulowitzki’s contract will finally be up.
There isn’t any financial reason Toronto couldn’t make a notable signing now, perhaps in the spirit of the Nationals’ deal with Jayson Werth in the 2010-11 offseason, which served as an announcement that a rebuilding team was ready to turn the corner. That being said, the Jays might have to severely overpay to convince a top-tier free agent (who surely would prefer to join a ready-made contender) to join a club that might not be ready to compete by 2021 at the earliest.
Yet while the likes of Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Zack Wheeler, or Hyun-Jin Ryu probably aren’t feasible, names such as Kyle Gibson, Julio Teheran, Tanner Roark, Wade Miley, Rick Porcello, or maybe even Dallas Keuchel (who the Jays reportedly had some interest in last winter) could be possible fits, perhaps in some cases just on one-year contracts.
Beyond free agency, the Anderson acquisition could hint at the Jays’ optimal strategy for using their payroll space. The Blue Jays only gave up a minor prospect to take over the rights to Anderson’s option years from Milwaukee, and Toronto could similarly target other mid-range or better pitchers on teams that are looking to cut spending, whether it’s mid-market clubs like the Brewers or bigger-spending organizations who are looking to avoid the luxury tax.
This strategy could also be used to land position players, though the Blue Jays hope they have most of their everyday core already in place. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will be at third base, Bo Bichette at shortstop, Cavan Biggio at second base, and Gurriel in left field as the most promising cornerstones of the rebuild. Catcher Danny Jansen, first baseman Rowdy Tellez, and outfielder/DH Teoscar Hernandez are the somewhat less settled members of the group, with Reese McGuire also perhaps vying for a timeshare with Jansen behind the plate. Grichuk is the veteran member of the bunch with the long-term contract, though he’ll be looking to bounce back after a subpar 2019 season.
Justin Smoak’s free agency leaves a hole in the first base/DH mix, and the Jays have a vacancy in either center field or right field (whichever position isn’t filled by Grichuk). Derek Fisher is the favorite for one outfield job, competing with other unproven candidates like Anthony Alford, Billy McKinney, or Jonathan Davis, while Brandon Drury is a utility option at multiple positions but has to rebound from a sub-replacement performance.
It’s possible Toronto could simply stick with all of these in-house options in a development year to see what they really have for the future. For instance, the exact alignment and/or multi-positional ability of the current players may still be in question, as Atkins has suggested that Gurriel could potentially again be a candidate for second base work or Hernandez could even see some time at first or second base. Biggio has also already bounced around a few different positions besides second base, and speculation persists that Guerrero could end up as a first baseman sooner rather than later.
The Jays might prefer to save any major acquisitions until the team knows what additions are specifically needed to be a contender. Rather than splurging on a Nicholas Castellanos or Marcell Ozuna, the Blue Jays could look for players on one-year deals. A veteran middle infielder (this year’s version of Freddy Galvis or Eric Sogard, essentially) would be useful, or a left-handed bat to balance out a mostly right-handed collection of outfielders.
Speaking speculatively, a reunion with Sogard would make sense. Bringing back Smoak could also be a fit, while a bounce-back candidate like Travis Shaw might also be someone who gets a look for the first base position. Free agent Jason Kipnis is a left-handed hitter who can play at second base and in the outfield, and has past ties to Shapiro and Atkins from their time in Cleveland. Atkins has also said that the Jays have some interest in a trio of Japanese players (corner outfield slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, rangy center fielder Shogo Akiyama and glove-first infielder Ryosuke Kikuchi) who will be available via free agency or the posting system at what should be a relatively modest price.
It wouldn’t be out of the question to see Toronto clear some room by packaging one or two of their surplus players in a trade. Jansen and McGuire have already drawn interest, and players like Hernandez, Tellez, or any of the less-established outfielders could be trade bait if the Blue Jays feel they could consolidate two players they feel okay about into one player they really like.
Speaking of trade chips, while Atkins hasn’t heard many trade rumblings yet about Ken Giles, the closer clearly seems like perhaps the least-likely Blue Jay to be with the team come Opening Day. Giles quite probably would have been dealt already, had it not been for an ill-timed injury in the days leading up to the July 31 trade deadline. Giles is coming off an outstanding season that will push his price tag to a projected $8.4MM in his final arbitration year, though there figures to be some solid interest given the long list of teams in need of bullpen reinforcements.
That list actually includes the Jays themselves, who will be in the market for extra relievers even before their eventual need to replace Giles at closer. Toronto has made a habit of acquiring veteran relievers (i.e. Daniel Hudson, David Phelps, Seunghwan Oh, Joe Smith) to short-term deals and then flipping them at the trade deadline, so expect the team to again revisit this tactic this winter. Left-handed relief is a priority, as since Tim Mayza will miss 2020 due to Tommy John surgery, the Blue Jays only have three southpaws (Borucki, Pannone, Kay) on their current 40-man roster.
The Jays have already added one veteran with upside in claiming right-hander Anthony Bass from the Mariners. A reunion with Ryan Tepera could also be a possibility, even though Toronto outrighted him off the 40-man roster, leading Tepera to opt for free agency.
Though the Blue Jays had the fifth-worst record (67-95) in baseball last season, they find themselves in position for a much more intriguing offseason than some of the other lesser lights who are in earlier stages of rebuilds. While there’s still a lot of uncertainty throughout the roster, the Jays have graduated their first wave of young players to the big leagues who can be reasonably counted on as building blocks, so there’s room for the club to be aggressive if it feels the end of the rebuild is near. The types of pitching additions Toronto makes this winter could provide some interesting hints about where the Jays feel they are in their path back to contention.