- Trent Thornton is the favorite to claim the final spot in the Blue Jays’ season-opening rotation, reports Scott Mitchell of TSN. The 26-year-old actually led the Jays in innings (154.1) last season, but the results weren’t in line with what one would want from a staff ace. He posted a 4.84 ERA with slightly worse than average strikeout (22.0%) and walk (9.0%) rates. This offseason, the front office went to work on bolstering that pitching staff. They signed Hyun-Jin Ryu and Tanner Roark to multi-year deals, brought back Matt Shoemaker, and acquired Chase Anderson in a trade with Milwaukee. Another offseason addition, Shun Yamaguchi, figures to be Thornton’s biggest competition for the #5 rotation spot. Because of his experience in relief in NPB, however, Yamaguchi seems more likely to open the season in the bullpen, Mitchell reports.
- Seeing that new-look staff in action will be a bit more difficult for some Blue Jays’ fans. Beginning this season, live Jays’ games will be blacked out on MLB.tv throughout Canada, reports Andrew Stoeten of the Athletic. Instead, Canadian viewers will have to subscribe to Sportsnet NOW to stream games. A subscription to that platform also offers non-baseball programming but doesn’t come with the MLB.tv advantage of offering live access to every MLB game in real time. It’s surely frustrating news for a certain segment of the Canadian fan base.
Blue Jays Rumors
Although they were then coming off a 67-win campaign and their third straight year without a playoff berth, the Blue Jays still managed to reel in one of the offseason’s highest-ranked free agents. They added former Dodgers southpaw Hyun-Jin Ryu on a four-year, $80MM contract – the largest deal they’ve awarded since Mark Shapiro became team president late in the 2015 season. Shapiro discussed the Ryu signing, among other topics, with Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.
Ryu was tremendous at times in Los Angeles, especially from 2018-19, and will now slot into the top of Toronto’s revamped rotation from the get-go. Still, the commitment the Blue Jays made to Ryu no doubt comes with its share of risk. The club is far from a sure thing to be an immediate contender, for one, so Ryu’s contributions early in the deal may not lead to a vast amount of team success. He’s also set to enter his age-33 season and has seldom been the picture of durability since debuting in 2013. Last year marked the first time since 2014 that Ryu threw more than 150 innings in a season.
The Blue Jays are obviously excited about having won the Ryu derby, but Shapiro acknowledged to Davidi that “time will tell the value return” on the pact. He continued: “Free-agent starting pitching in general is a high-risk market and we’re very aware of that. That’s why we’re so careful. You don’t pound your chest over signing someone. You have all your reasons for doing it, you know the risks going in. We identified the need and felt this was one of the best opportunities for us to get better and take a step.”
The Jays are hopeful Ryu will provide value in each year of the contract, but if most of it comes toward the beginning of it, “It’s certainly not ideal but it’s certainly not disastrous,” Shapiro said. He admitted that “contracts get more risky as a player ages, so you would expect to get more on the front side.”
Toronto’s cognizant that it took a chance in signing Ryu, but the fact that the team has so much young, inexpensive talent gave it the necessary “financial flexibility” to make that gamble. With Ryu on the roster, Shapiro’s all the more confident that the Blue Jays are “going to be good,” thanks in part to the “mass of talent” they’ve built up in recent years.
- The Blue Jays face some interesting decisions with their bench mix, as the Toronto Star’s Gregor Chisholm observes that slugger Rowdy Tellez might not make the Opening Day roster. Since minor league signing Joe Panik “is almost a sure bet to be included on the roster” as a utilityman and outfielders Derek Fisher and Anthony Alford are both out of options, this trio might have the advantage over Tellez, who is defensively limited to only first base. Tellez has shown some strong power (25 homers, .475 slugging percentage) over 482 MLB plate appearances, though is somewhat one-dimensional at the plate, as evidenced by his .241 career average and .299 OBP. Fisher and Alford will both need to perform well this spring to block Tellez, however, and Chisholm notes that Brandon Drury also isn’t a lock for the roster, as the Blue Jays could opt to cut Drury and just go with Panik as the primary utility player. Since Drury was an arbitration-eligible player, releasing him before Opening Day would leave the Jays on the hook for just a small portion of his $2.05MM salary. If Drury was released, Chisholm speculates Toronto could potentially put those savings towards signing another veteran player who might become available as teams trim their rosters in advance of the season opener.
Former five-time All-Star Tony Fernandez passed away Saturday night at age 57, according to Hector Gomez of Deportivo Z 101 (Twitter link). Fernandez suffered a brain stroke while he was already in hospital receiving treatment for complications from kidney disease, and Fernandez was placed in an induced coma two weeks ago.
