After the Blue Jays traded their long-tenured ace Marcus Stroman to the Mets mid-summer, the team’s rotation looked somewhat ugly. This offseason GM Ross Atkins had the task of reestablishing a group of starting pitchers that could possibly match the team’s talent at the plate and on the field.
He started from scratch, and now might be closer to creating a solid rotation than at any time in recent Blue Jays memory. Hyun-Jin Ryu was the most recent signing that will strengthen the team’s efforts on the mound, getting a 4-year, $80 million contract after his best campaign to date.
Ryu finished the 2019 season with 2.32 ERA in 29 starts, easily the best campaign he’s had in the majors. He also finished second in NL Cy Young voting behind Jacob DeGrom. The Korean has had a patchy injury record since jumping from the Hanwha Eagles of the KBO to a six-year deal with the Dodgers in 2013. However, the two seasons when he was healthy enough to start close to 30 games (2019 and his rookie year, 2013) he was beyond sensational. That includes 3.00 ERA in 30 starts as a rookie in 2013.
A pitcher like Ryu, who was a favourite for the NL Cy Young award until a dip in September, is a much needed addition to a Blue Jays staff which finished 22nd in starters ERA at 5.25. Their best options going forward before the start of the offseason were Trent Thornton and Matt Shoemaker – the former had an ERA close to 5.00, while the latter started just 5 games in his debut season in Canada.
Three solid low-cost moves in November and December have gone on to change that. Chase Anderson and Tanner Roark have both been great starting pitchers in the last few years, and with the addition of Ryu things look a whole lot different. On paper, this version of the Toronto rotation has the potential to be even deeper than last year’s, which included a pitcher with sub-3.00 ERA like Stroman.
Now that Toronto has been aggressive and has got a couple of good pitchers, there’s no reason for them not to keep on spending after the calendar turns to the new decade. Former Brewer Travis Shaw was recently brought in to ensure depth at third base, but the Blue Jays could still be looking for one, or even multiple bats to solidify the batting order.
A re-union with Edwin Encarnacion is heavily rumoured to be in their plans as they still have no clear designated hitter. Kevin Pillar, who also departed mid-season to San Francisco, is yet another former Blue Jay who is a free agent and is without a team while a dynamic free agency period progresses. That is certainly music to Atkins’ ears.
If his staff is really more focused on the future, that could also work as Toronto has payroll flexibility. After Ryu hits the team’ payroll, the Blue Jays will still be about $20 million under the average Major League payroll and $80 million under the luxury house threshold. That could see them going anywhere from a long-term good outfield bat like Nicholas Castellanos or Yasiel Puig to multiple signings with players like Corey Dickerson, Starlin Castro or others. To finish the rotation, Alex Wood, going into his age-29 campaign, could be an option.
The core of the Blue Jays, which includes studs such as Vlad Guererro Jr., Cavan Biggio and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., is probably still years away from competing with the mediocrity on the mound from last year, but a good rotation could turn the Blue Jays into a sneakily good team next year given that they get a star upgrade to their outfield and their batting lineup.