Gausman joins Blue Jays: 'It just made sense'

Right-hander signs 5-year, $110 million contract to anchor starting rotation

December 1st, 2021

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays on Wednesday announced they signed right-hander to a five-year, $110 million contract, adding a major, long-term piece to their rotation.

Gausman, 30, had been targeted by the Blue Jays in the past, and will now slide in alongside José Berríos, who recently signed a seven-year, $131 million extension, at the top of the Blue Jays’ rotation. Add in Hyun Jin Ryu and young right-hander Alek Manoah, and the Blue Jays will have the foundation of a postseason rotation as they look to take the next step following a 91-71 season in 2021 that saw them fall just short.

The Blue Jays knew Gausman well from his days with Baltimore, where he pitched for parts of six seasons from 2013-18 after the Orioles made him the fourth overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft, but he hit the market after two seasons with the Giants that saw him break out as one of the game’s most effective front-end starters. Now, Gausman represents two things the Blue Jays covet, bringing GM Ross Atkins back to an old story.

When Atkins was a young executive with Cleveland, current Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro told him about an interaction he’d had with Pat Gillick, the former Blue Jays GM. Shapiro asked Gillick what he looked for in players, and the answer was simple: dependable and reliable.

“That is what Kevin has been,” Atkins said, “and it’s something that is exceptionally attractive to us, along with one of the best secondary weapons in the game, a remarkable track record thus far as a professional, as a teammate and as a human being. To be realizing his potential, and then some, at this point in his career just speaks to his desire to be better.”

Gausman posted a 3.62 ERA with the Giants in the shortened 2020 season, then accepted the qualifying last offseason and put up a career year, pitching to a 2.81 ERA over 192 innings in ’21, earning an All-Star nod and a sixth-place finish in the NL Cy Young Award race. Gausman showed his usual feel for the zone, walking just 2.3 batters per nine, but ramped up his strikeout rate with 10.6 per nine, comfortably above his career average of 8.9.

Gausman also brings a unique pitch mix to the mound, leaning very heavily on a fastball, which averaged 94.6 mph in ’21, and a splitter. He’ll also feature a slider, which remains a work in progress, but Gausman’s bread and butter will continue to be keeping hitters off balance with that fastball-splitter combo. His splitter is especially valuable later in counts, as the 138 strikeouts he recorded with that pitch in ’21 were more than any individual pitch in baseball.

His decision to come north to Toronto had all the usual factors, a list always topped by the contract itself, of course. Gausman liked the Blue Jays' young core, too, along with the club’s player-focused approach and the resources Toronto could offer him, mainly at the organization’s new Player Development Complex. There were family considerations, too, but as momentum built toward a deal, his thought process was simple.

“It just made sense the closer it got to decision time. This is the team I think I’m going to win the most with,” Gausman said.

Gausman put himself in this place by realizing that he wasn’t like most other pitchers. There had been temptation for Gausman to chase spin rates or other modern metrics, but that’s not him. Instead, he pivoted to focusing on his strengths, and oddly enough, the shortened 2020 season was the perfect place to experiment for the right-hander.

“I feel more confident in myself now than I ever have in my career,” Gausman said. “It’s just about being really good at what you’re great at. My command has gotten better, and I just have a better overall feel for who I am and what I need to do to have success.”

This deal comes at the right time for the Blue Jays, who are working to bolster their pitching to pair with an elite offense in the powerful AL East. Their commitment to Berríos helped to solidify the rotation over the coming years, but another move was always needed to raise the ceiling of the group. Along with Ryu and Manoah, the Blue Jays have further rotation options in former No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson, Thomas Hatch and Ross Stripling, but it’s likely the club will continue to add to that depth group.

As with any more coming moves, this also fits into the future of the Blue Jays, a future that will need to see Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernández and others extended, or at least receiving significant raises via arbitration. Gausman, like Berríos, is another major step, though, and the Blue Jays have the resources to make this the beginning of something even bigger.