TORONTO – The starting pitching market kept moving at a frenzied pace Sunday with deals involving a two-time Cy Young winner and a World Series MVP.
First, the Rangers acquired Corey Kluber from Cleveland for outfielder Delino DeShields Jr. and hard-throwing reliever Emmanuel Clase. A few hours later, the Diamondbacks signed Madison Bumgarner to a five-year, $85 million contract.
In Toronto, those deals are of interest even if the Blue Jays weren’t known to be in on either pitcher. After all, there are only so many impact arms out there, so each move has the potential to shape what happens next in Toronto and around the league.
Unfortunately for the Blue Jays, the Bumgarner deal doesn’t appear to help them much. As recently as a few days ago, the Dodgers had been linked to the longtime Giants ace, but his deal with Arizona leaves Los Angeles empty-handed. That might make Dodgers president Andrew Friedman more likely to pivot back to Hyun-Jin Ryu, the NL Cy Young finalist who ranks at or near the top of the Blue Jays’ wish list.
Of all the free agents remaining, Ryu appears to be the Blue Jays’ best shot at the ‘significant’ rotation upgrade GM Ross Atkins sought at the outset of the off-season. But there’s plenty of competition, with the Dodgers, Angels and Twins reportedly interested as well.
The likes of the Dodgers and Angels can offer Ryu the chance to remain in Los Angeles, where he played for the last seven seasons, but the South Korea native will be far from home either way. As agent Scott Boras put it at the Winter Meetings, “With the distance from Seoul to any major-league franchise, I’m not sure it’s relevant.”
In other words, no excuses, Blue Jays. Years and dollars should allow any team to enter the mix here. A three-year term would seem entirely reasonable for Ryu, who has a lifetime 2.98 ERA, and a fourth year shouldn’t end the conversation. One way or another, there could be resolution soon with Boras telling reporters over the weekend that he has more deals on the way.
While it was near-impossible to envision a dirt bike-riding, homer-hitting competitor such as Bumgarner choosing to sign with a rebuilding Toronto team, the Kluber deal was theoretically attainable for the Blue Jays. Even if Clase ranks among the more intriguing young relievers in baseball, the price the Rangers paid seems quite reasonable considering Kluber’s just one injury-shortened year away from posting 5.9 wins above replacement and a 2.89 ERA in 215 innings.
At the same time, the Blue Jays don’t have a young reliever like Clase, who throws a 101 m.p.h. cutter. Even if they did, the Blue Jays are justifiably hesitant to trade emerging big-leaguers for established veterans at this stage of their rebuild. While they’ve listened to offers for the likes of Reese McGuire, Danny Jansen and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., they’re believed to be focused on controllable players (mostly pitchers) in those talks.
Eventually, the Blue Jays expect to be at a point that they’re dealing long-term pieces for short-term help like Kluber (whose contract includes a 2021 team option). But at this point, just a few months removed from a 95-loss season, they don’t seem inclined to make that kind of move.
With that said, there are trade candidates available who would not require any serious prospect capital. The Blue Jays have at least checked on the availability of two of their former left-handers, J.A. Happ and David Price.
If anything, the deals for Bumgarner and Kluber reinforce the notion that Happ ($17 million in 2020, $17 million vesting option for 2021) and Price ($32 million per year from 2020-22) earn more than they’d make on the open market. As such, the Yankees and Red Sox should have to take on salary and/or surrender prospects to complete a deal. Under those circumstances, the Blue Jays can’t rule anything out.
In the meantime, they still have options in free agency where the likes of Dallas Keuchel, Wade Miley, Julio Teheran and Gio Gonzalez are still out there. The list is thinning out, though, so if the Blue Jays are intent on adding more than depth arms, they should be prepared to engage seriously with Ryu.