Daily Duce: Thoughts on Robbie Ray’s return, Matt Shoemaker draws interest from the Red Sox, Thin Vlad, and more!


The big news of last week was the Blue Jays kicking off free agency by inking Robbie Ray to a one-year deal worth $8,000,000.

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It’s a bit interesting that the Blue Jays were so quick to sign a lower-level, reclamation project type player so early into the off-season, especially given the fact that this year’s market seems poised to move very slowly, but Ray is a player they know and one they seem to believe in, so why not.

For what it’s worth, Craic Edwards projected Ray signing a one-year deal worth $8,000,000 in his 2021 free agent projections post a couple of weeks ago, so you can’t complain about the value.

Speaking of FanGraphs, Ben Clemens took a look at Ray, a pitcher with an insane amount of talent and great stuff, and why his numbers have gone south since his excellent showing in 2017. Clemens mentions that Ray’s strike-throwing was noticeably better after he joined the Blue Jays, which creates some optimism for what we could see from him next season…

This could be small sample size theater, but Ray was markedly better at finding the strike zone in his four starts after going to Toronto. He fell behind 1-0 only 38.1% of the time (against 53.9% in Arizona), cut his walk rate from an unplayable 20.1% to a still-bad 14.4%, and slashed his run prevention numbers — three runs of ERA, two of FIP, and 1.5 of xFIP. In other words, he was an acceptable pitcher in Toronto after being sub-replacement level in the desert.

If Ray returns close to his prior level of performance, he’ll be quite a bargain for the Blue Jays. They don’t even need the top end of his always-tantalizing potential; if he can make 30 starts and put up average numbers, that’s a bargain for $8 million. The fact that the Blue Jays traded for him, saw him improve, and then signed him early in the offseason should tell you that they’re believers, or at least that they think they can fix some of what was ailing him in Arizona.

With Ray back in the mix, the Blue Jays’ 2021 rotation tentatively looks something like this… Hyun Jin Ryu, Nate Pearson, Robbie Ray, Tanner Roark, and somebody from the crowd of Anthony Kay, T.J. Zeuch, Patrick Murphy, and so on, or possibly a veteran like Ross Stripling.

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There’s certainly still plenty of room for more starting pitching additions. We haven’t heard anything about Taijuan Walker, the Blue Jays’ other rental pitcher acquisition, since he mentioned back in October that he would be open to returning to the Blue Jays. There’s also Matt Shoemaker, who has reportedly garnered interest from the Red Sox…

Back in October, Shoemaker also expressed interest in sticking around with the Blue Jays…

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“I just want to go to a team that’s just hungry, right? And the Jays are hungry, man. Like, we’ve got this really young team who just love the game, fiery players, really talented. And just being a part of this team the last two years, just seeing the capability and where it can go, just stuff like that.”

The difficulty with Shoemaker, of course, is his injuries. The injury that cost him virtually all of the 2019 season was a different animal because it was a freak accident chasing a guy down on the bases but Shoemaker’s struggle with shoulder inflammation in 2020 is much more worrying.

Who knows what’ll happen. But it does really seem like this will be a big off-season for the Blue Jays, so don’t worry that they’re going to re-sign Ray and call it a day. Over at The Athletic, Ken Rosenthal echoed the sentiment we’ve been hearing for weeks that the Blue Jays have been aggressive so far…

The Jays, owned by Rogers Communications, a massive Canadian company, are more insulated than most clubs from the economic effects of the pandemic. Rival executives anticipated they would spend, and sure enough they were the first team to sign a free agent, agreeing Saturday with left-hander Robbie Ray on a one-year, $8 million contract. …

Ray, though, was just the beginning for a team that needs additional pitching help. Jays officials, focused on improving their run prevention, are inclined to consider anything. Signing a free agent such as George Springer to play center field or DJ LeMahieu to play third base would upgrade the team both offensively and defensively. So would a trade for [Francisco] Lindor.

The Lindor thing is something we’re going to be hearing about until he ultimately ends up signing a new contract. Over at Cleveland dot com, Terry Pluto mentioned that the star shortstop is interested in playing for the Blue Jays…

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If the Blue Jays were to execute a trade for Lindor, they would surely be doing so with the plan of signing him long-term. There’s absolutely no way that this front office, the one that’s obsessed with years of control and all of that stuff, would be willing to let go of a handful of young, cheap talent for one year of Lindor at this point.

Rosenthal also mentions the New York Mets as a possibility for Lindor. The team was just purchased by Steve Cohen, the entire front office was axed, and it seems inevitable that whoever new ownership brings in will immediately be looking to make a huge splash or two. The more teams involved in a bidding war for Lindor, the better for Cleveland.

Switching gears, another big story from last week was how Vladimir Guererro Jr. has reportedly lost 32 pounds since the start of the off-season. Vlad was apparently upset at himself at how he let himself go during COVID lockdown between spring training and the reboot of summer camp in July and he’s working incredibly hard to get himself into better shape.

Over at Sportsnet, Shi Davidi talked about Vlad’s pursuit of getting into shape and his goal of being able to play third base for the Blue Jays come 2021…

“I am so impressed by Vladdy’s ability to articulate now what his goals are, what his game-plan is, what’s motivating him, what’s driving him,” Ross Atkins said. “We feel more and more confident in his ability to follow through on it.”

That last part is critical, obviously, especially given that Guerrero vowed to Pujols that “next year, third base is mine.” With the Blue Jays planning to add an infielder this off-season, his progress on that front has a chance to factor into their decision-making.

Atkins added that Vlad’s goal of playing third won’t get in the way of the team looking for an upgrade at the position on the free-agent market but him being able to actually play a position would give the team quite a bit more versatility. Davidi notes that Vlad being able to play 40-50 games at third with Cavan Biggio shouldering the rest of the load would allow the Blue Jays to pursue an upgrade at second base, like DJ LeMahieu.

Beyond the third base thing, Vladdy said that when he’s heavier, his bat speed is affected.

“At the start of the season my swing was too slow,” Guerrero told Pujols, in comments Sportsnet translated from the original Spanish. “Then when I dropped 20 pounds, my body felt much better, and the hands felt quicker.”

“You can see it without metrics, we don’t need data to back it up – it’s really clear how much more dynamic his swing is when he is in those (weight) ranges that he’s shooting to be in,” said Atkins.

Last year was a challenge at times for Vladdy. I can vividly remember him one game slamming his helmet on the ground in the dugout after an ugly at-bat and the broadcast showing him staring up into the sky looking completely lost. It’s great to see that he’s learning from his struggles and that he’s working to move things in a different direction.

Finally, I’ll end off with a nice little bit of prospect porn…

Over at MLB Pipeline, they released a list that predicted Major League Baseball’s Top 100 prospects one year from now. Austin Martin, Toronto’s fifth-overall pick from the 2020 draft, was ranked No. 8. Jordan Groshans was also ranked as another name to consider just outside of the top 10.