Gausman speaks!: On choosing Toronto, returning to the AL East, Roy Halladay, his splitter, and more!
Plus: Atkins speaks!, Stroman's a Cub, and we have now entered a lockout. Ugh.
It’s not every day the Blue Jays sign a $100 million pitcher, but twice in the last few weeks they’ve done exactly that. On Wednesday, they made the signing of Kevin Gausman official, and introduced him to the media via a Zoom call. So let’s talk about it!
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Kevin Gausman plays for the Toronto Blue Jays. That might not have been a terribly exciting phrase a few years ago, when he was a member of the Baltimore Orioles, but after turning his career around with a great two season run in San Francisco — including posting a 2.81 ERA, 3.00 FIP, and 4.8 fWAR in 2021 — he is an exciting new anchor for what’s shaping up to be one of the best starting rotations in the game.
On Wednesday, Gausman and his wife, Taylor, met with the local media in a Zoom press conference that also included Jays GM Ross Atkins, though was primarily focused on Gausman. Here are some extensive highlights.
Ross Atkins' opening remarks
Alright, thanks everyone for being here. Really, really excited to have another opportunity to be adding a new member of the organization. Very grateful for Kevin and Taylor deciding to come north of the border to Toronto. Again, just couldn't be more excited to have another opportunity to be adding a new member to this organization.
We couldn't do that, obviously, without the support of Edward Rogers. Can't say enough about the support for us to become the best place to play in baseball, and continue to push that vision forward that Mark Shapiro has obviously been a huge part of. Thank you to Rogers, as well. Obviously thank you to Brodie Scofield, who worked very hard on this deal. Thank you for the communication, for your work toward this. Thanks to everyone in Baseball Operations. Most importantly, thank you to Kevin Gausman. We are exceptionally excited to have you here today. Thank you to Taylor, to Sadie, and Sutton, for your support in deciding to come to this great country. It is going to embrace you. It already has. It will continue to do that.
About Kevin, I have a story that I'd like to share. My first year as an executive, Mark Shapiro shared a story with a group of us about an interaction that he had with Pat Gillick. Mark was asking him, as a young executive, what he looked for in professional players, and it was simple. His answer was 'dependable and reliable.' That is what Kevin has been. And something that is exceptionally attractive to us, along with one of the best secondary weapons in the game, a remarkable track record thus far as a professional, as a teammate, as a human being. And to be realizing his potential and then some at this point in his career just speaks to his desire to be better. So, with that, welcome. Welcome to Toronto, welcome to Canada. We are very, very pleased to have you here, and I'll turn it over to Kevin.
Pretty standard stuff here. Notable, as always of late, is the big thank you to Edward Rogers right off the hop. The Gillick story is a nice touch. And clearly Atkins’ mention of the fact that Gausman is “realizing his potential and then some at this point in his career” suggests that he believes his new starter’s last couple of seasons are for real. Though I suppose the fact that he’s now backed a truck of money up to Gausman’s door was already pretty strong evidence of that.
From here on out the words will be Gausman’s, unless noted otherwise. There was a surprising lack of questions for Atkins in his one!
Yeah, so I just wanted to kind of reiterate what Ross was saying. Obviously thank you to Ross, thank you to my agent Brodie Scofield for getting this done. Everyone within the Rogers ownership group, Mark Shapiro, all the countless people that I'll get to meet in the front office that I haven't gotten to yet — I know there's a lot of people that go into making a decision like this. So, just very thankful.
Toronto's been a special place for us in the past. Made my debut there. So, I'm excited to hopefully be ending my career in the same place that it started. And so, I'm really excited about that. I'm really excited about joining a great organization that has a great reputation. I got to go the new player development centre down in Dunedin and I mean, wow. It's really impressive, and, you know, you can just kind of see the writing on the wall what this organization is trying to do in the future, and now. And so, I'm excited to get to know a lot of the young, core players that they have, and feel like we have everything we need now.
Thank you, once again, to the taxpayers of Pinellas County, Florida!