Fernandez appeared in part of 17 Major League seasons from 1983-2001, suiting up for seven different teams but making his biggest impact with the Blue Jays. Over four separate stints with Toronto, Fernandez played 1450 of his 2158 MLB games in a Jays uniform, and is the franchise’s all-time leader in games played, hits (1583), singles (1160), triples (72), and bWAR (37.5). A switch-hitting offensive contributor who hit .288/.347/.399 over 8793 career plate appearances, Fernandez was even more highly regarded for his defense, winning four consecutive Gold Gloves at shortstop between 1986-89.
Though Fernandez was dealt to the Padres along with Fred McGriff in the blockbuster December 1990 trade that brought Roberto Alomar and Joe Carter to Toronto, Fernandez returned to the Jays in time to help his old club capture its second consecutive World Series title. The Jays re-acquired Fernandez in a June 1993 deal with the Mets, and the shortstop hit .306/.361/.442 in 390 regular season PA with the Jays in 1993, and then .333/.423/.381 over 26 plate appearances during the 1993 World Series. Fernandez also posted a 1.022 OPS over 34 PA during the ALCS and World Series for the Indians in 1997, during the Tribe’s run to Game Seven against the eventual world champion Marlins.
The MLB Trade Rumors staff sends our condolences and best wishes to Fernandez’s family, friends, and many fans.
- The Blue Jays are likely to enter 2020 with Randal Grichuk as their top option in center field, GM Ross Atkins confirmed (via Shi Davidi of Sportsnet). That’s not terribly surprising, as the always-sparse free agent market for center fielders has been almost completely picked over. Grichuk is coming off a disappointing 2019, the first season of a five-year extension he inked last April. Despite a career-high 31 home runs, he managed only a .232/.280/.457 line (90 wRC+) over 628 plate appearances. That at least seemed to open the door for an outside addition for the Jays, who have made some improvements around the roster this offseason. Between Grichuk’s right-handed pop and favorable Statcast ratings defensively, it seems he’s earned another opportunity to improve upon his lackluster plate discipline.
The Blue Jays have shut left-hander Ryan Borucki down due to tightness in his left elbow, tweets TSN’s Scott Mitchell. The plan is to re-evalute the 25-year-old within the next few days, but it’s clearly an ominous development after Borucki was limited to just two MLB appearances in 2019 due to elbow troubles. General manager Ross Atkins said that an MRI on Borucki has not revealed any structural damage (Twitter link via Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi).
Borucki isn’t a household name outside of Toronto, but he’s been viewed as an important piece for the Jays as they look to emerge from a rebuilding effort. The former high school draftee ranked among Toronto’s top 20 prospects from 2014-17 before making an impressive big league debut in 2018 when he posted a 3.87 ERA in 17 starts. That season saw Borucki total 97 2/3 innings while averaging 6.2 K/9, 3.0 BB/9 and 0.65 HR/9 with a 46.8 percent ground-ball rate.
The Blue Jays invested heavily in pitching this winter, signing free agents Hyun-Jin Ryu (four years, $80MM) and Tanner Roark (two years, $24MM) in addition to trading for Brewers righty Chase Anderson. That trio was expected to be joined by a returning Matt Shoemaker — who was excellent early in 2019 prior to tearing his ACL — and Borucki. Now, however, it’s difficult to forecast that Borucki will be a go to break camp in the Toronto rotation — or even on the active roster.
Toronto isn’t shy on alternative options. The Jays also signed Japanese righty Shun Yamaguchi this winter, and the former Yomiuri Giant has experience as both a starter and a reliever. Trent Thornton, who paced the Jays in innings pitched last year, remains in the mix. The Blue Jays also have several young options on the cusp of MLB readiness; each of Anthony Kay, Sean Reid-Foley, Jacob Waguespack and T.J. Zeuch has already gotten his feet wet in the Majors and could be in line for a look. Others on the 40-man roster include Thomas Hatch, Yennsy Diaz, Hector Perez and Julian Merryweather.
Whoever opens the season in the fifth spot could end up serving as a mere placeholder anyhow. The Jays have one of baseball’s premier pitching prospects in right-hander Nate Pearson. He and his triple-digit fastball are expected to make their big league debut at some point during the 2020 campaign.
The Padres announced Wednesday that they’ve claimed infielder/outfielder Breyvic Valera off waivers from the Blue Jays. In order to open a spot on the 40-man roster, San Diego has placed right-hander Anderson Espinoza on the 60-day injured list. Espinoza underwent Tommy John surgery late last April.
