Daily Duce: Zack Wheeler signed a big deal with Philly. What now? (Ryu? Keuchel? Pineda? Lindblom?)


I was in the midst of doing a post about the whole butt-load of pitchers the Blue Jays have been linked to in the past couple of days, but got distracted by this whole Josh Donaldson ‘They Don’t Want Me Man’ thing. While spewing incoherent nonsense about the ugly Donaldson/Blue Jays breakup, Zack Wheeler signed a five-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. So let’s get back to stuff that actually (sorta) matters!

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Wheeler was one of the names the Blue Jays had been associated with heading into the off-season. He was a guy in the second tier of starters the Jays had apparently been aggressively pursuing after it became clear that they wouldn’t be in on the Gerrit Cole/Stephen Strasburg sweepstakes.

Yesterday, Ken Rosenthal listed the Jays as one of the teams in the mix on Wheeler, who was looking for a deal over $100 million. Today, Wheeler signed that deal.

Wheeler got well over the $100 million he was seeking as the Phillies shelled out $118 million to the hard-throwing righty. And that wasn’t even the best offer Wheeler received. The White Sox, according to Bob Nightengale, offered Wheeler $120 million to be a part of their attempt to turn their franchise around next season and beyond.

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Sooooo… damn! That’s a lot of money! Don’t get me wrong, Wheeler is a really, really good pitcher. He had a 3.31 ERA in 2018 and a 3.96 ERA in 2019 while striking out 8.8 and 9.0 batters-per-nine those seasons. That said, he’s only a few years removed from a brutal stretch in which his entire 2015 and 2016 seasons were wiped out due to injuries.

This is definitely a massive gamble for the Phillies. Maybe they get the top-of-the-rotation guy Wheeler has been for the past two seasons. Maybe his arm falls off. Who knows! But, hell, good on them for taking a risk. Knowing the shrewd Blue Jays, it isn’t at all surprising they weren’t willing to go this high for Wheeler, given his injury history.

Last month, Mark Shapiro talked about his hesitancy with big contracts going out to pitchers in free agency because of the inherent risk of injuries…

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But you still bite your tongue, you’re still so nervous because pitching is such a risky game. I think we always like to develop our own pitching because if you look at the history of free-agent pitching contracts, it’s a really, really high-risk area to play in.

I have a pretty difficult time imagining this front office dishing out a $100 million contract in free agency. If they do go ahead and do that kind of thing, I have even more doubts that it’ll be given to a guy with an injury history like Wheeler.

So, with that name off the list, who else can we talk about? According to Jon Morosi, the Jays are interested in Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dallas Keuchel. With Wheeler and Jake Odorizzi off the board, Ryu and Keuchel are two of the second-tier, higher-quality names out there before we start to dive into the bin of back-end rotation starters.

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Ryu is an interesting one. He was insanely good for the Dodgers last year, posting a league-best 2.23 ERA, which was somehow worse than the 1.97 ERA he posted in his injury-shortened 2018 campaign.

Like Wheeler, Ryu is a bit of a risk due to his injury history. He’s had a whole array of issues, ranging from Tommy John surgery he had while pitching in Korea to a groin injury to back tightness and back to elbow issues. Since Ryu is a few years older than Wheeler, he won’t be able to command the big, long-term deal. That’s what makes him a bit more of a sensible fit for Toronto, despite the obvious risk with his versatility.

If the Jays were spooked out by the idea of giving Wheeler five years, they might be able to get something done with Ryu on a shorter term with a high annual value.

Keuchel is an interesting case. He couldn’t cash in on the free-agent market last winter partially due to having draft pick compensation attached to him, so he ended up signing a deal with Atlanta after the draft. He did as well as you reasonably could have expected, posting a 3.75 ERA in 19 starts, which should net him a pretty big multi-year deal this year.

My skepticism with Keuchel, though, is that he relies quite a bit on pitching to contact, and the Blue Jays aren’t exactly good defensively. He’d be going from having Atlanta’s strong infield to Toronto’s… uh… not good infield. I mean, he’s a veteran who was around for Houston’s rise from tanking to cheating winning, so there’s certainly value in bringing a player like him into the mix, but, of course, there’s risk attached.

If not those two, we start getting deeper into the depths of the big old barrel of arms. A couple more lower-level names the Jays have been attached to are… *checks notes* Josh Lindblom and Michael Pineda.

Lindblom, a 32-year-old former Dodger/Philly/Ranger/Athletic/Pirate, has spent his last two-and-a-half seasons dominating in Korea and seems ready for his second shot at life in the Majors. You might scoff at the idea of grabbing a pitcher from overseas, but it worked out really, really well for the Cardinals. They signed Mike Mikolas, a former pick of the San Diego Padres who killed it in Japan, prior to the 2018 season, and he’s become a top-of-the-rotation starter.

Pineda, a 31-year-old currently serving a suspension for PEDs, put up a solid post-Tommy John season with the Twins last year and has experience pitching in the AL East. He’ll miss the first month-and-a-half due to his suspension, but, if last year was any indication, Pineda can still be a pretty good middle-of-the-rotation arm.

Both him and Lindblom would be nice and easy depth additions. These are low risk, medium reward players who don’t have high-end upside but won’t cost the team much to acquire. If the Jays decide not to invest big cash in a name like Ryu or Keuchel, they can add lower-level names like this and open up their wallets to add a position player instead.

We’ve heard for weeks about how they’re flexible to trading position players for pitchers under control, and given the way things have gone so far, that’s what I’m guessing we’re going to see. It’s probably a safer play to add quality position players in free agency and trade for pitching. That Wheeler contract is a pretty big damn risk.

And then you see stuff like this…

… and think, holy fuck, Rogers, please stop treating this like a small-market operation. I don’t blame the front office for working as efficiently as possible within the parameters Rogers sets for them, it’s just a shame ownership won’t let the Blue Jays compete like the market it is.