I've been a huge fan of the fan base from afar, you know? Unfortunately been a part of some really good moments for them — not necessarily for me at the time being. You know, the walk-off in '16. But I've seen Rogers Centre at full capacity, and when the team is electric the entire city is vibrant and really behind the entire team. So I'm really looking forward that. Really looking forward to getting started.
Gausman didn't pitch for the Orioles in that Wild Card game in 2016 because he'd taken the ball on the last day of the season, winning a game against the Yankees in what would ultimately be a futile effort to ensure that the Wild Card game would be played in Baltimore. (The Jays also won that day, beating the Red Sox behind seven brilliant two-hit innings from Aaron Sanchez; Sanchez had also outduelled Gausman in Toronto five days earlier at the start of a crucial series the O's would take two of three in.)
Anyway, nothing terribly unexpected so far.
What were your factors in choosing Toronto?
This question came in various forms several times, and rather than pepper those throughout a chronological transcription of the presser, I’m just going to go ahead and put all of Gausman’s answers under this heading.
Here was his first hack at it:
Honestly, one of the biggest factors for me at this point in my career is I want to go somewhere and win. I want to win a championship. That's really my goal now.
Listen, I was on the best team in baseball all year last year, and we had the best winning season in franchise history, but didn't get the job done. So, for me, that kind of left a bad taste in my mouth, and I'm hungry for that. As a player looking on the other side, taking a step back, there's a lot of youth here, a lot of guys who are going to be here under team control for a long time, and a very talented group too. So, I felt like out of all the other teams that were involved, I felt like this was the best place to go to win now and win in the future.
If you're talking to Ross, he kind of just made it apparent that they're going to do everything they could to put a winning product on the field — and also being in the players' corner, technology wise, anything that you need, they seem very open to making sure that happens, and I think the player development centre in Dunedin is a product of that.
I mean, Gausman obviously had 110 million reasons to say yes, but clearly the Jays are doing a better job than ever before — or at least not since the early 90s — convincing top players they're a great team to play for and extremely serious about winning. And the more they add guys like Gausman, the more they can extend ones like Berríos (then eventually Vlad and Bo), the easier that argument will be to make.
The team and the facilities really do seem to be selling themselves here already.
Asked about how the Jays were able to get him to say yes, Gausman shared a little bit about the recruitment process.
To be honest, I had a feeling Ross was going to call again (this winter), even though he might have not wanted to. But we almost reached a deal two years ago, and even last year too. So it was kind of a matter of, I think they're going to call again. Then it was kind of talking with Taylor, my wife, and figuring out — because it is a big decision, going to another country. And so we started that dialogue of, hey, what does that look like, where would we live. We'd all have to get passports. Just like little things like that that you don't really think of with any other team.
The more we kind of looked into it — I remember being in spring last year when all the pictures leaked of their player development centre in Dunedin, and remembered thinking like, wow, that place looks really nice. So in the back of my mind I knew that they had redone their spring training facility. Like I said earlier, just the players that are there. Was really exciting. It felt like the organization was a point where they were going to start going in a different direction maybe. What that looks like, I don't know, but (thinking then that) maybe we'll be a part of that.
And then after talking with Ross, who setup a Zoom, and really, like I said, they kind of blew me away with everything they do for the families. Bending backwards for the families and the kids and the players, really just everything first class. And then just asking around, talking to different people about their experience playing with the Blue Jays. One common denominator was that everybody loved their time with the Blue Jays. And so, really from that, going forward it was asking guys specifically about Pete Walker, and what to expect with him, and how much they thought he helped them.
Really, all those kind of building blocks coming together, and then it was just a matter of us kind of working towards a deal. Like I've said a bunch of times, I'm just super thankful for Ross and everybody that it took to get this deal done, and I'm just super excited to get started.
Asked about anybody in particular that he’d spoken to, Gausman identified a couple former teammates who weren’t even Blue Jays at the best of times, competitively, but still gave the city rave reviews.
