SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – On the surface, a reunion between Matt Shoemaker and the Toronto Blue Jays shouldn’t be complicated. The right-hander wants to come back, the club wants him back, there’s an obvious need and the money isn’t going to be significant.
Why, then, isn’t a relatively straightforward signing done yet, especially given the volume of moves the team hopes to accomplish this off-season?
At this point, it appears the Blue Jays are simply playing out the clock to the Dec. 2 tender deadline with Shoemaker, who signed a $3.5-million, one-year deal as a free agent last winter and has a year of club control remaining through arbitration.
Both sides, however, have incentive to reach a deal earlier and avoid arbitration entirely, as the 33-year-old’s recent injury history really muddles the entire process, making it difficult to impossible to find an accurate comparable to build a case around.
To that end, the sides held extension talks back in September, at which point the Blue Jays sought to reduce his annual salary to $3 million while also adding a club option for 2021, according to industry sources. That would have represented a pay cut and eliminated any upside on his first year of free-agent earnings, 2021.
Shoemaker is believed to be willing to do a one-year deal at the same base salary as this past season, or commit longer-term to Toronto. So far, the club has been hesitant to offer two guaranteed years, or one year with a vesting option based on performance-based escalators.
If the sides don’t reach an agreement, the Blue Jays could non-tender Shoemaker, making him a free agent instead of risking an outlier outcome through the arbitration process. But that would free him up to negotiate with all 30 teams and leave another hole to fill in the rotation.
As a result, another $3.5-million, one-year deal with performance incentives seems the most logical compromise, one that would put another piece in place for the Blue Jays while taking an item off their to-do list.
Whether or not you include Shoemaker, the Blue Jays rotation features few sure things.
Newcomer Chase Anderson should offer innings and Trent Thornton started 29 games during a solid rookie season. Beyond that, Jacob Waguespack, T.J. Zeuch and Anthony Kay flashed promise without fully establishing themselves, which is why the Blue Jays have made starting pitching their clear off-season priority.
In recent weeks, Shoemaker started throwing bullpen sessions again after recovering from the ACL tear in his left knee suffered April 20 at Oakland, with the club monitoring his progress. His work on the mound has gone ahead without any apparent issues.
Given his recovery, his performance before the injury – Shoemaker produced 1.2 WAR as calculated by Baseball Reference in just five starts – his impact on the clubhouse and his desire to stay, there’s value in betting on a player they know.
If they really want Shoemaker back, the Blue Jays shouldn’t need a deadline to make it happen.