The Blue Jays have expressed preliminary interest in Garrett Richards, per Ben Nicholson-Smith with Arden Zwelling on sportsnet.ca’s Blue Jays’ podcast. That’s not a head-spinning development, as Toronto is largely expected to kick the tires on most of the top names in the free agent pool. Still, “preliminary interest” means slightly more given the Blue Jays’ status as one of the more eager buyers on the market.
The Jays are known to have made a three-year, $40MM offer to Kevin Gausman, according to the Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. In terms of their process for free agents like Gausman with qualifying offers attached (J.T. Realmuto, George Springer, DJ LeMahieu, Trevor Bauer), the Jays have a fairly specified process, per the same podcast as above. They take the dollar number that they’ve assigned to the draft pick they’d lose by signing a given free agent, and subtract that number from the offer made to the player. In a vacuum, that makes sense.
Predictive player evaluation models, of course, assume a range of potential outcomes, making for a murkier process than the one described above. To take any valuation of a player as gospel is unrealistic. Furthermore, putting the onus of the lost draft pick on the player largely neglects the competitive aspect of free agency. The only players Toronto could ever expect to sign would be ones they rate higher than the market norms (or those that could be convinced with supplemental appeals, such as culture, the tax situation in Canada, or the quality of the roster).
Granted, in a literal sense, that is exactly the free agent process – winning a free agent bid means signing those players for whom the Jays are willing to pay more than everybody else. That doesn’t just happen when the Jays find value in a player that nobody else can see – such as might be the case with the mythical “diamond in the rough” a la Max Muncy or Justin Turner signing with the Dodgers. In practice, most players have explicit appeal that multiple teams all see at once. This is why the dollar value of a player in free agency is by necessity a dynamic thing. In effect, it’s hard to know where exactly Toronto’s dollar value began with Gausman, only roughly where it maxed out.
Still, the greater point here probably comes from simply knowing Toronto’s thinking. As noted on the podcast, many conversations happen during the courtship process and only some actually end in contract offers. Though Richards comes from a different pool of free agents than Gausman – meaning free agents unburdened by a qualifying offer – there’s still no indication that Toronto has moved beyond those initial meet-and-greet level of courtship with Richards.
After missing out on Gausman, however, the Jays are clear about their desire to acquire someone else to fill out their rotation. Richards fits the profile. The former Angel isn’t at the tippy-top of the pitching market, but he did land 24th on MLBTR’s list of top-50 free agents. The 32-year-old posted a 4.03 ERA/4.28 FIP across 51 1/3 innings with San Diego last season, presumably showing enough in his full-speed return from Tommy John to prove that he’s back to full strength. For the Jays, that’s likely to put him up near the top for starters in their price range, speculatively speaking.