I played with Steve Pearce, and Ross told me a story about when they traded him how he was a little upset because he loved his time so much in Toronto. So, my wife talked with his wife.
Dominic Leone, who I played with last year, played with the Blue Jays, and those people have kind of just added to the already outstanding reputation that everybody within the organization has. So just those two guys, they weren't the only people, but just those two guys really put the nail in the coffin and reaffirmed everything that I felt I saw and heard over the Zoom call.
But some of the best recruiting seems to have come from the Jays themselves.
Being out on the west coast it's just a little bit harder to follow what's going on in the AL East. But obviously just from afar I knew they had a very talented group, it was just a matter of putting it together. And obviously you saw what Robbie Ray did last year with them, being able to win the Cy Young. Steven Matz, too. A lot of it, when it got close to it, talking to some people about Pete Walker — great reputation, been there for a long time. You know, just the more that it got to kind of making a decision it was doing more research, finding out more about Toronto.
We had a Zoom meeting with Ross and Shannon (Curley, Senior Manager, Player Relations & Community Marketing), one of their family directors, and they really kind of blew us away, honestly, with how they run the organization and their family-first mentality, which is huge. I have two kids now, so that's something that you definitely have to think of. It's not just me going to another country now, it's the three of them too. So, really, it was, like I said, I knew that they were talented, it was just a matter of learning more about the organization.
When Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins arrived in Toronto they spoke a lot about organizational values and culture, and I think we're really now starting to see what that was building to. "Get better every day" being an organizational mantra is maybe an obvious binding principle for a sports team, but you definitely see an appreciation of — and a focus on acquiring — guys who really seem to want to put the work in and appreciate the access to resources that the Jays are making foundational to what they're doing. But the family-first stuff is clearly another side of that same coin, and something the team has put a lot of thought and effort into.
When asked about some of the considerations he and his family made before joining the Jays, Gausman explained:
I think first and foremost it was about the travel. Travelling into Toronto, where the airport is. All those little things that you maybe don't think of. Having to go through customs, and any ways that we can expedite that. And after talking to Shannon, the family advisory for the Blue Jays, she just kind of reiterated that they make it as easy as they can for the families and for our wives and kids.
Not just that, but everything they have at the stadium. I think last season they let a lot of the players — they opened up on the road — they let a lot of the families come in and have an opening day at home. The kids could run around the ballpark, kind of get some energy out. You know, just those little things. It kind of seemed like they did everything they could to make sure the families were happy. And then I think in return to that, the players are happy. You know, happy wife, happy life. You keep those people happy, you're usually going to keep everybody else happy, and it seems like there's a great connection of communication, and it just seemed like they're going to do everything they can to make sure it's a first class experience for everyone.
As I said above, the Jays have historically had trouble recruiting free agent players. Largely that's has to do with their lack of competitiveness and unwillingness to spend, but as that starts to change, when you then add in the fact that they play in a city that's an easy sell, and that they full court press to appeal as much as possible to players' families, you really start to see results. Gausman is an example of that, coming hot on the heels of the Berríos extension, which was certainly another.
We aren’t quite done yet on this subject, though. Because Gausman got a little more specific on the good things he’s heard about Pete Walker — and I’m sure every Jays fan is going to want to read something on their favourite pitching coach.
Asked whether the success of Robbie Ray, also a two-pitch pitcher, had an impact in his choice of the Blue Jays, here’s what he said:
Obviously, first and foremost we have a very well respected pitching coach. You can always guarantee that they're going to be in your corner, and they're going to be able to help you out with anything that arises during the season, whether it's a mechanical adjustment, you know.
One thing about Robbie that you read him talk about Pete talking about is kind of helping him get into his turn a little bit. It just kind of allowed him to stay over the rubber a little bit longer, and caused him to stay in the strike zone a lot more, and throw more strikes. His slider is such an effective pitch that if he can get two strikes on a guy he's got a really good chance to strike him out. For me, I'm the exact same way, I just don't throw a slider. It's a split for me. Obviously I'm right-handed too. I just had a lot of confidence, and the more people that I asked about Pete, the more affirmation that I got that he's legitimate, that it would be a great move going forward, working with him.
