TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have found their long-awaited entry point into the starting-pitching market, signing right-hander Chris Bassitt to a three-year, $63 million deal.
Starting pitching was the Blue Jays’ clear and obvious No. 1 priority entering this offseason, and while some additional depth would be ideal, Bassitt helps to solidify the rotation as a steady, reliable veteran. Over the past five seasons, he has pitched to a 3.29 ERA, maintaining consistent walk and strikeout rates across the board. In the simplest of terms, this is an arm the Blue Jays are betting on confidently.
Bassitt, who will turn 34 early in Spring Training, is coming off a strong season with the Mets, in which he posted a 3.42 ERA with 167 strikeouts over a career-high 181 2/3 innings. He also comes with some limited postseason experience, making two starts with the A’s in 2020 and one with the Mets last season.
There’s nothing particularly flashy about Bassitt, whose sinking fastball works as his primary weapon and sits near 93 mph, producing plenty of weak contact in play. But the Blue Jays didn’t necessarily need flash here. After the top names left the board, it was sensible for the Blue Jays to work towards locking down the middle of their rotation, which will trickle down to help their overall depth picture.
The terms of this deal are key, too. Bassitt’s $21 million annual salary is significant, marking the fourth consecutive offseason that the Blue Jays have handed out a contract with an average annual value of $20 million or more following Hyun Jin Ryu in ’19, George Springer in ’20 and Kevin Gausman in ’21. Pitching was always going to be expensive, though, with clubs spending freely over the past week. Getting Bassitt on a three-year deal instead of having to stretch to four or five -- even as he turns 34 -- makes this a particularly strong fit for Toronto.
Now, the Blue Jays have their top four starters.
Alek Manoah and Gausman give Toronto an enviable one-two punch atop the rotation, while José Berríos is a safe bet to be better than his 5.23 ERA from last season at the very least. By adding Bassitt to that No. 3 or 4 spot alongside Berríos, the Blue Jays not only have a talented top four, but a group capable of eating some serious innings. If all four stay healthy, they should have a clear path to 170 innings or more. It’s not a luxury all rotations have, especially in the modern game.
It’s also important to frame this within the broader context of the Blue Jays’ offseason. Alongside Kevin Kiermaier, who agreed to a deal with the club over the weekend, this payroll is only rising. As it should, given Toronto's competitive window. The trade market was looking very limited on the starting-pitching front, though, so the club chose to address this hole with cash.
Now, Toronto can focus its strongest trade chip -- a trio of young catchers in Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk and Gabriel Moreno -- on another major move. The most sensible place would be the outfield, where a left-handed bat with upside would complete this roster, but the Blue Jays continue to field genuine interest in that group, which could open many doors.
Consider this the Blue Jays’ heavy lifting in the rotation, but they shouldn’t be done. Last season, Ross Stripling stepped in admirably and saved this depth group, but the Blue Jays can’t bet on similar luck in 2023. So another back-end addition or swingman alongside Yusei Kikuchi or Mitch White would be valuable.
For Toronto, the real fun could begin by midseason, when No. 1 prospect Ricky Tiedemann could be pushing for his MLB debut after a brilliant 2022 season that saw him torch through the Minor Leagues, landing in Double-A.
Ryu could return late in the season from Tommy John surgery, too, but Tiedemann represents incredible upside that the Blue Jays could benefit from at some point next summer, depending on how the club ramps up his workload. If and when that time comes, having a rock-solid producer like Bassitt in the middle of the rotation will only look more valuable.