Blue Jays looking for right fit to fill out rotation

December 6th, 2022

SAN DIEGO -- Each MLB offseason is quiet until it suddenly isn’t. Now that the Winter Meetings have ushered in a rush of movement, it’s quickly nearing decision time for the Blue Jays.

Starting pitching sits atop Toronto’s shopping list, and that market is beginning to open up following the reported two-year, $86.7 million deal signed by Justin Verlander with the Mets, with a $35 million vesting option for a third year. Clayton Kershaw also signed a one-year, $20 million deal to return to the Dodgers.

The Blue Jays had interest in Verlander, just as they did in 2021 when they came closer to signing him, but that $43-million-plus average annual number would have resulted in significant challenges to adding elsewhere. The result, though, is that dominoes are beginning to fall, and Toronto needs to pick the right spot to enter the market. It’s balancing patience and emotion in a fast-moving world, and the Blue Jays are focused on removing as many variables as possible.

“The key is sticking to your plan, but making sure you understand every scenario,” general manager Ross Atkins said. “Understanding where those opportunities are going to be and where they are after someone comes off the market is really important to work through before it happens.”

Simply, the Blue Jays don’t want to spend time thinking or planning at this point. That has been done. It’s time to react.

There are other big names out there. Jacob deGrom has already signed a five-year, $185 million deal with the Rangers, but Carlos Rodón remains available at the top of the market. Japanese righty Kodai Senga is a fascinating name, while Chris Bassitt, Jameson Taillon, Sean Manaea, Taijuan Walker and Andrew Heaney lead a long list in the middle.

There’s no shortage of starting pitching available, especially when you consider the trade market, where the Blue Jays could move one of their three talented young catchers to make a major splash.

Let’s get more specific, then. Besides, everyone has a type.

“If it were just one piece of the equation, then I would take some combination of durability and upside,” Atkins said. “It would be great with someone who has good playoff potential for a team like ours as well. But then, you have to factor in what the acquisition costs and what that means for the rest of your team.”

That’s a start. The Blue Jays have also long coveted athleticism, which for a pitcher isn’t always about being an Olympic sprinter or throwing 100 mph. Instead, Toronto wants to see athleticism within a delivery, which allows a pitcher to both repeat movements and adjust on the fly.

It’s also important to consider the Blue Jays' in-house options.

“Look at the starters, you have [Alek] Manoah and [Kevin] Gausman right off the bat,” said manager John Schneider. “I think they’ll just continue to do what they’ve been doing. Then, you look for José Berríos to rebound to what he has been his whole career. Then you look to the back end with [Yusei] Kikuchi, Mitch White. And then you can be creative with other guys who you can build length into, whether that’s Nate Pearson, Trevor Richards or someone like that.”

Atkins said Monday that he would “definitely” prefer to have a traditional rotation with five starting pitchers. That means using swingmen or “bulk guys” as depth or secondary options, which is a key piece to this equation. Unless the Blue Jays can trust Kikuchi as their No. 5 -- a difficult leap after his 2022 season -- then this offseason will be about adding two legitimate MLB starters, not just one.

There’s always the element of hope, too, which can be dangerous and rewarding. No. 1 prospect Ricky Tiedemann, who spent 2022 lighting the Minor Leagues on fire, could debut by midseason and has ace potential. Hyun Jin Ryu, who underwent Tommy John surgery in June, could also be an option eventually.

“Hopefully, at some point in the middle of the season, [Ryu] gets back to the form he has shown his whole career and can be a boost for us at that point of the season," Schneider said. "As a person, I can’t say enough good things about him and how his teammates love him. If we can get him back in some capacity, that’s big news for us.”

The Blue Jays can be patient, but not that patient, And as this market shakes to life in San Diego, it’s time for them to put their weeks of planning into action.