Both players are expected to decline the one-year, $18.4 million contracts ahead of the Nov. 17 deadline and enter free agency, where the two will rank among the most sought-after players on the open market. Left-hander Steven Matz did not receive a qualifying offer coming off a strong season in the Blue Jays’ rotation, but he and the team are expected to remain in contact throughout free agency.
The decisions to extend the offers to Ray and Semien will be two of the easiest the Blue Jays make this offseason, as both are coming off exceptional individual performances that could see them named finalists for the American League Cy Young and MVP Awards, respectively.
Ray, pitching on a one-year, $8 million deal, turned out to be one of last offseason’s sharpest transactions, as he pitched to a 2.84 ERA over 193 1/3 innings while striking out an AL-best 248 batters. The left-hander’s talent has never been in doubt, but following a ’20 season in which Ray struggled with control, his turnaround in such a short period of time was incredibly impressive. By the end of the season, Ray had cemented himself as the ace of the Blue Jays’ staff.
Semien, who joined the Blue Jays on a one-year, $18 million deal, rediscovered his 2019 form from Oakland and put together a massive season at the plate, setting a new AL/NL record for home runs by a second baseman with 45. He also made the move to second base, a position he hadn’t played regularly since '14, and hit the ground running. Along with potentially receiving AL MVP consideration behind Shohei Ohtani and teammate Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Semien is a finalist for the AL Gold Glove Award at second.
With both Ray and Semien entering free agency, they’ll be at the top of the Blue Jays’ list of priorities. There are many ways for Toronto to improve its roster that don’t involve these two, but they represent the simplest solutions, and both enjoyed tremendous success with the Blue Jays, who only got to call Toronto home for the final two months of the 2021 season.
Matz’s case was more of a debate after the 30-year-old put up a 3.82 ERA over 150 2/3 innings this past season, but the Blue Jays chose not to extend the qualifying offer. Matz got stronger late in the year and did well to solidify the back end of Toronto's rotation, but that $18.4 million can be used more creatively, or as part of a multi-year contract. Expect the two sides to remain in contact as Matz gets a sense of his market this winter.
If Ray or Semien decline their qualifying offers and sign elsewhere, the Blue Jays will receive Draft compensation for each player. Under the 2017-21 Collective Bargaining Agreement -- which is set to expire on Dec. 1 -- Toronto would receive a compensatory pick coming after Competitive Balance Round B in the 2022 MLB Draft.
On the other side of that equation (under the current CBA), if the Blue Jays go out and sign a player who rejected a qualifying offer -- like they did last offseason with George Springer -- they will lose their second-highest selection in the 2022 Draft and $500,000 from their international bonus pool for the upcoming signing period.
As teams continue to chart plans for the offseason, preliminary conversations will continue to take place this week at the GM Meetings from Monday through Thursday. All roster deadlines and transactions beyond Dec. 1 will depend on a new CBA being reached between MLB and the MLB Players Association, but a rush of qualifying offers, whether accepted or rejected, will help to set the landscape for what should be a busy winter in Toronto.