Rebuilding The Jays Rotation Part 2

Continuing on with my “foolproof” plan to get the Blue Jays into contention in 2020. Last time we figured on upgrading the starting rotation – a necessary point agreed upon by everyone involved in the team it would seem – by adding a great, front-line starter through trade. Preferably Carlos Carrasco but perhaps Jon Gray. They, along with recently acquired Chase Anderson, would improve the starting rotation vastly and theoretically, make it good enough to compete IF people stayed healthy and a couple of the group of youngsters we saw this year like Trent Thornton, Anthony Kay or Ryan Borucki continued to develop and improve. However, that seems like a lot to assume. Remember how last spring, it seemed like the rotation was quite “deep” with Clay Bucholz and Clayton Richard added to Marcus Stroman, a seemingly revitalized Aaron Sanchez and Borucki coming off a very strong rookie campaign. Those guys and 16 others added in, we know how that all turned out! So more would still need to be done.

As we’ve often noted, Toronto is a big market with deep pockets, but has spent “small” the past couple of years. Mark Shapiro says they have money to spend, if need be, and with Russell Martin and perhaps Justin Smoak off the payroll, they’ve cut another $20-25M from the budget since September. (To clarify, Martin was playing for the Dodgers but Toronto had picked up most of his $20M salary as part of the trade.) Spending a chunk of that on pitching would be wise. So I’d be looking to add another quality starting pitcher via free agency.

The one who comes to mind to top the list of candidates would be Hyun-jin Ryu. The Korean veteran was second in NL Cy Young balloting this year after having a 14-5, 2.32 season, that ERA being best in the majors among pitchers tossing better than 100 innings in ’19. He had a great 163K : 24 BB ratio through his 183 innings. That added up to a WAR of 5.3 – and given how bad some of Toronto’s rotation was, one might think that if he’d been here he might have added more than 5 wins to the year-end tally.

Over the past two seasons, Ryu is second to only two-time Cy-winner Jacob Degrom in ERA, and through his whole career here, he’s come in at 2.98, a rather stellar number, even when considering he’s pitched in the pitcher-friendly NL West. While as our reader Badfinger 20 notes, he’s no longer a strikeout machine, he knows how to pitch. And as MLB point out,he has one of the lowest “hard hit” rates against him- he can keep batters off balance enough so even when they do hit him, they don’t usually get tremendous power or lift. All factors which would play very well in Toronto.

On the negative side, Ryu will be 33 by opening day and has pitched 150 innings only three times in his six seasons (and he missed almost all of 2015-16. due to injury.) He thus doesn’t have a reputation as being very durable, but that could work to a suitor’s advantage in possibly deflating the market for him somewhat. Unfortunately Scott Boras is his agent, and he says “age wise, (he’s) 32, but…innings-wise, probably 26 or 27” and he expects a huge contract for his client. However, even Boras doesn’t get everything he wants (witness Dallas Keuchel sitting out half the season before signing a one-year deal when Boras was aiming for a huge, multi-year deal.) I’d not break the bank for Ryu or pay him Verlander-type money, but if he would sign on for three or four years at $18-20M a year or so, I’d welcome him with open arms… and point out just how multicultural Toronto is, a plus for an Asian-born player.

If Ryu held out for a much bigger contract, or was determined to go to San Diego as rumored, I’d turn my attentions to another 33 year-old come springtime – Tanner Roark. Roark, for whatever reason, has been linked to Toronto as a potential employer often this fall anyway.

Roark isn’t quite the star Ryu is, but is even more reliable so far in terms of staying healthy and is a consistently solid pitcher. From 2014-19, he’s averaged 189 innings a year and owns a career 3.71 ERA. He split 2019 between Cincinnati and Oakland, going 10-10 with a 4.35 ERA and a WAR of 2.0. The year before, he posted a WAR of 2.9 with Washington. His ERA’s always bested league average and he has good numbers with things like strikeouts to walks. A bit of a concern is how much his numbers fell and his homers allowed rose in Oakland this summer, the first time he’s been in the AL, but he is resilient enough and a good enough pitcher to suspect he will adjust just fine and be back to about where he’s been before – no superstar, but a winning pitcher who’ll go pretty close to 200 innings. Even more than with Ryu, I’d not be giving him a mega-contract, but given his last salary of $10M and his age, he might be a good fit and willing to sign for say three years and about $40M total.

Ryu would be a huge upgrade, Roark a solid one. Either would make Toronto’s rotation very solid with the other additions mentioned, but i’d still learn from 2019 and try to add one more arm, but at a bit of a discount rate. Toronto’s been famous for doing so in the past, and sometimes such bets pay out (Carlos Villaneuva for instance) and other times, they don’t so well (Bucholz), but with Toronto’s income and the possible upside it would be worth a shot. the names I have in mind are two lefties – Alex Wood and Daniel Norris.

