Looking back at signings the Blue Jays are glad they didn’t make
Photo credit:© John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports
5 months ago
Since 2020, the Toronto Blue Jays front office made a big splash big signing Hyun Jin Ryu to a multi-year deal worth $80 million, one of the largest deals in franchise history to an outside player who wasn’t born or affiliated with Canada.
During the following offseason, the front office has continued to make large-profile signings, including Marcus Semien, George Springer, Kevin Gausman, and Chris Bassitt, spending above the Competitive Balance Threshold for the first time in the club’s history this season.
On the flip side, not every deal has gone the Blue Jays’ way, such as the Tanner Roark two-year deal and some would say the Yusei Kikuchi contract as well considering his first year with the club did not fare well for the southpaw. That’s the nature of free agency, some things work out for themselves (i.e. the Robbie Ray one-year Cy Young winning deal) and sometimes players struggle to live up to their contracts.
This past offseason (and over the past few years), the Blue Jays have been a pretty active team on the free agency front, frequently checking in on players with varying degrees of interest. The 2022/2023 winter was no different for Ross Atkins and co., as the club let a few players go but also brought numerous players on board in Bassitt, Kevin Kiermaier, Brandon Belt, and Chad Green (IL) while missing out on a few others, such as Kyle Gibson and former Blue Jay Ross Stripling.
Let’s take a look at some of the players the Jays front office ‘kicked the tires on this past winter and were fortunate to have not signed.
Jameson Taillon – RHP
Whenever a player with Canadian ties and the Blue Jays cross paths, there will always be an interesting story to be written. With dual citizenship and parents and numerous families born North of the border, Jameson Taillon was a free agent this past offseason and the Jays were looking to fill a rotation spot with Stripling heading to the open market and Ryu on the IL til at least midway through the season.
Taillon had a strong 2022 season with the Yankees, posting a 3.91 ERA through 32 starts with a 1.128 WHIP. He missed all of the 2020 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery and was with the Yanks for two seasons, with the previous four seasons spent with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Jays were interested in Taillon but there was no confirmed offer made to the right-hander before he eventually signed with the Chicago Cubs on a four-year deal worth $68 million with a $17 million AAV.
In his first season with the Cubs, Taillon is struggling to adjust, owning a 6.70 ERA through 11 starts with a 10.4 H/9 and a 3.2 BB/9, which is currently on track to be the highest tally in his career. He is striking batters out at an 8.2 K/9, opponents currently own a .286 average and a .839 OPS through his 48 1/3 innings with batters mashing his cutter to the tune of a .575 slugging percentage. He also missed a couple of starts with a groin strain late into April but returned in quick fashion, with the Florida product unable to go above five innings through six outings this year.
Alex Reyes – RHP
On paper, the Toronto Blue Jays bullpen was one of the more established pieces on the roster, especially after the club acquired Erik Swanson early into the offseason. With a majority of players returning to the club except for David Phelps, who retired, the Jays only had one spot really open in the relief corps which was dependant on who won the fifth starter role. That being said, the Jays were missing a fireballer in the backend, and after Alex Reyes was non-tendered by the St. Louis Cardinals, the stars were certainly aligning for a potential matchup.
Reyes has struggled to stay healthy for most of his professional career, with numerous arm-related injuries limiting him to just 101 games at the big league level dating back to 2016. Originally viewed as a starter, Reyes was moved to the bullpen in 2018 and has worked as a reliever ever since. His best season came in 2021, where he pitched to a 3.24 ERA through 69 outings and racked up 29 saves in the process. Because of the injuries, this was the last time Reyes pitched in the MLB, as he was sidelined for all of the 2022 campaign because of a shoulder injury.
Reyes would eventually sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers and the right-hander is back on the injured list and has yet to pitch in the big leagues or the Minors this season. Earlier this week, he underwent shoulder surgery again and will be shut down for the season.
Ross Stripling – RHP
This name is a tough one to have in the article, mostly because Ross Stripling was a huge part of the 2022 season for the Blue Jays. The right-hander pretty much did everything the club asked him to do and once Ryu went to the IL, he was the starter the Jays needed when it mattered the most. The Pennsylvania product finished the campaign with a 3.01 ERA and made 24 starts on the season, finishing the year with a career-high 134 1/3 innings and a 1.3 BB/9. It is safe to say the Jays would not have made the postseason had Stripling not stepped up and pitched as he did.
In the offseason, the Jays and Stripling had mutual interest but he would eventually sign with the San Francisco Giants on a two-year deal with a player option for the second season. It was later revealed by Stripling that the Blue Jays would not include an opt-out in the deal while the Giants would, leading to Stripling returning to California, although not with the Los Angeles Dodgers, with whom he had previously pitched with.
The 2023 campaign has not been kind to Stripling, as he got rocked for four earned runs in his first start of the year and was subsequently moved to the bullpen, where things did not get any better. So far this season, Stripling has pitched in both roles, making five starts across nine appearances and owns a 7.24 ERA with a 1.577 WHIP. A low back strain has kept the versatile pitcher off the field since mid-May and he recently went on a rehab assignment down in the ACL, meaning a return to the big leagues is on the horizon for the former Blue Jay.
Johnny Cueto – RHP
After the Chris Bassitt signing, the Blue Jays were reportedly interested in Johnny Cueto, one of the last remaining free-agent starting arms available. While the interest was likely more related to checking in versus an actual offer, Cueto was one of the more experienced pitchers available, with the 2023 season slated to be his 16th campaign at the big league level. The right-hander was coming off a strong season with the Reds, throwing to a 3.35 ERA through 25 outings.
Cueto would eventually sign with the Miami Marlins on a one-year deal worth $8.5 million, with a club option for an additional season valued at $10.5 million.
In his first start with the fish, Cueto would leave the game after the first inning with right bicep tightness and the Dominican product has yet to pitch for Marlins again this season. He did recently begin a rehab program down in Double-A, throwing 2 2/3 clean innings with four hits allowed compared to one walk and zero strikeouts.
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