While the Toronto Blue Jays’ spending spree a winter ago left them with a tight budget for 2023, they’re still expected to be big players in the offseason draws.
The Jays’ pitching let the team down last season, so it would be wise for them to bolster their weapon group through free agency. With MLB general managers’ meetings beginning Tuesday in Las Vegas, it’s a great time to take a look at some of the Blue Jays’ top pitching targets.
Justin Verlander, HRP
Verlander’s resume speaks for itself. The 39-year-old has done it all, with two (soon to be three) Cy Young awards, an MVP and now a second World Series ring to his name. The right-hander is expected to opt out of his $25 million player option with the Houston Astros, placing him on the open market, where his financial needs could perfectly match Toronto’s budget.
Verlander will be 40 on opening day, which means he is unlikely to command a contract longer than two years. Given that the Blue Jays will in all likelihood avoid long-term pitching deals this offseason, Verlander could slip into the top of the Blue Jays rotation on a high-paying, short-term contract.
There is also a history with Toronto. In June, Verlander told ESPN’s Jeff Passan that he chose between the Blue Jays and the Astros last winter. George Springer did his best to sign Verlander back then and it’s likely the Blue Jays centre-back will make another right-handed sales pitch for 2023.
Manaea could be the type of running back Toronto desperately needed in 2022. All those shaky Yusei Kikuchi outings or Mitch White cameos could have easily been absorbed by the constant presence of southpaw Manaea.
Don’t get me wrong, though, the 30-year-old had his own issues with the San Diego Padres a year ago. Manaea pitched 158 innings but saw his K/9 drop while his BB/9 and HR/9 soared. In total, his 4.91 ERA at the spacious Petco Park led to an ugly 75 ERA+.
So why would the Blue Jays want this guy? Well, there is a solid base. Manaea’s track record dating back to his time with the Oakland Athletics suggests he’s a guy who doesn’t walk a ton of hitters and can get a solid swing-and-miss. In 2022, for some reason, Manaea’s change imploded. His change went from his best pitch in 2021 (under 10-point value) to one of the worst off-speed deals in baseball (11-point value).
A deal with Manaea would likely end in the Kikuchi range (three years, $36 million). If the Jays do indeed break the bank for Manaea, they will be accepting a significant risk. At the same time, his floor is much higher than Kikuchi’s, especially if he sorts out his change.
Nathan Eovaldi, RHP
Eovaldi said he would rather return to the Boston Red Sox, but if the door is open for him to go elsewhere, Toronto should rush.
The 32-year-old has never been a career ace, even before his Tommy John surgery in 2016 and subsequent rehab, which is why the Jays are better suited than Boston. Eovaldi, a tough pitcher with boatloads of AL East experience, could slip into the end of the Blue Jays rotation and the team could even secure his health by skipping a start or two in the stretch. With José Berríos and Kikuchi’s questionable statuses, Toronto would love to have a reliable arm like Eovaldi’s.
There are serious concerns about Eovaldi stuff fading over time. The right-hander started 2022 averaging 96.8 mph on his four-seam fastball in April. In September, that average speed was just 94 mph. Predictably, those bike drops resulted in tee shots for a whopping .800 on the fastball starting in July.
Eovaldi’s fastball regression would be factored into the price, leaving him as another affordable short-term solution to the Blue Jays’ pitching problems.
Ah yes, a moment of loop. Syndergaard, who was drafted by the Blue Jays in 2010 and infamously traded to the New York Mets for RA Dickey in 2012, has been on Toronto’s radar for some time. The Jays expressed a legitimate interest in “Thor” last winter and then again at the 2022 trade deadline, but were unable to reach a deal.
Now, the 30-year-old is once again gracing the open market, this time after a respectable season (134.2 innings, 3.94 ERA) split between the Los Angeles Angels and Philadelphia Phillies. The right-hander was nowhere near the caliber of pitcher he was, but Syndergaard still proved useful, throwing at 103 ERA+ and preventing the home run (0.9 HR/9).
The veteran is now a completely different pitcher. Gone are the days of triple-figure fastballs and high batting outs. Instead, Syndergaard pretty much morphed into a mid-’90s guy with a penchant for using his three off-speed gears to induce weak contact. His slider-dive profile plays well in Toronto’s rotation.
Syndergaard is a “station to station” free agent candidate. His 2022 season hasn’t been hearty enough for a team to commit to a four-year deal, for example, meaning he’ll likely settle for a high-paying, short-term deal for the second consecutive offseason. It’s right in the Blue Jays wheelhouse.
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