TORONTO – Stability for the starting rotation is the obvious and overriding need for the Toronto Blue Jays this off-season and the low-acquisition cost add of starter Chase Anderson from the Milwaukee Brewers on Monday is a good starting point.
In surrendering only double-A first baseman/outfielder Chad Spanberger to take the right-hander’s money — his $8.5-million option for 2020 is being exercised and he has a $9.5-million option with a $500,000 buyout for 2021 — the Blue Jays add a steady and durable arm to a threadbare staff.
Over the past five seasons, the 31-year-old has logged at least 139 innings and made a minimum of 25 starts. While his numbers and stuff won’t blow anyone away — a 4.21 ERA, 4.83 FIP and 1.266 WHIP over 139 innings for the wild-card Brewers — he’s a solid back-end of the rotation piece, and comes with an additional year of control.
More notably, the Blue Jays used their financial flexibility and farm system depth to get him for a fringe 24-year-old who posted a .707 OPS in 480 plate appearances over 122 games at New Hampshire last year. Spanberger was part of the package the Colorado Rockies sent over in July 2018 for reliever Seunghwan Oh and his departure isn’t going to impact their place in any system rankings lists.
Clever piece of business, even if only to raise their floor.
The pressure point for the Brewers in this deal came with Monday’s deadline for accepting or declining club options, and for reinstating players from the 60-day injured list to the 40-man roster.
That meant decision time for the Blue Jays, who designated reliever Ryan Tepera for assignment and outrighted Devon Travis to triple-A Buffalo to clear space for Ryan Borucki, Matt Shoemaker, Tim Mayza and Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
Tepera, projected to earn $1.6 million in arbitration by MLB Trade Rumors, was a possible non-tender candidate by the Nov. 28 deadline despite emerging as one of the club’s more reliable relievers in 2017 and ’18. Elbow issues derailed him last year and he’ll make an interesting bounce-back candidate for another team.
Travis, projected to earn $1.95 million in arbitration by MLB Trade Rumors, can elect free agency rather than accepting his outright assignment to Buffalo. Once one of the club’s more promising young players, his career was stalled by a series of knee injuries that started when he suffered a bone bruise in his right knee in Game 1 of the 2016 ALCS against Cleveland.
He underwent surgery to remove a flap of cartilage that off-season and another during the 2017 campaign, before largely getting through 2018 without issue. But he experienced some left knee inflammation at end of that year and ended up having surgery to repair a torn meniscus this past spring, spending the entire summer rehabbing.
A pure hitter capable of both hitting for average and driving the ball for power, along with an uber-positive personality, Travis now enters into a period of uncertainty.
Reinstating Shoemaker, meanwhile, gives the Blue Jays until the Nov. 28 deadline to tender contracts to get him signed. While he’s arbitration eligible one more time before free agency, both sides are interested in staying together and are likely to explore a contract that goes beyond a season.
Still, each 40-man roster spot is valuable and with eligible players needing to be added to the 40-man roster before Nov. 20 to keep them out of the Rule 5 draft, there’s going to be pressure on the Blue Jays in that regard.
Right-hander Thomas Hatch, acquired from the Cubs for David Phelps this past summer, infielder Santiago Espinal and outfielder Forrest Wall are the likeliest eligible candidates
In the process of sorting through all those varied roster machinations, the Blue Jays also took a step toward stabilizing a rotation that was a constant source of frustration in 2019.
Anderson adds $8.5 million to the 2020 books, which currently includes only the $13 million due to Randal Grichuk, $2.928 million for Gurriel and the $14 million still owed to the retired Troy Tulowitzki, who is also entitled to a $4 million buyout on his 2021 option.
Even with arbitration, they still have plenty of flexibility to make other moves in the weeks ahead, when one would hope they aim higher up the food chain, too.
Anderson joins a threadbare rotation tentatively set to include Trent Thornton and a coming-off-surgery Borucki, and perhaps Shoemaker, so much work still remains.