The Blue Jays will certainly be issuing qualifying offers to Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray in the coming weeks, but there is potential for a third name on the list: Steven Matz. “Internally, the Blue Jays have debated whether to extend Matz a qualifying offer,” reports Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.
The idea of extending an $18.4MM qualifying offer to Matz might come as a surprise to many baseball fans who weren’t paying close attention to the Blue Jays this year, and especially to Mets fans who watched him the year before. But the two campaigns could scarcely have been more different for the southpaw. In the shortened 2020 season, Matz missed a few weeks due to injury and ultimately threw 30 2/3 innings for the Mets with an awful ERA of 9.68. But after an offseason trade to the Blue Jays, Matz logged 150 2/3 innings for Toronto with an ERA of 3.82, accruing 2.8 fWAR in 2021, a personal best for him.
It now appears that 2020 is the outlier for Matz, as his 2021 numbers look very similar to those he talled in 2016, 2018 and 2019. In 2017, injuries limited him to 66 2/3 mediocre innings, but in four of the last six years, Matz has thrown between 132 and 161 frames with an ERA between 3.40 and 4.21, strikeout rate between 22% and 24% and walk rate between 5.7% and 9%. When healthy, he’s been a remarkably consistent mid-rotation arm. Considering his age (31 in May) and strong platform year, it’s possible this could be his best chance to land a big payday in free agency.
However, it seems like the chances Matz would accept a qualifying offer are high, considering that this would more than triple his annual pay. The lefty played 2021 on a salary of $5.25MM in his third and final arbitration season. A raise of that magnitude might be difficult to turn down, especially considering that he’d be attaching himself to draft pick forfeiture, thus putting a dent in his earning power. If he accepted, he would also return to the free agent market one year later, after the cloud of mystery around the next Collective Bargaining Agreement will have lifted. The current CBA expires December 1st, which creates a great deal of uncertainty as to how the offseason will play out. It would be entirely reasonable for a player to prefer to have their signature on a contract going into that vast unknown, as opposed to being untethered. The Blue Jays would likely have to give heavy consideration to how it would affect their offseason if the offer was both extended and accepted.
It was recently reported that the club expects payroll to go up next season, though it’s unclear exactly what kind of increase is possible. Jason Martinez of Roster Resource currently estimates next year’s payroll at just under $115MM, which is about $20MM shy of 2021’s opening day number, per Cot’s Baseball Contracts. Adding $18.4MM for Matz would immediately make up the majority of that difference, meaning that the front office would be left with whatever payroll increase they have been granted by ownership, while still looking to re-sign or replace Ray and Semien, as well as upgrading a bullpen that was the team’s achilles heel at times in 2021. That would seem to suggest that the chances of the team deciding to eventually extend the offer to Matz are low, but the fact that they are even debating it perhaps suggests that the payroll increase could be significant.
The club’s 2022 rotation looks a bit frontloaded, now that Matz and Ray are set to depart. Jose Berrios, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Alek Manoah make for a strong front three, with Ross Stripling, Nate Pearson, Thomas Hatch and Anthony Kay on hand as potential options for the backend. There’s certainly room for the Blue Jays to add to that group before spring training rolls around, and they won’t be lacking for options. This year’s class of free agent starters includes such varied names as Max Scherzer, Kevin Gausman, Carlos Rodon, Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Eduardo Rodriguez and many more.