The Toronto Blue Jays and the open spot in the rotation
Photo credit:© Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
1 month ago
The Toronto Blue Jays used eight different pitchers in a starting capacity this past season, a remarkable number that shows just how healthy the starters were this season. Outside of Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt, Yusei Kikuchi, and José Berríos, the duties were split between Alek Manoah and Hyun Jin Ryu with Trevor Richards making a few spot starts and Wes Parsons being handed the ball for game #162, which pushed Gausman to the AL Wild Card.
The core of Gausman, Bassitt, Kikuchi, and Berríos is likely already pencilled in for the rotation next season but the fifth spot could be put up for debate, especially with how the 2023 season went for Manoah. Ryu is heading to free agency and a reunion between the Jays and the South Korean product is likely not in the cards so unless the Jays explore the free-agent market for a starter, there is an open spot for the taking if the club doesn’t want to put Manoah’s name down permanently just yet.
Injuries could always change the narrative but assuming the core group remains healthy heading into next season, are the Blue Jays willing to risk Manoah returning to form in 2024? Or could they explore a trade/free agency to add to the rotation?
Blue Jays’ internal options
If the season were to start today, Alek Manoah would likely be getting the nod for the rotation considering he has the most experience in that role and because the Jays don’t possess the most depth behind him in that area.
Mitch White, Zach Thompson, and Bowden Francis are potential options in the rotation but both likely sit further down in the depth charts and also could be more suited in the bullpen at the big league level. There is an argument to be made that all three could remain in Triple-A stretched out and ready to go but again, it seems like it is Manoah’s spot to lose.
Next in line is top prospect Ricky Tiedemann, who should begin the year in Triple-A after injuries limited him to 44 innings during the regular season. He is currently dealing in the Arizona Fall League and putting forward solid numbers (2.50 ERA through 18 innings). Considering the Jays have a veteran-stacked rotation at the moment (with only Kikuchi slated for free agency after this next season), the only way I see Tiedemann cracking the Opening Day roster is due to injuries and even then, the club may go for Thompson or White to ensure Tiedemann gets more reps in the Minor Leagues without rushing him too quickly.
Blue Jays and the potential for external additions
Over the past four seasons, the Blue Jays’ biggest offseason signings have come to the rotation in Ryu, Gausman, and Bassitt, with Kikuchi also being signed two winters ago to form a bulk of the club’s starting core. Berríos was brought in via trade during the 2021 campaign and only Manoah is the internally grown member of this staff. Could the Jays go back to the starting pitching well again this offseason?
Financially, with Ryu, Matt Chapman, Kevin Kiermaier, and Brandon Belt’s contracts all coming off the books and no indication of any of these players returning, the Jays’ front office should have some funds to play with this winter unless ownership really reigns in the spending, which doesn’t seem to be an issue as indicated by Mark Shapiro at his year-end press conference earlier this month.
While the biggest fish on the market is Shohei Ohtani, who won’t be pitching in 2024 due to an elbow injury/surgery, there are a few veteran starters that will be available that the Blue Jays could pursue if they are willing to pony up the money.
Aaron Nola, Blake Snell, Sonny Gray, Jordan Montgomery, and Kyle Gibson are all pending unrestricted free agents this winter. At the same time, Marcus Stroman (player), Andrew Heaney (player), and Eduardo Rodriguez (player) all have different options that could make them available this offseason as well if they so choose. This is a small list of the available names but this group is one to keep an eye on, especially since the first four unrestricted pitchers are players that should lead the charge (along with Ohtani) on the starting pitching market while Gibson was a player the Jays were linked to last winter before he signed with the Baltimore Orioles. Other supplementary options towards the back end of the rotation include James Paxton, Martin Perez, Michael Lorenzen, and Jack Flaherty (amongst many others).
The Blue Jays could move an upper-level prospect like Spencer Horwitz, Damiano Palmegiani, or Addison Barger for a starting arm but they will likely have to include another player or two to sweeten the deal depending on the player. This seems like a lesser possibility given the current open spots heading into Spring Training but stranger things have happened in the offseason.
Internationally, there are a few arms to keep an eye on as well. Blue Jays reps were reportedly present for Cuban right-hander Yariel Rodriguez and his tryout sessions and one of the NPB’s top pitchers Yoshinobu Yamamoto is likely to be posted this winter and available for every team across the big leagues, with the right-hander regarded as one of the top pitchers outside of the MLB.
Blue Jays and their decision
I don’t see the Blue Jays looking to make a splash on the free agent or trade front for a starter, especially since the starting rotation did so well this season even with Manoah’s struggles this year. There is no guarantee the group will remain as healthy as they were this past campaign but with a top prospect in Tiedemann likely knocking on the door midway through the season, it makes sense that the front office will likely spend on position players or potentially a bullpen arm over adding another starter or at least not one of the premier arms.
My prediction is that Manoah will round out the group to make the rotation similar to how the 2023 season started and that by July, Tiedemann will be on the big league roster either as an injury replacement or the club will move Kikuchi (a pending free agent) to clear space. Manager John Schneider could run with a six-man rotation later in the year but I think that will be determined depending on where the Jays sit in the standings.
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