If the last few years have taught the Toronto Blue Jays anything, it’s that you can never have too much pitching. In 2019, they used a grand total of 39 pitchers to survive the season. In 2021, that number was nearly matched when the Blue Jays rostered 38 pitchers.
Whether it’s a starting pitcher or reliever, it’s never a bad idea to load up on pitching during the offseason. The Blue Jays need both starting pitching and bullpen depth for next year, and arguably the best place to find high impact arms is the trade market.
The buyers always outnumber the sellers, but there are a few teams like the Reds, Athletics and Marlins who may control the supply of the pitchers on the trading block, if they play their cards right.
But the Blue Jays have the prospect capital and the payroll wiggle room to pull off some big name deals for starting pitching and/or relievers this winter. These are five arms that should be at the top of Toronto’s wish list.
1. Luis Castillo (Cincinnati Reds)
- Age: 28
- 2021 stats: 3.62 ERA, 120 ERA+, 187.2 IP, 192 SO
- Salary remaining: Second year arbitration eligible (2 years left)
There are plenty of teams in the hunt for starting pitching this winter, and one club that’s rife with options is the Cincinnati Reds. After loading up heading into the 2020 campaign, the Redlegs took a backslide in 2021 and may look to sell.
One option at the top of everyone’s list is right-hander Luis Castillo. He’s been a workhorse for the Reds, averaging 27 starts per season since 2018 and logged the second-most starts for any NL pitcher over the last four seasons.
However, Castillo showed some control issues in 2021, walking an NL-high 75 batters this past season. But he fits the Blue Jays MO of going after high strikeout/high walk pitchers, as they did the same with Robbie Ray when he led the NL in walks in 2020.
Throughout his five years in Cincinnati, Castillo has flashed some Cy Young potential, and if he magically cuts down his walk rate just a tad, that might help push him over the top. He certainly has the building blocks to be a number one starter.
With two years of team control left, Castillo would help contribute to two potential playoff drives for the Blue Jays and help build up some of that starting pitching depth after Ray and Steven Matz left via free agency.
2. Sean Manaea (Oakland Athletics)
- Age: 29
- 2021 stats: 3.91 ERA, 104 ERA+, 179.1 IP, 194 SO
- Salary remaining: Third year arbitration eligible (1 year left)
From one potential fire sale shopping spree to another, depending on what happens with the Oakland A’s this offseason, it may be open season for their starting pitchers as well.
The A’s have three options available: Chris Bassitt, Frankie Montas and Sean Manaea. The trio provided the bulk of the Athletics starts, and their starting pitching staff only went nine pitchers deep in 2021.
Among the more intriguing names on that list is Manaea, someone who was in the AL Cy Young discussion in 2018 before a shoulder injury ended his season and put him on the shelf for the bulk of 2020.
But credit to Manaea, he stormed back in 2021 and provided top-of-the-rotation quality for Oakland’s pitching staff. As a left-hander, he builds back some of that left-handed pitcher depth for the Blue Jays, who are losing two lefties with Ray and Matz.
Manaea increased his strikeout and whiff rate a touch in 2021, and crossed the 179 innings pitched threshold for the first time in his career. The only catch is he’s only under team control for one more season, making him a pseudo-rental for the Blue Jays.
3. Sandy Alcantara (Miami Marlins)
- Age: 26
- 2021 stats: 3.19 ERA, 131 ERA+, 205.2 IP, 201 SO
- Salary remaining: Pre-arbitration eligible (3 years left)
On the other hand, someone like Sandy Alcantara has all the control in the world (well, three years, but that seems like a lot in comparison.) The Miami Marlins are another team where contenders are hovering overhead like vultures.
MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reported the Marlins are considering whether to trade one of their existing starting pitchers to clear a spot in their rotation, and the Marlins need a starting catcher, so let’s make a deal?
Alcantara made the most starts of any National League pitcher with 33 total, and he set career highs in strikeouts and innings pitched in 2021. He clearly found his groove pitching out of the top of the rotation for the Marlins this past season.
The Blue Jays and Marlins line up in many ways; the Blue Jays need pitching, and the Marlins have plenty of it. The Marlins need a catcher, and the Jays have a boatload of those as well.
4. Michael Fulmer (Detroit Tigers)
- Age: 28
- 2021 stats: 2.97 ERA, 143 ERA+, 69.2 IP, 73 SO
- Salary remaining: Final year arbitration eligible (1 year left)
Once a member of the Detroit Tigers starting rotation, the former Rookie of the Year carved out a new role as a shutdown closer in 2021. He made 52 appearances out of the bullpen, saving 14 games and pitching to a 2.97 ERA.
Fulmer pared down his repertoire and excelled in the Tigers’ bullpen, perhaps setting himself up to enter free agency next winter as one of the most sought after relief options. In the meantime, he has one year left of team control.
Everyone remembers how most of 2021 was a tire fire for the Blue Jays’ bullpen, so adding some veteran arms would set them up to weather the storm that will be the 2022 campaign.
Fulmer would be a solid compliment to Jordan Romano in the back end of the Blue Jays bullpen, and Fulmer has the pedigree to miss bats in high leverage situations, which few Blue Jays relievers could do in 2021.
5. Zach Plesac (Cleveland Guardians)
- Age: 26
- 2021 stats: 4.67 ERA, 94 ERA+, 142.2 IP, 100 SO
- Salary remaining: Pre-arbitration eligible (4 years left)
Lastly on the list, this might be the biggest longshot given the number of years of control left (four), but if the Blue Jays and Cleveland could line up on trade for right-hander Zach Plesac, Toronto would have another anchor for the long-term in their rotation.
The 26-year-old took a step backwards during his 2021 campaign, posting a 4.67 ERA after a 2.28 ERA in 2020 and a 3.81 ERA during his rookie year in 2019. Plesac’s strikeout rate also dropped 11 per cent from 2020 to 2021.
These are all concerning facts, but it plays into the favour of a team like the Blue Jays who might be interesting on buying low on a mid-90s fastball guy like Plesac. With the right guidance, the nuts and bolts are there for him to become a number two or three starter.