The arrival of Gausman, the departure of Ray instructive on the functioning of the Blue Jays – .

The arrival of Gausman, the departure of Ray instructive on the functioning of the Blue Jays – .

TORONTO – The current contracts for free agents Kevin Gausman and Robbie Ray are similar enough that an intriguing question is whether the Toronto Blue Jays preferred to add the former rather than re-signing the latter.
Granted, there is just enough variance in the two chords to tell them apart. The right-hander, unrelated to a qualifying offer, agreed to $ 110 million over five years to head north while reigning award winner AL Cy Young, tied to a selection allowance, accepted $ 115 million. dollars over five years with a withdrawal after the third year.

The subtle distinctions are not negligible.

It’s possible the Blue Jays looked at the opt-out option – something this front office didn’t hand out before Jose Berrios got one as part of his seven-year, $ 131 million extension – and the extra draft pick they would receive if Ray left and decided Gausman was the better play.

But if their belief was to retain the leftist ace whose career they helped revive, these factors could not have been deal breakers.

So maybe they’re more confident in Gausman’s ability to deliver over the next five years, or maybe he answered yes first and the Blue Jays took the bird into their own hands. . Or it could be that Ray preferred the Pacific Northwest to the Great White North, forcing a pivot.

Remember, the decision is ultimately up to the player, no matter how badly the Blue Jays can twist their arm, as GM Ross Atkins noted at GM meetings earlier this month. .

“We’re very respectful that they get free agency and earn the right to explore that market,” Atkins said of the club’s approach with Ray, Marcus Semien and Steven Matz. “It’s not necessarily about following their example, but being respectful to them and wanting to take the time to do so. What we can do is just constantly communicate with their representation and constantly stay in touch to understand the potential of having to go in another direction while we hold them as options.

Gausman may be a different direction, but there’s no drastic change, as the fact that their deals are so similar suggests that the industry appreciates them in much the same way.

The two throw in a similar fashion, hammering the strike zone with fastballs and supplementing the heat with elite secondary ground – a slider for Ray and a fascinating splitter for Gausman that his colleague Arden Zwelling breaks down so well here.

It should be noted that the Blue Jays seem to have a weakness for splitters, a pitch that is not very common.

They also tried signing Gausman last offseason, of course, but they also added splitter-dependent Kirby Yates before he blew up in the spring, and two winters ago he bet on the right-hander. Japanese Shun Yamaguchi, hoping that his splitter would allow him to transition to the majors.

So it’s no surprise that they’ve reverted to Yusei Kikuchi and are part of the teams on the left, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman.

The Blue Jays were interested in Kikuchi before signing with the Mariners ahead of the 2019 season, and he’s precisely the kind of subtle DIY job to come up with pitching coach Pete Walker.

Last year, opponents hit just 0.176 and hit 0.282 against a splitter that produced a puff rate of 39.6. But it was his least used pitch, thrown 627 times less than his worst offer, a mediocre cutter that hitters hit 0.276 and hit 0.476 against, underperforming expected numbers off the field.

Kikuchi’s puff rates on his fastball (30.3) and slider (31.2) are encouraging enough to believe that certain changes in use could yield much better results, similar to the tweaks that helped straighten Matz. .

Another starter in this level of the market appears to be a goal for the Blue Jays, who so far this offseason have pursued elite starters (Ray, Justin Verlander, Noah Syndergaard and Gausman) and the game to varying degrees. intermediate level / rebound weapons (Matz, Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, Andrew Heaney).

Buying under such a pattern aligns with how Atkins described his order of operations earlier this month, a description that is instructive in trying to figure out what will come next.

“You start with an ideal and take action towards that ideal outcome, and then you get feedback,” he said. “It has never, at least for me, been the ideal path since the first stage. You should always adjust according to the interest, according to the different perception of values. But that’s a lot of the time here now (at GM meetings) where you really start to have extended conversations.

Apply the same methodology to chasing an infielder’s club, “an area where we would love to add a player,” Atkins said. The ideal would have been to bring Semien back, given his impact on the club during an MVP runner-up campaign, or to convince Corey Seager to move up to third base (the Texas Rangers’ willingness to give him $ 325 million on 10 years quickly eliminated this dream).

Now Atkins and the company are lowering their list of possibilities, which includes Javier Baez in a super utility role. The parties have had talks and while that doesn’t mean anything is imminent, they will remain engaged with all of their potential targets in the pursuit of a possible deal.

This is how they landed in Semien last year, as they first chased away DJ LeMahieu, who was lost when he joined the New York Yankees, and then landed the slugger when he picked them. as a place to rebuild its value.

The Blue Jays have extra cache as a soft landing point after paying a combined $ 31.2million last season for Semien, Ray and Matz, who turned those one-year pledges into contracts worth a full deal. of $ 334 million.

Identifying pillow contract players is one way to recreate some of that lost financial efficiency, while another makes a trade for a player performing beyond his contract (the Cleveland third baseman, Jose Ramirez, for example, was a target for them on the July deadline). At this point, Atkins has only done one substantial prospect subtraction exchange – sending Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson to the Minnesota Twins for Berrios – and it could very well be the time for another.

As he told Carlsbad, “I’d rather just spend the money, but it’s not unlimited, is it?” “

It’s not, even in the midst of the current madness of outrageous spending to overtake sport, that it came as a shock when it was juxtaposed with the impending lockdown. Therefore, the offseason may be on the verge of lockdown-induced frost, but for the Blue Jays, in many ways, it’s only just beginning.


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