Wood will be only 29 in spring, and has had some good years behind him in LA. Check out his career 3.40 ERA. But, he was injured for the first half of ’19 and didn’t come back too strong for the Reds, going 1-3 with a 5.80 ERA and a negative WAR. He allowed an uncharacteristically high 11 home runs in just 35 innings and basically wasn’t good. But the year before, he was (9-7, 3.68, 27 starts and 151 innings) and the year before, even more so (16-3, the best winning percentage in NL, 2.72 with a 3.3 WAR in 152 innings.) He has a good deceptive delivery, steady srtikeout to walk ratio and thus a pretty big upside. But that’s countered by a steadily dropping rate of strikeouts per inning, his inability to go much beyond 150 innings a year and the ugly campaign this season. His name isn’t mentioned much in discussions about “name” free agents, so if he would sign on for one or two years at a lower rate (probably about $6-8M a season, perhaps with a number of incentives for innings, quality starts and so on) he’d be a great, under-the-radar pickup.

The last name, Norris, is well-known to Jays fans. He was the centerpiece of the trade with Detroit that brought David Price in for the 2015 playoff run. At that time he was the highest-rated young Jays arm. However, the southpaw has never quite lived up to the potential in Tiger-town and now that trade’s throw-in Matt Boyd seems the lasting reward to them. So they might be open to trading Norris. On the bad side, he’s 14-29 career with Detroit (but hey, that’s one bad team so it’s difficult to load up on “W”s there!) and his ERA has been middling at best – 4.49 last year. His fastball is only so-so – 91MPH average last year, according to Fangraphs – and has lost two or three miles over the past three years. And his career has seen too many balls fly out of the park behind him. However… there may be hope. He has a good slider and a pretty decent curveball which perhaps could improve given the right coach and get more outs if utilized more. And even with his 13 losses last season, he had a fair WAR of 2. He’s only 27 and here’s what interests me – like a lot of other pitchers, he’s good early in the game, and loses steam mid-game. Last year, he posted a 3.38 ERA over the first 4 innings, and allowed under a hit per inning. He slowed in the fifth but from the 6th on, forget it. He gave up nearly 2 hits an inning and his ERA was 12.59 in them. My take – he doesn’t have the stamina or the “smarts” to go deep into the game and keep batters off balance several times one day. But he can do so well for once through the order. He might make a very good long reliever, something which could be of great use to the Jays.

The Tigers surprisingly say their biggest need is infield help. Maybe not surprising when you consider they rely on such redoubtables as 3B Dawel Lugo (.271 OBP) and middle-infielder Jeimer Candelario (.203 avg, .337 slugging percentage.) Toronto has one time star Brandon Drury gathering dust and likely to not be more than a seldom-used backup in ’20. He’d be an upgrade over anyone (except perhaps aging Miguel Cabrera) on the Tigers infield. I’d make the offer.

So there we have it. Whew! My 2020 Jays would have one star first-line starter (Carrasco or Gray), another solid one (Ryu or Roark) and probably at least one more potential decent starter or long reliever (Wood, Norris or maybe both) added to the existing likes of Matt Shoemaker, Trent Thornton, Chase Anderson and a bevy of young “bubbling under” arms like Zeuch and KAy to choose from. My work here is done. But alas, the starting rotation was only one pressing need for the team next season. I’ll look at other changes to make next time out.

23 comments

  1. badfinger20

    Alex Wood…is a solid pitcher with a funky left-handed delivery. He would be good in that rotation. I saw a writer today saying Toronto is a great landing place for Ryu.

    I would take Roark also. He is a solid pitcher…not top shelve but a good pitcher.

    I’ve read about Daniel Norris. What a guy…it’s hard not to like him. Living in that Volkswagen van and not caring about spending or making a ton of money. He lives in Tennessee somewhere.

    Do you think the Jays will try to get someone in the upper echelon?

    • Dave

      Well, I’m as curious as anyone about what the Jays will do. Shapiro has made statements suggesting they could and will be willing to spend, but nothing in the track record for him nor Atkins would suggest it.
      Yes, Norris was famous back early on in his career for his camper van and staying in it when he drove to spring training. Gotta like that originality!

      • badfinger20

        For the fans sake…they should.

        After I read your post last night…I looked around and he is still doing it…he calls his van “Shaggy” and loves to go surfing.

