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Blue Jays make decision on pair of options

@KeeganMatheson
November 7, 2020

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays made their first official moves of the 2020-21 MLB offseason on Oct. 30, exercising their '21 club option for reliever Rafael Dolis valued at $1.5 million and declining their $9.5 million option on starter Chase Anderson. Anderson’s contract features a $500,000 buyout, and the right-hander

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays made their first official moves of the 2020-21 MLB offseason on Oct. 30, exercising their '21 club option for reliever Rafael Dolis valued at $1.5 million and declining their $9.5 million option on starter Chase Anderson.

Anderson’s contract features a $500,000 buyout, and the right-hander will now be a free agent as Toronto looks elsewhere to build its rotation depth.

Despite the ongoing uncertainties brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Blue Jays plan to be aggressive this offseason in a market that is expected to feature fewer buyers at the top end. Given the realities of these markets, the club feels it can spend that $9 million to address one or more positions on a young roster that went 32-28 and reached the American League Wild Card Series in 2020.

From the top down, the Blue Jays have been open in saying they plan to target “defense and strike throwing” this offseason, which were identified as their two clear weaknesses in 2020. Money matters in all of these pursuits, so the decisions on Dolis and Anderson offer the first pieces of budget certainty for the Blue Jays this offseason.

5 key questions for Blue Jays this offseason

The Blue Jays’ front office will soon meet with their ownership group to set the club’s 2021 budget, but for now, president and CEO Mark Shapiro is optimistic that the team will continue in the same direction they took last season, progressing out of their “development” phase by making impactful moves on the market.

“The reality of the pandemic clearly changes the dynamic of our revenues,” Shapiro said. “However, there has been consistent support from our ownership and consistent encouragement that we continue to progress in our plan, that we continue to move forward. That was evident with [signing Hyun Jin] Ryu, that was evident at the Trade Deadline in a very truncated season.”

The 2020 season was challenging for Anderson, who dealt with an oblique injury early on, then pitched to a 7.22 ERA over 33 2/3 innings. Starting pitching remains a major priority for the Blue Jays, but comparing that need to Nov. 4 2019, when the club acquired Anderson from the Brewers, it’s a different type of need.

What to know: Toronto's '20 offseason FAQ

At that time, Toronto sought depth and stability. Anderson fit that very well, as a veteran who could be relied upon for 25-plus starts with a steady ERA. It didn’t work out that way, but regardless, given the number of young starters that the Blue Jays have on the cusp of the Major Leagues to provide depth, they can afford to target more upside this time around as they look to push deeper into the postseason.

With Ryu and No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson expected to lead the rotation, the Blue Jays will also be looking to bring back some of their own free agents, including Matt Shoemaker, Taijuan Walker and Robbie Ray. (They did just that on Saturday, signing Ray to a one-year, $8 million deal.) Perhaps Anderson is part of that consideration eventually, but not at $9.5 million.

Keep in mind that the Blue Jays have also shown a willingness to take on contracts or use payroll as a tool in trades, including the Anderson acquisition a year ago. Payroll uncertainties could make this more difficult, but given Toronto’s young roster, it may still be able to take on short-term money via trade for the right arm.

On the other side of the equation is Dolis, the right-handed reliever whose $1.5 million club option for 2021 was an easy “yes” for Toronto.

Dolis was a valuable find for the Blue Jays, who continue to do well at finding value on the lower end of the relief market from year to year. Dolis, who last pitched in the big leagues in 2013 and spent four years pitching in Japan, returned to the Majors with his great splitter and found immediate success, posting a 1.50 ERA over 24 innings, including five saves.

Walks were an issue for Dolis -- 14 in those 24 innings -- but he negated much of that with his 31 strikeouts. With closer Ken Giles hitting free agency after undergoing Tommy John surgery, the ninth inning is open for competition and, outside of Canadian right-hander Jordan Romano, Dolis might be the club’s best option right now.

There will be closers available on the open market, of course, but the Blue Jays showed in 2020 that they’re more than comfortable with taking the closer by committee approach. When it wasn’t Giles, it was often Anthony Bass, with Dolis, Romano and even A.J. Cole getting some opportunities. Dolis earned plenty of experience closing ball games in Japan and has manager Charlie Montoyo’s trust.

That strategy from 2020 suggests that the Blue Jays won’t necessarily be targeting pitchers for a locked-in role. That’s something that can be figured out along the way and, like the Dolis signing last offseason, you can expect the club to look under every rock to find it.

Keegan Matheson covers the Blue Jays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @KeeganMatheson.