What Berríos extension means for Blue Jays
TORONTO -- By agreeing to terms on a seven-year, $131 million extension with José Berríos on Tuesday -- the deal was made official on Thursday -- the Blue Jays have set the tone for an aggressive offseason that they hope will take them to the next level.
Toronto was close in 2021, falling just short of the postseason with a 91-71 record that put the club just one game back of a Wild Card berth, and this winter won’t come without its challenges as stars Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray are both free agents. Berríos becomes another long-term cornerstone on this roster, though, which is stacked with young talent and is likely to add more in the coming months.
Looking ahead, here is what the Berríos extension means for the rest of the Blue Jays’ offseason.
The big picture
Toronto is in a position to make this deal because the majority of its talent is still working through pre-arbitration years or, in the case of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., hitting arbitration for the first time. This roster construction didn’t happen overnight, and it came with plenty of pain, bottoming out with a 67-95 season in ’19, but this combination of talent and future flexibility was always the goal.
It’s the same structure that allowed the Blue Jays to sign Hyun Jin Ryu to a four-year, $80 million deal following that ’19 season. Last offseason, it was George Springer signing a six-year deal worth a club-record $150 million. The two seasons of Ryu and five seasons of Springer are the only true “big” contracts being carried by the Blue Jays, now joined by Berríos’.
That will soon change.
Between free agency, the trade market and Toronto’s own young core, led by Guerrero and Bo Bichette, the number of big contracts on this roster will grow. That’s a necessary part of the plan, but as the club’s payroll becomes more top-heavy over the coming two years, it will be even more important that the Blue Jays continue to develop their own talent and make the right low-end moves to maintain their depth.
This also adds a level of financial certainty to the Blue Jays’ long-term payroll picture, which might not sound as thrilling as big names but has legitimate value as the club considers the possibility of extensions with Guerrero, Bichette or Teoscar Hernández down the road.
What comes next in the rotation
Eight months ago, with the ’21 season about to begin, Hyun Jin Ryu was the club’s unquestioned ace, leading a rotation that carried some question marks. The times have changed.
One of those question marks turned out to be an AL Cy Young Award finalist in Robbie Ray, now a free agent along with Steven Matz. Ryu regressed, pitching to a 4.37 ERA, but that was balanced out by the brilliant debut of pitching prospect Alek Manoah, who’s already cemented himself as a key piece of this group. Along with Berríos, Ryu and Manoah make up the ’22 rotation as it stands today.
That, too, will change. The Blue Jays remain interested in both Ray and Matz, depending on how their markets move, and the market offers plenty of alternatives, including right-handers Kevin Gausman and Jon Gray. Keep an eye on the trade market, too, where the Blue Jays could match up with a club like the Marlins or look elsewhere to leverage their combination of financial flexibility and prospects.
Former No. 1 prospect Nate Pearson is a rotation option, but not one the Blue Jays can pencil in for 25-plus starts after injuries and inconsistencies over the past couple of seasons (putting up a 5.18 ERA, 86 ERA+ and 6.03 FIP across just 33 innings in ‘20 and ‘21). Thomas Hatch could very well contribute as a depth rotation piece, too, while Ross Stripling could pitch in a variety of roles, but there’s clearly still room for at least one more high-end starter in this rotation.
Wants and needs
The beauty of this Berríos extension is that it checks a major need off the Blue Jays’ list ahead of schedule. If Berríos had walked in free agency next winter, the Blue Jays would be trying to find his direct replacement -- much like Ray this offseason -- but the Blue Jays got this done before they absolutely had to. That leaves them in an ideal scenario where other needs won’t be as directly impacted.
Beyond the usual bullpen needs facing nearly every team, the Blue Jays need a second baseman and a third baseman. Toronto could opt to sign just one, leaving Santiago Espinal, Cavan Biggio and others to cover the remaining spot, but replacing the value of AL MVP finalist Marcus Semien is a tall task.
Depending on what happens with Randal Grichuk and the two years remaining on his deal this offseason, the Blue Jays could also be involved in the outfield market. Last year’s acquisition of Corey Dickerson showed how well that style of player could complement the roster, with a lefty bat and speed coming off the bench in a part-time role. The Blue Jays can balance their lineup with these positional moves, but even after locking up Berríos, there should be plenty of runway left to be aggressive.