You got a sense from the presser that Gausman is a real student of the game, which is definitely a plus, and fits well with a lot of the things that the Jays seem to be doing.
With respect to Ray, Gausman’s is definitely a bit of a different situation, as he’s already more of a finished product. But if Pete Walker's reputation is helping convince top talent to sign here, let's hear it for Pete Walker.
The quality of his new teammates were also a big factor, apparently.
I think if you look at the Berríos extension, bringing in a guy who's had his entire career in the American League, a very great human being from what I hear, first and foremost. Great pitcher. Really looking forward to working with him, getting to know him. But more than anything it's just the willingness for the organization to do everything they can to get the most out of their players, to develop their players. Because you're not always going to be able to go out and get the best three free agents every offseason, you've got to be able to develop your players.
If you look at the young pitchers that they have, Manoah and Pearson, just all those young pieces coming back, learning, and getting better. I just felt like it was a prime place that was going to win for the near future, and also a couple years down the road, because they do have team control on a lot of those guys. And they just seem hungry. They seem like a team that wants to win. It seems like all the guys like those big moments. They don't shy away from them. Part of that is probably their pedigree, you know? Having that good DNA. And so, for me, it just kind of made sense, the closer it got to decision time, it was, alright, this is the team that I think I'm going to win the most with. So I'm super excited to get to know those guys.
On Roy Halladay
As fans have likely heard by now, there’s maybe a slight bit of an x-factor at play as well: the fact that Gausman, a Colorado native, grew up idolizing Roy Halladay.
Obviously I grew up a huge Roy Halladay fan. I don't know how many starts of his I watched over his career, but it seemed like any time he was pitching I made sure to try to watch. Me and my dad watched his starts, and we'd talk about pitching, and just his ability to make a ball move was incredible. So being able to watch him do what he did in Toronto, and then really over his whole career, going to Philly as well, I was always a huge fan of him.
Not just on the field, but just the way that he carried himself — kind of that even keel. That's what I've always tried to be, at least in my big career, is not try to show too much emotion, high or low, and kind of just try to be that consistent. Whether I'm having a bad day or a good day, you're not going to know the difference. So I think watching Roy for as long as I did definitely had something to do that.
Obviously very honoured to now be wearing the same threads that he wore, and I'll be wearing his number — not 32, obviously, because it's retired, but I'll be wearing 34 this next season and going forward. Any time I put on that jersey — I really think about him every time that I do. It means a lot to me and I don't take that for granted, that's for sure.
Talk about endearing yourself to this fan base!
Also, all the even keel stuff is perfectly in line with things the Jays constantly talk about valuing, so I suppose he's endeared himself to his new bosses, too.
This, I think, is a good point to switch to some of Gausman’s more introspective answers.
On the challenge of returning to the AL East
It's a little bit harder to keep the ball in the ballpark. You know, the ballparks are pretty small, and obviously the lineups are completely different. But who knows with the universal DH, you know, how that's all going to go. And it's one of those things that it's — it's always been a tough place to pitch, and for me personally it's more about I just feel like I'm not the same pitcher that I used to be. And so I have way more confidence going in there knowing that. Listen, you're going to give up home runs, but as long as there's not many guys on base you're usually going to be alright.
I mean, as mentioned, Gausman also obviously has 110 million reasons to be choosing to return to the AL East. But you don't get as far as he has in this game without a competitive streak, even if it's hidden behind rather deferential words like the ones above.
How did you turn things around and get to this place after being non-tendered two winters ago?
Honestly, I've put a lot of work in. I think quarantine, for me, kind of happened at a really good time, to be honest. I went into spring training, had a great spring, and then we got shut down. I just felt like I needed to do everything I could to stay in that spot. So I bought a mound, and put a mound in my garage, did 1,000 dry throws, thought of every scenario in my mind that I could have to prepare myself for when we were going to start back up.
