The Blue Jays are actively exploring the market for rotation help and have put forth an offer to left-hander Andrew Heaney, reports Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet. Heaney, however, has received varying levels of interest from at least 10 teams and has fielded multiple offers at this point, per the report.
Robust interest in Heaney comes as little surprise. The lefty reportedly drew interest from upwards of a dozen teams last year when he was a rebound candidate seeking a one-year deal in free agency, and while shoulder troubles limited his workload with the Dodgers in 2022, his performance when on the field could scarcely have gone better. Armed with a lethal new slider, Heaney pitched to a 3.10 ERA in 72 2/3 innings.
That’s an impressive mark in and of itself, but Heaney’s secondary metrics were even better. He remained far too susceptible to home runs (1.73 HR/9), but Heaney punched out a ridiculous 35.5% of the batters he faced in 2022 and only allowed walks at a 6.1% clip. No pitcher in baseball last year (min. 70 innings) topped Heaney’s sky-high 16.8% swinging-strike rate, and the only two pitchers who induced chases on pitches off the plate more frequently than Heaney’s 39.5% were Cleveland closer Emmanuel Clase and Toronto righty Kevin Gausman.
Heaney has had more than his fair share of injury troubles over the years, undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2016 before landing on the IL twice with elbow inflammation (2018, 2019) and then missing three months this past season due to shoulder troubles. On a per-inning basis, however, he arguably turned in the best performance of any free-agent starter outside the top tier of Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon. The questions teams have to weigh are how much of his newfound Dodgers success is repeatable and just what they feel comfortable projecting for him, workload-wise, in 2023 and beyond.
This marks the second straight offseason in which the Jays have made an offer to Heaney, as Toronto was reportedly among the interested parties to put forth a one-year offer for him last offseason as well. However, while a one-year deal was sufficient for Heaney’s services last November, he appears quite likely to land a multi-year commitment this time around.
Starting pitching has been a priority for the Jays throughout the winter, with Toronto showing interest in starters of a wide array of quality. Nicholson-Smith writes within his Heaney column, for instance, that Toronto was in the mix for Kyle Gibson before he agreed to terms with the Orioles, and he further reports (via Twitter) that the Jays were willing to go multiple years at a high annual value for Verlander before he landed with the Mets earlier today.
As it stands, the Blue Jays have Gausman, Alek Manoah, Jose Berrios, Yusei Kikuchi and Mitch White as their primary options in the rotation. Manoah and Gausman turned in brilliant 2022 seasons and both received some recognition in Cy Young voting — Manoah finished third, Gausman ninth — but the other three struggled through dismal seasons. Berrios had been one of the game’s most consistent starters before stumbling to a 5.23 ERA in 2022. A pricey upside bet on Kikuchi’s blend of velocity and whiffs didn’t pay off (5.19 ERA), and White was tagged for a 7.74 ERA in 10 games after being acquired from the Dodgers prior to the trade deadline. Hyun Jin Ryu underwent Tommy John surgery early in the summer.
Meanwhile, right-hander Ross Stripling became a free agent on the heels of the finest season of his career. In 134 1/3 innings, Stripling posted a 3.01 ERA with a below-average 20.7% strikeout rate but an elite 3.7% walk rate. The Jays could always look to re-sign the 33-year-old, but he’s fielding interest from all 30 teams now and seems a good bet to eventually land a multi-year deal himself.