It’s Transaction Friday, but not for the Blue Jays, unfortunately. The New York Mets have reached a deal with Taijuan Walker…
#mets in agreement with Taijuan Walkerat 2 years, $20M. There is a player option for a third year, pending physical
— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) February 19, 2021
The deal will apparently pay Walker $20 million over two seasons and it has an option for a third year. According to Ben Nicholson-Smith, the Blue Jays had interest in Walker and he also had interest in sticking around, but the team didn’t get in the mix as the Mets upped the ante over the past week.
Given the dollars and the term, it isn’t all that shocking that the Blue Jays didn’t end up signing Walker. We knew that the team wasn’t going to be handing out another big contract and that they were avoiding commitments that went beyond this season so that they can maintain the most possible flexibility come next off-season.
If they were able to move a contract like Tanner Roark or Randal Grichuk, bringing back Walker, even on a two-year deal, would have made sense, but that didn’t happen, so here we are. The last big name name on the free-agent starting pitcher market is Jake Odorizzi, and, like with Walker, the Blue Jays won’t be bringing him in on a multi-year deal.
A one-year, show-me deal with Odorizzi is probably more likely than it was with Walker given the fact the former dealt with a whole slot of injuries last season but I wouldn’t hold my breath at this point. It seems that a pitching upgrade is more likely to come mid-season via trade.
Another thing worth mentioning is that Walker ended up with a fairly similar bag of cash as Marcus Semien, who inked an $18 million deal a few weeks ago. Given Toronto’s questionable starting rotation, there’s some merit to wondering if they made the right commitment here.
Personally, I would rather have Semien than Walker on their respective deals given the former’s bounce-back upside and the Blue Jays’ bevy of young starting pitching depth. The team is more likely to have a young arm (Anthony Kay, T.J. Zeuch, Trent Thornton) perform well as a mid-level starter than they are to have a position player in the system come up and fill the role that Semien will.
Anyways! Speaking of those pitchers…
Per Charlie Montoyo, #BlueJays have a wide-open competition at the back of their rotation including the likes of Ross Stripling, Steven Matz, Tyler Chatwood, Trent Thornton, Anthony Kay, and T.J. Zeuch. Julian Merryweather will also be stretched out, but could end up in bullpen.
— Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith) February 18, 2021
Charlie Montoyo said on Thursday that the battle for spots at the back of Toronto’s rotation are “wide open” and named Ross Stripling, Steven Matz, Tyler Chatwood, Trent Thornton, Anthony Kay, T.J. Zeuch, and Julian Merryweather as those in the mix. Patrick Murphy also likely would have been in that group but he’s dealing with a shoulder injury and there’s no timetable for how long he’ll be out.
Based on that list of names, we can assume that Hyun Jin Ryu, Nate Pearson, Robbie Ray, and Tanner Roark, at this point, are slated to be the Blue Jays’ first four starters.
I wouldn’t put too much focus into the standard five-man rotation this season. Last year was weird, being only 60 games, and many pitchers across baseball are going to need to be slowly ramped up as the season goes along.
“We’re going to pay attention to that this year more than ever,” Montoyo said on Thursday. “The good thing about having all of the equipment we have is that we can see when somebody who’s been throwing 95 mph, all of the sudden is throwing 92, 91 mph. We’re going to pay attention to all of that. It was a weird year last year and not everybody had that many innings.”
We’ll likely see the Blue Jays operate with a 14-man pitching staff with a handful of guys in the bullpen throwing multiple innings as starters work through the lineup a couple of times. Also, given the advent of the Taxi Squad and the amount of option-able starters the Blue Jays have, there will be a constant cycle of fresh arms coming on and off the active roster.
Let’s get weird!
Also, speaking of weird, the Blue Jays had Lourdes Gurriel practicing at third and first base on Thursday, along with his normal position in left field…
Various #BlueJays will be getting reps at multiple positions this spring. Among them:
• Vlad Jr – 1B, 3B
• Teoscar – RF, LF
• Springer – CF, RF
• Semien – 2B, SS
• Grichuk – RF, CF
• Lourdes – LF, 3B, 1B
• Biggio – all over
— Ben Nicholson-Smith (@bnicholsonsmith) February 18, 2021
This is more Rays-esque stuff in which everyone is playing multiple positions in order to maximize versatility and options for putting together, first and foremost, the best lineup offensively. Tampa used Joey Wendle most often at third last season but both Yoshi Tsutsugo and and Yandy Diaz, who are poor defensively, played the hot corner.
Given the Blue Jays’ glut of names in the outfield, it makes sense to have one, if not more, of them working at other positions. If Gurriel can hack it at third, the team is able to get Randal Grichuk into the lineup without having him occupy the designated hitter spot.
That would be key is Alejandro Kirk is on the roster, as the team would surely want him to be the DH on most of his non-catching days. This would also make it easier to get Jonathan Davis, if he’s on the roster, in games in centre field. With that, you’re ultimately losing bit defensively at third while adding a great glove in centre, which is a good trade-off.
Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. The last time Gurriel played the infield it was a disaster and everything changed for him once he was put in the outfield. But having players who play multiple positions is always a good thing.
That being said, it’s a bit odd that Marcus Semien isn’t among those taking reps at third. It seems the play here with Semien is that the team wants him mostly as a second baseman while also serving as the backup to Bichette at short. Is a combination of Cavan Biggio, Gurriel, and Vlad Jr. going to be good enough at third? I’m sure we’ll see Semien there eventually.
If you like weird baseball and players playing all over the diamond, the 2021 Blue Jays will be fun for you. Thankfully, this feels a bit different than the Kendrys-Morales-playing-third-base Blue Jays of a few years ago.