But, really more than anything I just never stopped believing in myself and my ability. I always knew that I could be a really good starting pitcher in this game, it just so happened 2019 was a rough year for me. I had some injuries and just couldn't kind of figure it out. So, it came at a point in my career where it was kind of a big decision for any team, whether they were going to tender me a contract or now. Went to free agency and, you know, I'm very thankful to the Giants, that they were one of the teams that wanted me to start from the get-go. They gave me all the information that I needed to go out and do well and kind of reestablish my market.
The Jays, of course, were one of those teams that tried to land Gausman ahead of 2020 — just as they attempted to last winter as well. (Later on in the presser Atkins would say that his interest in acquiring Gasuman even predated his joining the Jays.)
The changes that came about thanks to the work Gausman put in been quite tangible. He’ll discuss that momentarily, but we can also see it quite clearly in the rise of the number of splitters he's thrown over the last three seasons — which is especially prominent if you isolate his pitch mix against right-handed batters.
"You have a great splitter, throw that more," seems like a simplistic thing, but it's worked!
Gausman had more to say on the subject as the Q&A continued, when asked about the pitcher he is now compared to the Baltimore guy Jays fans will likely better remember.
I think I'm, overall, just a lot smarter. Know myself a little bit better. Better mechanics — more repeatable mechanics. And I just feel like I'm trying not to be somebody that I'm not. You know? I know I'm not going to be a high spin guy. You know, I'm never going to throw a breaking ball more than 30% to a guy, or to guys. And so, I think it took me a long time to realize that I'm not like everybody else. I have two really good pitches, and still trying to develop that slider. It's been a pitch for me that, over the years, that kind of got me in some trouble. But I feel more confident in myself now than I ever have over my career, and so it's just about being really good at what you're great at. That's just one of those things. Command wise, I'd say my command has gotten better. I just have a better overall feel for who I am and what I need to do to have success.
When I got traded to Atlanta they were kind of like, 'Hey, we don't want you to throw down in the zone anymore,' and that was a big lightbulb for me. And then going to the Reds, it was like, 'Hey, we want you to just throw fastball/split.' And then when I signed with the Giants it was, 'We want you to do just what you've been doing with the Reds as a reliever, but starting.' So it was, we want you to get as close to throwing 50/50 on fastball and split as you can get.
You know, I think part of the reason it worked out so well was the shortened season. It was almost like, in my mind it was like, if there's any time to try this and see if it works, this is the perfect time. I just took to it and kind of put all of my coins in one bag, and tried to just listen to them. And it really paid off.
It certainly did.
On being something of a rarity as a splitter guy
Yeah, so, um, pretty much I couldn't throw a changeup. And so my JV pitching coach in high school was working with me in a bullpen, trying to get me to throw a changeup, and I just couldn't figure it out. He kinda was like, 'Hey, try this grip.' It's not a true split, it's kind of a fosh, in between a split and a normal changeup. It just kind of took to me naturally.
Now, it took me a long time to really kind of finesse it, and kind of figure out what I needed to do with it to have success. To be honest, it gets better and better every year. Over my career has just continued to get better, and my feel for it gets better. It's a huge pitch for me, and it took me a long time to really realize how big of a pitch it is for me. But I'm definitely glad that Chris Baum, my coach, showed it to me all those years ago.
Gausman ended up being the number four overall pick in the 2012 draft, and now here he is with a five-year, $110 million big league deal, so yeah, I'm sure he's glad!
For those who haven’t heard it before, the “fosh” actually has a Wikipedia page. It’s actually pretty amusing.
The fosh, fosh ball, or fosh change is a seldom used pitch in Major League Baseball described as "a cross between a split-fingered pitch and a straight change-up". It is designed to fool a batter expecting a fastball to have to contend with a slower pitch. The pitch has a grip like a fastball, but the index and middle fingers are spread slightly across the baseball, and the ring and little finger wrap around the side of the ball. If thrown properly, it has characteristics like a breaking change-up or an off-speed split-finger fastball.
