Rebuilding The Jays Rotation, Part 1…

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.

7 comments

  1. badfinger20

    Jon Gray would be a steal. in 2018 he was really good and he has an electric fastball. I can’t believe they are thinking of trading him…why not trade for Kluber?
    I know another pitcher you could target who is a free agent, Ryu of the Dodgers…they will not resign him probably because they have so many pitchers. He led the NL in ERA and was runner up in the Cy Young award. He said he wanted at 3-4 year contract. He doesn’t have strikeout stuff anymore but knows how to pitch.
    Teams seem willing this offseason to unload some good players.

    • Dave

      Yep, seems like there could be quite a few big names traded this winter. I’ve read (in way of pitchers) that Colorado are looking to trade Gray, not sure really why since he isn’t in the stratosphere salary-wise and even though they’re not likely to be too competitive next year, seems like a guy they’d want to keep. But such might not be the case…
      I’d try to get Carrasco over Kluber , but either would be a very big add to the Jays, or most teams, rotation. Carrasco is a bit younger and makes about $7M less a year, which of course, is why Indians perhaps would prefer to trade Kluber. Haven’t heard either name this winter so far in rumors, but I have to think Cleveland would listen to a good offer.
      Even after adding one of those guys via trade, if I was Toronto GM, I’d still try to bring in a good starting pitcher via free agency and Ryu would be on my list definitely– although I don’t know what kind of market he’s going to get. Wouldn’t be giving him Verlander or Scherzer type money, but if he was willing to go around 4 years, $80M tops, I’d consider that. I RARELY pay attention at all when people scream ‘discrimination’ but I think with him there might be a case (and I’ve not heard him accuse others of that, just some fans suggest it.) With the season he had, it seems inexplicable that there were 11 of 30 writers who didn’t think he was even a top 3 candidate for Cy. I have a feeling if his name was “ryan” not Ryu and he could answer questions easily on his own, he would have won the award.

      • badfinger20

        I’ve read the Dodgers blogs where they want Gray but he pitches for a division rival…that doesn’t seem to matter as much anymore to the new GMs.

        I never thought about it that way but you may be right. I’m the last person that would say that also but it’s crazy. He had a rough 7 game stretch but STILL won the ERA title. He isn’t going to be blazing fast like he was when they first got him but the man can pitch.

        At home he was almost unbeatable. I think he will command around 15 and maybe 17 million a year because of his injury history. Nothing major in the past 3 years…he is one of the reason’s they got to the WS both years.

        I have been hearing trade rumors with both of the Cleveland pitchers and Lindor especially. Lindor to the Dodgers is what I’ve heard but we have a good SS in Corey Seager…so I don’t get it.

        I do hope Toronto can find some pitching. With the offense they are building it should be improving greatly.

      • Dave

        Kudos to Bellinger for his MVP, something he definitely earned.
        Lindor would be a massive addition to any team, but I expect clevleland would want a king’s ransom for him so I’m not entirely sure he will end up being moved this winter.
        Interesting new development in the whole sign-sealing biz, eh, with Yu Darvish getting involved and also mentioning Milwaukee. Someone had suggested that if it all is true, the Astros doing that in the World series probably cost Darvish millions of dollars by decreasing interest in him as a free agent. Once again, a situation that MLB needs to get on top of fast for optics. While NFL has hooligans pulling off opponents helmets and whacking them, mainstream news seems obsessed with baseball and “cheating” again, not good for PR.

      • badfinger20

        It was a close MVP race… if Yelich wouldn’t have gotten hurt he could have won…where Bellinger had the advantage was defense. He plays center and first base all gold glove caliber. If you are a Dodger you will be able to play more than one position…its in their philosophy.

        Yea at first Dave I was like you…why are people so upset…just change your signs but when I saw what setup they had going…it changed my out look on the whole fiasco.

        The time where I really got mad was when I saw footage of Kershaw pitching in the WS up 4-1 and everytime he threw a curve or breaking ball you would hear a “Charge” whistle…sure enough on a change up Springer hit a three run home run. That changed the series. He could have hit it anyway but yea that doesn’t make me happy.

        Yea MLB needs to do something pretty damn harsh. Take away some high draft picks for a few years and maybe some suspensions…fines don’t matter to these people.

        The NFL could be murdering people and it would not matter…It amazes me on how much they get away with…

      • Dave

        Like you said, it’s a bad month for Houston , the league’s pariahs! Not only did it seem now they had written instructions about the sign-stealing but we’re told it was their beyond-asinine plan to eliminate over 40 minor league teams that Manfred is hot for. An idea so stupid it’s beyond belief so it’s little surprise Manfred is gung-ho to do it . Who cares about small city fans or less than first round draft pick players anyway? Not today’s MLB apparently.

      • badfinger20

        This pisses me off…I didn’t know about those rookie league teams being eliminated… So this is how you grow your sport?

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