TORONTO – Before the acquisition of lefty Steven Matz from the New York Mets for minor-league right-handers Sean Reid-Foley, Yennsy Diaz and Josh Winckowski, a quick look at FanGraphs’ projections for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2021 may have been somewhat surprising.
At a collective 15.8 WAR, their pitching staff ranked seventh in the majors, ahead of well-regarded clubs like the Nationals, Rays, Atlanta and Cleveland, among others.
Projections, of course, guarantee nothing, but as an objective measure of how teams stack up, that certainly isn’t a standing that matches perception.
Promising as that sounds, the current list also demonstrates the gap between them and the pitching staffs of the New York Yankees (23.3) and Chicago White Sox (17.5), and the narrow margin between them and the Twins (15.7), Red Sox (15.3), Rays (15.0), Angels (14.7), Cleveland (14.6) and Athletics (14.3).
Matz alone isn’t going to address that, which is why you can expect more to come from the Blue Jays on the pitching front.
Still, with mid-90s stuff and a strike-throwing track record, Matz is an intriguing upside play, picked up for two down-roster relievers clinging to their 40-man roster spots plus a farmhand passed over in the Rule 5 draft, at a reasonable salary of $5.2 million.
He comes with some volatility, to be sure, especially after shoulder soreness landed him on the injured list during a dreadful 2020, when he posted a 9.68 ERA in 30 innings over nine games, six starts, and allowed an alarming 14 home runs.
There’s opportunity, too, as he’s been mostly sinker/changeup in recent years, and one school of thought is for him to resume using the four-seamer he dropped two years ago and throw his curveball – a pitch he’s said to have been emphasizing and made gains with this winter – more often.
That’s yet another project for pitching coach Pete Walker, who has a strong track record of helping pitchers rebound. His work with Robbie Ray after his acquisition from Arizona at the trade deadline helped convince the lefty to return on an $8-million, one-year deal, and the Blue Jays will be looking for Matz to enjoy a similar resurgence.
As things stand, the 29-year-old selected in the second round of the 2009 draft is set to join a prospective rotation fronted by Hyun-Jin Ryu, Ray, Nate Pearson and Tanner Roark. Ross Stripling and Tyler Chatwood can both start or deliver bulk from the bullpen. Thomas Hatch, Trent Thornton (returning from surgery to remove loose bodies in his elbow), Anthony Kay, Julian Merryweather, T.J. Zeuch and Patrick Murphy supply depth at triple-A that will be needed to cope with the inevitable attrition caused by the transition from 60 to 162 games Major League Baseball plans this summer.
Speaking to reporters before the Matz trade, GM Ross Atkins said the Blue Jays will add more depth through minor-league deals, but added that, “we're at the point now where if we were to acquire two major pieces, it would require likely subtracting from our roster.”
“Not for financial reasons, but just because of opportunity reasons,” he continued, “wanting guys like Julian Merryweather to have a really good shot at being a big part of this team. Jordan Romano obviously proved himself to be a part of that, and Ryan Borucki as well. At some point, you start to run out of the opportunity for growth and for development for guys that we really do believe in.”
Matz makes it one major piece and, speculatively, the Blue Jays could move Roark to free up both the opportunity Atkins mentioned, and perhaps some money, as well.
As things stand, they have about $130 million in commitments in place for 2021, with another roughly $10 million due for pre-arbitration players. A No. 2-3 type starter would be ideal to further stabilize the starting staff.
Roark is due $12 million and reallocating his rotation spot and salary is one path to more rotation impact. Moving one of the team’s four everyday outfielders is another.
Either way, the Blue Jays aren’t done, even after a frenetic 10 days of roster reshaping that has not only spiked their projections on the position player side, but also intriguingly raised the objective outlook on their pitching staff, too.