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Blue Jays make rotation depth offseason priority

Richard, Shoemaker will compete for starting jobs in Spring Training
MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays had a little bit of last-minute shopping to do before the start of the New Year, and almost all of their work centered around their starting rotation.

The first move came Friday when Toronto general manager Ross Atkins signed right-hander Matt Shoemaker to a one-year contract worth $3.5 million. Two days later, the Blue Jays acquired veteran lefty Clayton Richard and cash considerations from the Padres for Minor League outfielder Connor Panas.

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays had a little bit of last-minute shopping to do before the start of the New Year, and almost all of their work centered around their starting rotation.

The first move came Friday when Toronto general manager Ross Atkins signed right-hander Matt Shoemaker to a one-year contract worth $3.5 million. Two days later, the Blue Jays acquired veteran lefty Clayton Richard and cash considerations from the Padres for Minor League outfielder Connor Panas.

Shoemaker and Richard do not appear to have received guaranteed jobs, and they will likely have to compete for a spot in Toronto's rotation during Spring Training. Even so, on paper, the two additions are the favorites for the final two starting roles, and at the very least, they offer the organization more depth.

"Both guys have the potential to start," Atkins said. "We know both guys can get outs, so having them on as additions to the Blue Jays was something that we're excited about, to add that depth to the organization."

Shoemaker showed a lot of potential in 2016 when he went 9-13 with a 3.88 ERA over 27 starts for the Angels. His 2.0 WAR that year in his age-29 season offered promise, as did his eight strikeouts per nine innings, but his career has been derailed during each of the past two seasons because of lingering soreness in his right forearm. Shoemaker made 21 starts between 2017-18.

• Blue Jays ink Shoemaker to 1-year deal

Video: Shoemaker on his excitement to join Blue Jays

Richard comes with similar injury concerns after his 2018 season was cut short in late August because of left knee inflammation. The 35-year-old struggled with a 5.33 ERA over 27 starts in 2018, including a 6.67 ERA over 81 innings on the road.

The Blue Jays expect both pitchers to be fully healthy by the start of Spring Training. Once in Dunedin, Fla., the pair will compete against the likes of Sean Reid-Foley, Thomas Pannone, Trent Thornton, Julian Merryweather and Sam Gaviglio for the final two starting jobs. Barring a trade, Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and Ryan Borucki will be the top three starters.

"A very clear track record of keeping the ball in the ground and in the ballpark," Atkins said of Richard. "Very well respected. A solid human being. The work we've done over the years has always pointed positively towards him.

• Blue Jays acquire lefty Richard from Padres

"Then [Shoemaker], his ability to get swing and miss. One of the better split-fingered fastballs probably in the game. ... He has been backed up with forearm soreness and tightness. If he gets over that, he can be one of the more solid and effective starting pitchers."

The fallback option for both pitchers is the bullpen. Tim Mayza represents the only left-handed relief option on Toronto's 40-man roster, and the club also will be auditioning multiple pitchers for a right-handed setup role this spring. Seunghwan Oh, John Axford and Tyler Clippard are just some of the arms from last year's roster who need to be replaced, and more relievers will be added in the coming weeks.

That's why, even after the late December shopping, pitching will remain Toronto's top priority when the calendar turns to 2019.

"It could be in the form of a starter, it could be in the form of a reliever and we'll look to continue to do that," Atkins said. "We'll continue to consider any opportunities to move players potentially off of our roster. It's not something we are proactively looking to do, but we do have a great number of players that other teams are interested in. I've said this before, it just keeps getting busier. I can't imagine being any busier."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

Toronto Blue Jays, Clayton Richard, Matt Shoemaker