Another day, another starting pitcher off the board for the Toronto Blue Jays. Michael Pineda is the latest starter to sign elsewhere, inking a two-year, $20 million deal with the Minnesota Twins.
In a vacuum, missing out on Pineda doesn’t spell doom for the Blue Jays’ offseason plans. But he’s the latest in an increasing line of perfectly fine starting pitchers who have taken their talents anywhere but Toronto.
This was another domino to fall for a team running out of options in the starting pitching market. The Blue Jays have “talked the talk” about spending on free agent pitchers, but they have yet to “walk the walk.”
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Pineda joins Zack Wheeler, Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson, and Cole Hamels as potential upgrades for a Blue Jays roster in desperate need of starting pitching. That’s five mid-to-upper tier starting pitchers who won’t suit up for the Blue Jays next year.
According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the Blue Jays pursued Wheeler, who signed a five-year, $118 million deal earlier this week with the Philadelphia Phillies. While Wheeler was closer to the top of the market, he was another frontline starter who was linked to the Blue Jays, but the team walked away empty-handed.
At the moment, it seems like there’s a mild sense of panic ruminating through the Blue Jays fan base that the team won’t sign anybody, but there are still plenty of options in free agency.
At the top of the market, there’s Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg. Cole could surpass the $200 million-plus mark for a new contract, and Strasburg might not be far behind. Though it’s safe to say the Blue Jays won’t be fishing in that free agent pond.
While many mid-tier starters remain on the market, those names are dwindling by the week. And with MLB’s Winter Meetings set to take place in San Diego next week, expect even more starting pitchers to come off the board in the coming days.
Outside of Cole and Strasburg, the next tier down among starting pitchers includes Dallas Keuchel, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Madison Bumgarner, Tanner Roark and Rick Porcello. Slide further down the list and there’s Wade Miley, Julio Teheran and Ivan Nova.
Logic dictates the Blue Jays should land at least one of those starting pitchers in the coming weeks. Heading into 2020, Toronto has $46 million committed to their active payroll, which is the second-lowest payroll among MLB teams.
The Blue Jays have ample money to spend on starting pitching. Earlier this week, Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins told reporters that the team has the resources to make a $100 million dollar offer to a prime free agent.
For a team that boasts about their financial muscle, they have yet to flex it.
This isn’t about not signing Pineda. It’s not about missing out on Odorizzi, even though he would have been a perfect fit in Toronto. Until the Blue Jays make a significant move to address their starting pitching void, it feels like nothing more than empty promises.
Even for a team like the Blue Jays who have huge strides to make in 2020, trading for Chase Anderson won’t be enough. Signing someone like Miley won’t be enough. Signing Nova won’t be enough.
Atkins could surprise everyone next week and announce the Blue Jays signed a three-year deal with Ryu or a four-year deal with Keuchel. That would quell a lot of fears among the Blue Jays fan base.
But until a significant transaction takes place, onlookers will wonder whether it was all a rouse.
With each starting pitcher that signs elsewhere, there’s one less viable option for the Blue Jays to improve their rotation on the free agent market. While it’s encouraging to hear the club was in on Wheeler and they’ve contacted every free agent starting pitcher, those efforts have yet to wield results. That due diligence has yet to produce a pitcher signing on the dotted line with the Blue Jays.
In previous years, the Blue Jays have hung back in free agency while marquee names signed elsewhere. Toronto waited for the herd to thin out before inking Matt Shoemaker and Clay Buchholz last year. If the Blue Jays use the same strategy again, that’s the same calibre of starters they can expect to choose from come January and February.
Just like shopping for the best toy during the holidays, if you wait until the last minute, you get leftovers. The most coveted toys often leave the shelf first.
FWIW, asked Atkins about an hour before the Wheeler deal was announced if he had the flexibility from ownership to offer a 100-plus million deal (general Q, not specific to Wheeler). His answer: "Yes, we have that flexibility." #BlueJays
— Gregor Chisholm (@GregorChisholm) December 4, 2019
This offseason might not make or break the Blue Jays’ playoff chances in the short term, but if they don’t start acting — and spending — like a team that wants to win, they may never get the chance to.