The Toronto Blue Jays have made their off-season shopping priorities pretty clear so far. With a low payroll commitment, an infield stocked with young talent in need of plenty of playing time and an outfield filled with players hoping to prove themselves worthy of a full-time job, number one — and two and three, if we’re being honest — on the shopping list is to acquire some reliable starting pitching.
On Monday, Jon Morosi of the MLB Network linked the Blue Jays with a pair of higher tier free-agent arms available on the market, reporting for the second time of the day that the team has checked in on Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Both pitchers have a couple things in common that give a little bit of insight into what the team’s mindset is on the market. Both are left handed pitchers, veterans over the age of 30, and both earned well into eight figure salaries last season. For a team stacked with young players still in their first years of team control and on very low salaries, it makes plenty of sense to add exactly this type of player, perhaps even overpaying in salary as a trade off for a shorter contract length.
Keuchel has been through this song and dance before, sticking around in the free-agent pool well into the season before signing with the Atlanta Braves on June 7. The 2015 Cy Young winner, Keuchel was quite good in 19 starts down the stretch in 2019. He posted a 3.75 ERA, belied a little bit by a 4.72 FIP. Those numbers are pretty much in line with his career 3.67 ERA mark, with a steady 3.80 FIP. All of his statcast peripherals suggest he may have taken a step back at this later stage of his career, but he pitched without the benefit of spring training and was thrown directly into a playoff race. Keuchel is a four-time Gold Glove winner, two-time All-Star, and topped 200 innings three times in his eight year career. He turns 32 on Janurary 1st.
In Ryu, the Blue Jays find themselves linked to the reigning ERA leader in the National League. He posted a sparkling 2.32 mark in 29 starts with the Los Angeles Dodgers last year, bolstered by the lowest walk rate in the NL. Despite a low velocity fastball, he thrived last year by limiting hard contact while being stingy with free bases. He was the Cy Young runner up as well as an All-Star, and will be 33 years old by opening day. He figures to have a few suitors given those impressive numbers, but he fills a lot of the categories the where the Blue Jays need to improve, and if they’re willing to pony up the money, he provides an ideal example of a reliable guy to give the ball to every fifth day.
Ken Rosenthal of the The Athletic also reported that the Blue Jays were interest in starter Zach Wheeler, who is reportedly asking for a contract well into the $100-million range over five or more years. The 29-year old reportedly drew interest from five other teams along with the Jays, and figures to be the top prize a tier below Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg.
Another interesting name, mentioned by Morosi, Rosenthal, and Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith is right-handed pitcher Josh Lindblom. The 32-year-old has been pitching in the Korean KBO since 2015, but is returning to the major leagues in search of a new situation. Merrill Kelly of the Arizona Diamondbacks is a recent example of a veteran player coming to the major leagues after succeeding in the KBO, and Lindblom’s numbers the last two seasons were better than Kelly’s. Miles Mikolas of the St. Louis Cardinals also followed a similar path as an American that returned from time in Japan to receive a sizeable major league deal. So there’s plenty of precedent, and the Blue Jays may believe Lindblom could be a steal if he comes at a discount for being so far off the main stream radar.
All the rumours floating around suggest that the Blue Jays could be linked to even more names as the MLB Winter Meetings approach next week, and the first wave of names that are connected to the team paint a picture of a franchise that appears to be willing to add some veteran arms now that the farm system has produced so many of the spots in the starting lineup.
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