The first General Managers Meeting of the off-season is underway, so high time to get to work for the Jays Ross Atkins. The Blue Jays have potential… but also a lot of work to do before next March if they’re going to be respectable and not continue to bleed fans as they’ve done for the past couple of years. “We don’t suck quite as bad as the Orioles” will not be an acceptable slogan again for 2020, Toronto.
I don’t know what Ross Atkins and the Jays will do this off-season, but I know what I’d be doing, so I’ll look at my path to success for 2020. What I’d do if I was the GM.
Job 1 is, has to be, simply must be starting pitching. The good news is that everyone’s on the same page on that issue. Club president Mark Shapiro has said so clearly, and the team got off to a decent start on the pressing need last week by acquiring Chase Anderson from Milwaukee. Not exactly a beeline to the World Series, but a promising start.
A number of fans are clammoring for Toronto to go after the presumed Free Agent blue ribbon candidates – Gerritt Cole and/or Stephen Strasburg. While Toronto is a big enough, rich enough, team to actually go all in for either of the pair and outbid their supposed preferred SoCal destination teams, I’d steer clear. As good as they both are, there’s little real upside to bidding into the $30M + a year category on a lengthy contract to attain their services when the same amount could conceivably bring in two pitchers who’d collectively upgrade the staff more…and tie up the budget for fewer years. In today’s market, Strasburg, for instance, may be worth $35M a year right now… but there’s great doubt as to how wonderful he’ll be around 2027 when he’ll be 39 and the contract his agent Scott Boras is looking for for him will likely end. Let’s keep in mind, that Trent Thornton, a dude with 6 wins and an ERA of near 5 was the most reliable starter the team had by September. They are more than one good pitcher away from taking on the Yankees or Astros next October. In short it makes more sense to upgrade two spots in the rotation from an “F” to a “B” than one from that “F” to an “A.”
So I wouldn’t spend much time or phone minutes on that pair. Instead, my first call would be to Atkins & Shapiro’s old stomping grounds – Cleveland. My first choice to upgrade the Blue Jays staff for next season would be trading for Carlos Carrasco. The man’s a champ, on and off the field. His off-field activities won him the Roberto Clemente Award for this year. He supports refugee camps, spends time helping out at soup kitchens, has donated food to the needy from his own driveway and volunteered at hospitals before being diagnosed with cancer early this year. He’s a one-man relief organization that fans can get behind and do the team proud.
On field of course, he’s a star that would be a significant upgrade over any pitcher in the Toronto system right now. His 2019 numbers look mediocre indeed: 6-7, 5.29 with a small but still positive WAR of 0.3. However, one has to remember that he missed at least half the year undergoing cancer treatment and still came back to pitch in September. He still amassed an amazing 96 strikeouts to just 16 walks and still had a 94 MPH fastball (although MLB consider his 85 MPH nasty slider as his best pitch.) there’s plenty of reason to expect he could bounce back to his 2017-18 numbers next year. In ’18 he was 17-10, 3.38 with a WAR of 3.1; the year before that, a league-leading 18 wins and a 3.29 ERA. His ERA was at least 19% better than league average from 2014-18 inclusively and he’s averaged better than 1.3 ground balls per flyball – a real bonus in the AL East. Carrasco will be 33 next spring, but shows no real signs of being nearly over-the-hill. Better, he’s signed through 2022, at an average of about $11.5M per season, a bargain in today’s market.
Now, there’s no reason why Cleveland should trade Carrasco. However, I think they would given a decent offer. Consider how they are heavily rumored to be trying to shed their “franchise” player Francisco Lindor, to save money and build for the future. As Anthony Castrovince points out, the Indians are good, but nowhere near good enough to contend for a championship and would do well in their small market to get rid of some stars now to build up their already good farm system to take another run at it in a couple of years. Consider also how both Carrasco and Corey Kluber were rumored to be on the trading block along with Trevor Bauer last season. Bauer got traded downstate, the other pair stayed.
The Indians have formidable pitching with Kluber still there, Shane Bieber establishing himself as a real front-line starter this season and Zac Plesac posting numbers that would have made him a likely Rookie of the Year candidate most any other season (8-6, 3.81). Then there’s Danny Salazar coming back and Mike Clevinger. They could stand to lose a starter like Carrasco and try to pinch those pennies to re-sign either Lindor or Jose Ramirez as a foundation for the infield for their next generation. I’d offer them something like a current AAA pitcher of the likes of Sean Reid-Foley or Jacob Waguespack, teenaged-sensation Simeon Woods-Richardson (acquired as part of the Marcus Stroman trade) and if needed, someone like Rowdy Tellez or even Teoscar Hernandez to help their less-than-all-that offence. The Indians would save cash, still have a solid rotation and add two young arms that given their coaching staff’s record of success, could be starts in two or three years. The Jays would have a starter who fans will love and who should deliver close to 200 innings and probably 15+ wins while keeping the budget low enough to allow for signing of more pitching,
That would be call #1. If the Indians refused or wanted simply too much, the next call would be to Colorado who are reportedly taking offers for their star , Jon Gray. Gray’s a little younger than Carrasco, won’t be a free agent until after the 2021 campaign and will probably be in line to make about $8M this year if he goes to arbitration. The rightie was 11-8 with a 3.84 ERA last season with a 96 MPH heater and a surprising WAR of 4.0. Oddly he pitched better at flyball-happy Coors Field than on the road, by an ERA margin of over 1 and a half. I’d make an offer close to what I’d offered Cleveland for Carrasco… perhaps just two solid young pitchers like Reid-Foley and Woods-Richardson would acquire him from the Rockies.
So, that’s my first moves for the off-season… bring in a new #1 starting pitcher, hopefully Carlos Carrasco but possibly Jon Gray. A good starter is a good start, but there’d be more work to be done… we’ll get to that next.