  2. badfinger20

    Thought you would want to see this:
    Jon Heyman

    @JonHeyman
    #MNTwins are in on Hyun-Jin Ryu. Also: Jays and Dodgers (tho his old team is also looking even higher (Cole/Strasburg)

  3. badfinger20

    They did it! Many Dodger fans are upset but the Dodgers loss is the Jays gain. He is a good pitcher…pitcher in every sense of the word. He has 5 different pitches and has excellent control.

    • Dave

      yep… I’m pleased and think he should do pretty well in toronto, both on the mound and in the city. We have a decent population of Korean ex-pats up there so he may findhimself very at home and fans are excited to have a Cy Young-potential pitcher again. Some have pointed out they may have overpaid, but if he’s nearly as good as he was in LA, that won’t be the case, and anyway it delivered a powerful message to competition and us fans that they aren’t content to act like Tampa of the North and not spend and not win …

      • badfinger20

        In the baseball market you are always going to overpay. The only reason it would be an overpay would be because of his injury history. The guy’s ERA for the past two years has been super.
        He did pitch better at Dodger Stadium but last year it was more even. He is known to be a great guy with his teammates and fans. You are right…it shows Jays fans they are trying to win.

      • Dave

        Very positive stop. I look through his injury history and it seems like its a litany of little things… not a great history, but at least its not one big, constant thing that looks like a vulture circling over him. I expect he’ll do quite well and I’ll be quite happy to have a pitcher like that – lowish velocity and low ERA.

      • Dave

        Absolutely. Seems like there was a guy called, what was it? Maddog? Oh – Maddux that made that work, LOL. Wonder why so few teams can appreciate that now and will go for the guy who’s 6’6″ and throws one pitch, at 102, all the time and gets lit up instead.

      • badfinger20

        Yes that is who the Dodgers announcers have compared how he pitches to… before the shoulder injury he was hitting 95 but he is better now.
        The 102 guys can get by with more mistakes but their control is usually bad.

      • Dave

        that’s my belief too. Can already see evidence of what you said about him being good in clubhouse…his news conference and tweets have been very good so far and he’s already quite popular in toronto I’d say.

      • badfinger20

        He was the guy that got along great with Puig when no one else did…Ryu would actually hit Puig with a bat…playfully of course but on the head… and Puig would love it. Ryu did a lot of pratical jokes…check out his commercials in Korea… .they are out there.

      • badfinger20

        You know the guy is a good hitter and excellent outfielder. He curbed his strikeouts will hit over 20 homeruns…I saw the guy close up before. He is built like a tank.

      • Dave

        I believe it . All I’d heard about him was problems were with his attitude and perhaps his durability. I didn’t think he was regarded as a good D outfielder, but that would be very much a bonus for Jays. With his name not even mentioned a lot in rumor mill, and it now 6 weeks to spring training, it might be worth exploring for both sides.
        When are those Dodgers gonna put it in “drive” for you guys?

      • badfinger20

        His arm is onxe of the best arms in baseball and yes lol he does hit the cutoff man now.
        The Dodgers know they can win the division with what they have now….that is not enough for fans though.
        That is what the fans are bitching about…their thinking is…get in the playoffs and anything can happen…The Dodger president is Stan Kasten…he was with the Braves in the 90s…see the similarities?

      • Dave

        Too bad, from a Dodgers fan’s perspective, that San Fran isn’t very competitive anymore. Maybe if the Giants spent big and seemed poised to win , LA management would need to take a few more steps to move on up to the next level, instead of what you say, being content to expect a divsion title and hope things fall in place in October.

      • Dave

        Just now saw that an Atlanta site reported A) Donaldson re signs with Braves B) Puig to Blue Jays, but deleted quickly. Where there’ s smoke there’ s usually fire though.

      • Dave

        Maybe so!!
        HAven’t seen any stories suggesting either today. But I expect Donaldson will re-up in Atlanta, they seem most interested in him and made a 4-year offer plus he’s friends with Anthopolous there from the Toronto days. I personally expect Ozuna will be back in STL (hence their trading of Martinez, at this time their best remaining OF) and Castellanos to end up with White sox. Which, I rather THINK and hope will leave Toronto trying to get either Kevin Pillar back for his glove or Puig if they feel he’d be dedicated and healthy enough.

      • badfinger20

        I thought the Dodgers would look at Josh and move Turner to first but I guess not.

        Ozuna…now he is a throwback slugger. I was wondering about him.

        Speaking of the Cardinals…I would have taken a flyer on Wacha…they let him walk…his velocity is still great.

        I looked up the Jays and Puig…and there was something dated 3 days ago. Honestly he would be good there and supply some more power. Fans love the guy also…it’s the other teams that don’t like him.

      • Dave

        That’ s Bautista pt 2…few players in 43 years have been as popular in Toronto…or as hated elsewhere- Texas & Baltimore particularly

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