The annual congregation of baseball front office types and reporters at the MLB Winter Meetings has concluded for another year and the Toronto Blue Jays are heading back home with a new pitcher in tow. There’s not much else coming along with them from San Diego aside from a lot of due diligence and so-called ‘aggressive’ discussions with free agents.
With the meetings behind them and spring training still more than two months away, here’s a recap of what the Blue Jays accomplished.
It certainly won’t excite, well, anyone really, but the Blue Jays did make one addition to their underwhelming pitching rotation on Wednesday.
— Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith) December 11, 2019
Roark’s deal is said to be a two-year contract worth $24 million.
After six seasons with the Washington Nationals to start his career, the 33-year old righty split last season between the Cincinnati Reds and Oakland Athletics. He posted a 4.35 ERA over 165 1/3 innings in 2019, with 158 strikeouts and 51 walks. His career has mostly hovered near the numbers that he posted last year, but his best season came in 2016 — when he went 16-10 and posted a 2.83 ERA.
He’s been mostly a slightly-below-average arm far more often than he’s been a good one and profiles to be a back-of-the-rotation fourth or fifth starter if he were on a good team. The 2020 Blue Jays, of course, do not currently fit any projection of being a good team and his current role looks to be one of a reliable veteran to keep things from getting out of hand more than the new staff ace.
On the surface, Roark is another back end rotation arm on a staff already filled with exactly that type of pitcher or worse. There is a chance that the team views him as someone to pump up and try to trade in July, or move as a small piece in what the team hopes will be a bigger picture of additions.
Whether those additions actually happen is another question in itself.
Close but no cigars
More than anything, the Blue Jays spent the week telling everyone that asked about the series of “aggressive” (their words) conversations they had with other options.
According to Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi, the Blue Jays were in on but came up short with Jake Odorizzi — who chose to take a Qualifying Offer — were turned down by Kyle Gibson — who took a three-year, $30-million deal with the Texas Rangers — and were outbid for the services of Zach Wheeler, Mike Moustakas, Rick Porcello and Kevin Gausman.
They were also reportedly strongly interested in KBO expat and possible upside project Josh Lindblom. Sportnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reported that the team made a ‘significant’ offer to Lindblom, who instead chose to sign with the Milwaukee Brewers for $9.1 million over three years. There is a dissonance between calling an offer aggressive and Lindblom eventually signing for less than eight figures, but it at least furthers the narrative that the Blue Jays are making calls and offers in all corners of the market.
No Rule 5??
It’s hard to believe, but the Blue Jays chose to pass on their slot in the Rule 5 draft. The chance to get a free castoff from another team — especially with the expanded 26 man rosters in play next season — is usually right up the alley of the current front office. They landed reliever Joe Biagini from the San Francisco Giants ahead of the 2016 season and added stash prospect Elvis Luciano last year.
Dany Jimenez, a 25-year-old pitcher who appeared in 45 games between High-A and Double-A last season, was selected from the Blue Jays by the San Francisco Giants. He posted a 2.59 ERA across both levels, including 1.87 mark at Double-A New Hampshire. He’ll have to stick on the Giants’ major league roster all season or be offered back to the Blue Jays.
Next steps and other options
Behind the now-signed stud pitchers Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg at the top of the market, the biggest name the Blue Jays have been linked to is reigning NL ERA leader Hyun-Jin Ryu.
As the top pitcher left, the Blue Jays are obviously not alone in their pursuit of Ryu. His incumbent team — the Los Angeles Dodgers — have deep pockets and remain a suitor, along with the Minnesota Twins and now the St. Louis Cardinals have emerged into the mix.
Regardless of who the target may be, the front office has made it clear that they are not done in the search for pitching.
“We’re thinking about adding to our pitching, adding to our depth. We’ll continue to do that,” general manager Ross Atkins told Kaitlyn McGrath of The Athletic. “There seems to be opportunity at different areas of the market — there’s trade opportunities, there’s free-agent opportunities. … We still feel very good about the opportunities to make our team better. There is some value in guys who provide stability to rotations, and there’s different kinds of opportunities that still exist in the market.”
Aside from the obvious need for pitching, there were a few other areas where the team hinted they may be looking to make a move. Atkins mentioned interest in an upgrade in centre field, a position the team failed to find a permanent fit for last season after cycling through a number of players.
Another interesting note. Where do the #BlueJays rank the need for a CF upgrade among their priorities? Per Atkins: "We would be very open to adding in centre field as long as it's a significant upgrade...” 1/2
— Kaitlyn McGrath (@kaitlyncmcgrath) December 12, 2019
“…What we don't want to do is have a marginal upgrade at the expense of continued development and opportunity for young players.” 2/2
— Kaitlyn McGrath (@kaitlyncmcgrath) December 12, 2019
Additionally, one of the few spots the Blue Jays currently appear to have reasonable amounts of dealable depth is behind the plate. Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported on Wednesday that the Jays are “drawing heavy interest” in both of their 24-year-old catchers Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire. Rosenthal notes that either could be used as bait to address their largest need, a starting pitcher.
The Blue Jays leave the meetings having technically accomplished something in the acquisition of Roark, but it is still very clear that there’s plenty of work to be done before the season starts. With all the talk of aggressive offers and discussions they pushed throughout the week, the majority of the groundwork should be done. All that is left is actually making the additions the team needs to take the next step and win some baseball games.
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