Valera, 28, was designated for assignment earlier this week when Toronto finalized its one-year deal with reliever Rafael Dolis. Valera spent time with both the Jays and Yankees in 2019, though he appeared in just 17 games and took just 52 plate appearances. Overall, Valera has appeared in the Majors with five teams but played in just 54 games, hitting .223/.294/.298 in 138 trips to the plate.
Lack of MLB track record aside, the switch-hitting Valera is the owner of a .302/.374/.442 slash in 1550 plate appearances at the Triple-A level. Coupled with his defensive versatility –he’s played second base, third base and all three outfield positions — it’s easy to see why so many clubs have been intrigued by his skill set and taken brief looks at him. At this point, however, Valera has exhausted all three of his minor league option years, meaning he’ll need to break camp with the Padres (or another club) or else be traded or placed on waivers once again.
Blue Jays catcher Reese McGuire was arrested over the weekend near the team’s spring camp in Dunedin, according to Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi (via Twitter). He has a criminal appearance scheduled for mid-March.
This is obviously not the way the Toronto organization anticipated launching an important Spring Training. McGuire has been expected to pair with Danny Jansen behind the dish in 2020.
It isn’t yet clear how this matter will progress from a criminal perspective and with regard to the team and league. McGuire was charged with “exposure of sexual organs;” it seems the illicit action occurred inside a vehicle parked in a retail parking lot. Further alleged facts aren’t yet known.
The team issued a statement indicating that it is aware of the arrest and working to gather more information, but otherwise declining comment. The league has not issued any statement (and it may not).
McGuire, 24, is a former first-round draft pick who had run into some struggles on his way to the majors. He does not have a history of high-end offensive performances in the upper minors but has been successful thus far in the big leagues, with a .297/.343/.539 batting line through 138 plate appearances over the past two seasons.
Blue Jays pitching prospect Eric Pardinho underwent Tommy John surgery earlier today and will miss the entire 2020 season as a result, tweets Baseball America’s Ben Badler. Toronto signed Brazilian-born righty for a $1.4MM bonus back in 2017.
It’s a discouraging blow for Pardinho, who missed much of the 2019 season due to elbow troubles but was able to avoid going under the knife. Pardinho, who entered the 2019 season as one of the game’s Top 100 prospects according to both Baseball America and MLB.com, was limited to just 37 2/3 frames this past season. He did, however, post a sterling 2.15 ERA with a 35-to-16 K/BB ratio when healthy enough to pitch.
Pardinho is just 19 years of age and has yet to pitch beyond Class-A, but the news of surgery on the heels of an injury-plagued 2019 campaign means that the highly touted righty will lose nearly two full years of development. He’ll return for the 2021 season, assuming his recovery goes well, which will prove to be a pivotal year; Pardinho will need to be added to the Jays’ 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft in the 2021-22 offseason.
- The Blue Jays went into the offseason prepared to aggressively search for pitching, only to have to ramp up their approach when the free agent market moved much quicker than anticipated, Sportsnet.ca’s Shi Davidi writes in a wide-ranging overview of Toronto’s winter moves. Davidi’s piece provides a breakdown of how the Jays pursued their targets, ranging from big names (i.e. Gerrit Cole, Yasmani Grandal) on both the rotation and position player fronts, as well as looking for value by checking in with seemingly just about every pitcher available. The Winter Meetings seemed to be a key pivot point, as one player agent told Davidi that the Jays began to take a “totally different” approach in negotiations: “It’s like they realized what they’d been doing wasn’t working and decided to change things up.” In essence, the Toronto front office reversed its strategy, abandoning the plan of acquiring an ace-level arm first and then adding more pitchers to a new tactic of signing mid-rotation hurlers (i.e. Tanner Roark, Shun Yamaguchi) before finally landing a big fish in Hyun-Jin Ryu.
- Adding to the long list of pitchers known to have garnered interest from the Blue Jays, Davidi reports that Toronto was also “in the mix for” both Alex Wood and Angel Sanchez. Wood ended up signing with the Dodgers, one of his former teams, in mid-January on a one-year contract worth $4MM in guaranteed money (and another $6MM in incentives). Sanchez bounced around multiple farm systems from 2011-17 with a Major League resume that included only 12 1/3 innings for the 2017 Pirates before finding success pitching in Korea over the last two seasons. While Sanchez received some looks from the Jays and other MLB teams, he ended up heading from South Korea to Japan, signing a multi-year deal with the NPB’s Yomiuri Giants.