Photo Credit: © Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s talk about the non-Gerrit Cole free agent starters

I wrote a while back about how Gerrit Cole would be a perfect fit on the Blue Jays, but, for a variety of different reasons, that it wouldn’t happen. It’s a shame we can’t even bother getting our hopes up about adding this insanely-good ace, but that’s life. Let’s talk about some other non-Cole starters who could/should be on Toronto’s radar.

As of right now, the Jays are rolling into 2020 with a complete ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ as their starting rotation. I figure that we’ll see two spots reserved for young starters and three for veterans. Matt Shoemaker could very likely come back and fill one of those roles while another middle-of-the-pack arm and possibly a buy-low option is added in free agency.

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Much like the 2019 season, the Jays need to give opportunities to their young arms to show what they have. Still, there also needs to be a veteran presence in the rotation so that we don’t end up forcing rookies to sink or swim in the deep end. My very early guess is that we see Ryan Borucki and Trent Thornton in the rotation along with Shoemaker, and a couple of off-season additions. T.J. Zeuch, Anthony Kay, Patrick Murphy, and Nate Pearson would then be in Triple-A vying for call-ups.

Anyways, as I said, you can take the Jays out of the Cole sweepstakes. I figure you can also take them out of the running for Stephen Strasburg if he decides to opt out of his deal after the World Series. I would bet they’re also priced out of Hyun-Jin Ryu after his career season.

Zack Wheeler and Jake Odorizzi make a lot of sense for the Jays here. They’re at the top of the second tier as starters who just turned 30 years old that you can afford to give some term to and build around. Odorizzi is coming off of a great season with the Twins, posting a 3.51 ERA while striking out 10.1 batters per nine, and he’s battle tested in the American League East, having spent five seasons in Tampa Bay. Zack Wheeler has rebounded after completely falling off a cliff due to injury. He missed all of 2015 and 2016 and most of 2017 but he’s posted back-to-back excellent seasons for the Mets.

In the next category are guys that aren’t quite as good who wouldn’t require quite as much of an investment, such as Tanner Roark, Kyle Gibson, and Wade Miley. Roark posted a 4.35 ERA between the Red and Athletics and is a consistent innings eater. Gibson has been a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter for the Twins in the past, but he’s also had some really ugly seasons. Miley had back-to-back nice years with Milwaukee and Houston, but he got shelled in his seasons in the AL East with Boston and Baltimore.

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Both Wheeler and Odorizzi would be buy-high options. They’re good pitchers and worthwhile investments, but the bidding for them is going to be difficult. Given Toronto’s status as an unattractive option, a non-contender in the AL Beast, they may end up looking for more buy-low options. That would be names like Rick Porcello, Alex Wood, and Michael Pineda. 

Porcello is another battle-tested AL East arm, having spent his last five seasons with the Red Sox. Porcello is coming off a miserable season in which he posted a 5.52 ERA. His 2016 Cy Young season was an anomaly, but he’s always been a reliable innings eater, which could be valuable for a team looking for stability in their starting rotation. Wood is just a couple years removed from a breakout season with the Dodgers in which he posted a 2.72 ERA, but his 2019 season was derailed due to injury. Pineda is currently serving a PED suspension, but he was good last year for the Twins, posting a 4.01 ERA over 26 starts.

You might also be able to put Corey Kluber into the buy-low category. Kulber has a $17.5 million club option for 2020 with a $1 million buyout, and knowing how cheap Cleveland is, there’s a good chance he ends up on the open market. Kluber posted a 5.80 ERA in an injury-riddled season, though he’s only one year removed from a season in which he finished third in Cy Young voting and two years removed from a year that he won the award. Giving Mark Shapiro’s connection to Kluber, you have to assume the Jays would be all over him if he did end up on the open market.

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What cateogry does Dallas Keuchel fit into? After a good-not-great season in Houston in 2018, Keuchel had to sit around until the middle of the season to finally get a one-year deal and a chance to build up his value again. Keuchel was as good as you could reasonably expect him to be for the Braves after joining the team mid-season. He posted a 3.75 ERA, though his strikeout to walk numbers leave quite a bit to be desired. I’m not sure much has changed since last winter when it comes to Keuchel. He likely won’t get the big, long-term deal he was looking for.

One name I never see mentioned is Madison Bumgarner. Though he’s been around forever, the three-time World Series champ is only 30 years old, like Odorizzi and Wheeler. His arm has a lot of milage on it, so a long-term deal here is risky, but given the sheer volume of his experience, his leadership around a young staff could be incredibly beneficial. In a similar vein are Cole Hamels and Rich Hill. Hamels is a 36-year-old coming off a really rough finish to his season with the Cubs, while Hill, who’s now into his 40s now, was very for the Dodgers good when healthy. Both would come at a much shorter term than Bumgarner, but don’t quite have the same upside. I think Hill is actually the best option here, but I see no reason why the Dodgers wouldn’t bring him back for another season.

There are plenty of names on the market this winter who make sense for a Blue Jays team devoid of veteran pitching. I would bet that they get priced out of the market for Odorizzi and Wheeler and instead go the low-risk, buy-low route while also adding a veteran innings-eater. Coming out of the off-season with Rick Porcello or Tanner Roark and Alex Wood or Michael Pineda might not be sexy, but it makes the rotation quite a bit deeper than it was last season. I mean, that isn’t saying much, but still.

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If it were up to me, I would make the investment on Wheeler or Odorizzi while also bringing in Bumgarner as the staff’s veteran leader. Does it matter what I want? No. But adding a couple of 30-year-old quality arms with a bunch of experience would be great for a team that has youth breaking into the Major League level would be a very worthwhile investment. Bumgarner, Odorizzi, Borucki, Shoemaker, and Thornton is actually… kinda good? Ah! Well, nevertheless.

As much as we’d like to see the team go all-in this off-season to make a push in 2020, it’s best to temper expectations. The goal this off-season is adding veteran depth to the rotation so that five young starters aren’t thrown into the deep end at the same time. Given the wealth of options out there, that really shouldn’t be difficult to accomplish.