Blue Jays’ free-agent strikes construct on 2020 commerce deadline, guarantee AL East respectability
The Blue Jays’ quiet-but-efficient 2020 trade deadline helped them finish the year above .500 and in a playoff spot.
None of their moves were splashy — the most successful were deals for Robbie Ray and Taijuan Walker — but they demonstrated the front office’s view that inactivity was unacceptable for a roster blessed with an array of budding stars. Before the campaign, the club had signed Cy Young runner-up Hyun Jin Ryu to a four-year contract.
Toronto’s reported additions of outfielder George Springer, starting pitcher Tyler Chatwood and closer Kirby Yates this week are extensions of the team’s aggressive mindset. There are rumblings of interest in right-handers Trevor Bauer and Jake Odorizzi.
As has been the case for the Blue Jays so often in their history, the strength of the AL East threatens to dip them into a frustrating cycle of mediocrity. These transactions keep the postseason in play regardless of the heights reached by division rivals. They also ease pressure on Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Cavan Biggio to carry them in 2021 with career years.
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Springer, brought in for a reported six years and $150 million, should provide a significant boost to an already dangerous lineup. Toronto’s order now features eight hitters who last year posted an OPS+ above 100, the benchmark for being league average at the plate. Springer will be the only one of those players older than 30.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
The Blue Jays’ ninth-best hitter by 2020 OPS+ is Danny Jansen, a 25-year-old catcher with enough power and discipline to enjoy a break out year with his bat. He hit just .183 but walked at an elite rate and would have easily launched double-digit home runs for the second year in a row if the season hadn’t been shortened.
Yates could bring the strikeout stuff Toronto’s bullpen has largely lacked, though he must prove his horror show last season (12.46 ERA following a 1.19 ERA in 2019) was an aberration. His one-year, $5.5 million contract is a minimal burden considering his upside.
Toronto’s starting rotation could be its undoing, but re-signing Ray and Ross Stripling, and adding Chatwood on a reported $3 million deal, are reasonable steps toward cobbling together something decent behind Ryu. Ray rediscovered his middle-of-the-rotation arsenal after the Blue Jays traded for him at the deadline, posting a 4.79 ERA in 20 2/3 innings. At 29, he still has the potential to improve upon those numbers and inch closer to his sub-4.00 ERA from 2017 and 2018. While Stripling fell off in 2020, his career 3.77 ERA offers similar promise of a rebound. Chatwood, meanwhile, lacks any semblance of command but has on occasion been effective in his volatile nine-year MLB employment.
Tanner Roark was signed alongside Ryu before the 2020 campaign to be a competent rotation complement. He was instead a disaster (6.80 ERA). Maybe he’ll be a pleasant surprise in his walk year.
After the reported Springer signing, the Blue Jays don’t need five Roy Halladays in their rotation to cause problems in the AL playoff picture. They simply require baseline competence and a continued organizational commitment to being buyers when opportunities arise.
More chances to improve sit in front of them. Having assured a fun 2021 with their flurry of activity this week, they can now take expectations to another level before spring training.