Keep or Walk: Jordan Hicks pitched his way to a nice payday after being traded to the Blue Jays

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Evan Stack
5 months ago
Although their trade deadline as a whole was relatively under-the-radar, Toronto did make some noise in acquiring one of the top relievers on the market in Jordan Hicks back in July. The flamethrowing righty had spent the first four and a half years of his career with the St. Louis Cardinals, but his team took the selling route after it had fallen several games out of a playoff spot last season.
With just a couple of months in Toronto, Hicks turned a bullpen that was already really good into an even better one. Hicks was used in a variety of roles, but it was definitely to Toronto’s advantage to have him paired with Jordan Romano at the backend of the bullpen.
Hicks is due his first bout with free agency, and he’s bound to get a healthy payday for reasons I will get into below. The Blue Jays have worked to build their bullpen into a major strength of the team, and we’ll take a look at reasons they should or shouldn’t bring Hicks back.

The case to keep Hicks

Simply put, Hicks is a luxury that not every team has. Since his MLB debut in 2018, Hicks has dazzled baseball fans with his fastballs and sinkers that routinely sit over 100 mph, pitches that make regular appearances on Pitching Ninja. Furthermore, being able to hit a number like that on the radar gun with sinking movement looks almost unfair, especially when he can follow that up by pulling the string on an 87 mph slider.
While arms like Hicks are rare, several teams have recently boasted their own late-game flame thrower. Camilo Doval (Giants), Felix Bautista (Orioles), Jhoan Duran (Twins), and Emmanuel Clase (Guardians) are a few names that stand out atop the MLB save leaders that also turn some heads when it comes to their velocity. As I mentioned earlier, building a strong bullpen has been at the forefront of Toronto’s to-do list throughout the past few seasons, and having a unique arm like Hicks does nothing but help that cause.
In regards to his performance, Hicks was very good during his short stint with the Blue Jays. In 25 outings in Toronto, Hicks posted a 2.63 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, four saves, and an 8.3 K/9. While the K/9 seems minuscule to the 12.7 K/9 he posted with the Cardinals before the time of his trade, Hicks brought his BB/9 down considerably from what he had thrown in St. Louis (5.2 with STL, 3.0 with TOR).
Obviously, I’m not in pitcher’s meetings or film sessions, but it’s almost as if the Blue Jays were encouraging Hicks to find the strike zone early, then let the nasty movement do its thing with two strikes. Walks are always a problem with high-velocity pitchers, and it looked like the Blue Jays might’ve found a solution to that for Hicks.
Lastly, Hicks, coupled with Jordan Romano, made for a formidable back end of the bullpen during the end of the 2023 season. Hicks has the closer-type stuff, and having those two face (at the very least) two-thirds of the opposing team’s lineup at the end of the game is extremely preferable.

The case to let Hicks walk

While having Hicks down the stretch was a boost to Toronto’s pitching staff, Sportsnet‘s Ben Nicholson-Smith reported shortly after the season that he believed the fit never “fully landed between those two sides.” Whatever that entails, there is no need to spend money on something that doesn’t fit for a 162-game marathon.
Speaking of money, this is something Hicks will more than likely be able to capitalize on. After all, contracts in the MLB nowadays are nothing short of hefty, and relievers are starting to get in on the fun. Last year, Padres RP Robert Suarez was inked to a 5-year, $46 million deal, while Astros RP Rafael Montero was signed to a 3-year, $34.5 million contract. However, in the first year of their respective deals, Suarez missed the majority of the season with an elbow injury (and posted a 4.23 ERA in the 26 games he did appear in), and Montero had a 5.08 ERA through 68 outings. Edwin Diaz became the highest-paid reliever last offseason with a 5-year, $102 million contract, and he wound up missing the first year of his deal with a torn right patellar tendon.
Injuries happen and they’re a part of the game, but some GMs might use the above as learning experiences. Nonetheless, these types of deals set the market for Hicks. In fact, Katie Woo of The Athletic recently reported that the Cardinals came very close to signing Hicks to a three-year deal prior to the trade deadline, but it did not come to fruition, so they elected to trade the soon-to-be free agent. With a talent like Hicks, he will likely seek a multi-year deal with a dollar amount close to the top 10 highest-paid relievers.
In Toronto’s case, their bullpen was/is already very productive. Jordan Romano (2.90 ERA, 11.0 K/9), Erik Swanson (2.97, 10.1), Tim Mayza (1.52, 8.9), and Genesis Cabrera (2.66, 7.6) are just a few names that had excellent years out of the bullpen, and at least all of those guys have spots on the team next year.
A talent like Hicks can’t simply be acquired at any time you choose, but Ross Atkins might prefer to go nab another relief pitcher of similar overall effectiveness if said player comes at a more affordable cost. Besides, looking at Toronto’s payroll last year, the team’s highest-paid reliever was Yimi Garcia at $6.5 million (via Spotrac).

The verdict

In my mind, Hicks was a perfect mid-season add for the Blue Jays last year, but that may be all he was meant to be for this franchise. Given how Atkins uses his payroll for relievers coupled with the deal Hicks is likely to earn, I don’t think he will be repping the Blue Jays next year.
The Rangers were interested in acquiring Hicks at the deadline last year, so maybe they make another run at him. Surely, money won’t be an issue with them – just ask Marcus Semien and Corey Seager. Perhaps the Cardinals revisit their contract talks with Hicks and are able to work out a homecoming. There will be (and should be) other suitors for him, but I don’t believe Toronto ends up being one of the finalists.


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