The origin of the fosh is unknown. Mike Boddicker was the first pitcher known to throw it, having tried it in the 1980s. As pitching coach for the Boston Red Sox, Al Nipper taught the pitch to Jeff Suppan in 1995, and Tom Gordon and Roger Clemens in 1996. Other pitchers who have used it in a game are Jason Frasor, Trevor Hoffman, Johan Santana, Jason Bere, Carl Pavano, and Carlos Rosa.
There are various etymologies for the term "fosh". According to The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers: An Historical Compendium of Pitching, Pitchers, and Pitches, three derivations are known. One is that Earl Weaver described it as "a cross between a fastball and a dead fish". Another is a description by David Nied, who said the term sounds "like the perfect word for the movement of the pitch". A third derivation, from Al Nipper, is that fosh is an acronym for "full of ..."
As for the notion that the pitch is getting better, while it has not necessarily been a linear ascent, the numbers mostly bear out Gausman's instinct. According to the Pitch Info pitch value data on his FanGraphs page, Gausman's splitter was a below average pitch in four of his first five big league seasons, taking a jump to 6.0 runs above average in 2018, a move back to 3.3 runs in 2019, then a big jump to 9.1 runs in 2020, before a being worth a huge 17.5 runs above average in 2021. That made it one of the top 15 pitches in baseball (minimum 40 innings pitched), though partly that was a function of how often Gausman threw it. Still, paired with a fastball that was 14.2 runs above average and you can see why it was such a special season for him.
Have you spoken to you catchers yet?
Yeah, you know I pitch up in the zone a lot too, so it's about how we're talking to each other about what setup works best. Some guys like when guys don't setup high in the zone, and I like when guys are kind of in between. So that's one thing that we'll communicate over time, and then get to know each other.
But yeah, you know, I got to meet (Danny) and Reese the other day down in Florida, and so, super excited to start that battery-mate relationship with them. I love talking pitching and I love talking to the catchers and picking their brain about what they're thinking.
But yeah, throwing splits down in the zone is a big pitch for me, and you definitely love it when guys can block the ball well, and it felt like the two catchers that I had last year were really good at that. And a big reason why guys didn't take the extra base against me was that they were so good at blocking it.
So I don't really know those guys that much on a personal level, but looking forward to creating that relationship and making it a good one.
According to the advanced catching metric leaderboard at Baseball Prospectus, Giants now-retired catcher Buster Posey was the best in the majors at blocking errant pitches in 2021 at 0.8 runs above average. Fortunately for Jays, Reese McGuire (0.3) ranked 12th on that list, while Danny Jansen (0.2) ranked 18th, and both of them had more than 1,000 fewer chances than Posey. Alejandro Kirk (-0.2) ranked 93rd. They might be alright!
On mentoring younger players
We’ll end off Gausman’s remarks here, with his talk that clearly show he’s going to help fill some of the leadership void that was created with the departures of Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray.
I think one of the most important things you can have on a team is camaraderie, and feeling like each guy is in your corner. One thing I've always strived to do is make sure I watch every starter's bullpen. That's just my way of letting them know that I'm in it with them. Whether I necessarily have something for them every day — probably not. I'm not going to have something for them every day, but if it's the one time out of the month that they're throwing a bullpen and they kind of feel something, maybe I see something they're doing different. I just think the more eyes that you can have on yourself as a pitcher, and the more people that you can have in your corner, feeling like you're pulling for the same ultimate goal, which is winning games, winning a championship, the better prepared you're going to be to go out and have success. It makes it a lot easier when you're going through the tough times when you have four guys in there that have your back.
I just try to pump them up with confidence, honestly. Watch their bullpens, make sure they know how good they are, and just try to be as good of a teammate as I can. There's not many things that you can control in this game, and effort is one of them. So I really try to be there for the guys that I play with and make sure that they know that I'm going to be there in their corner for them, and if something happens I'm going to be in the ring with them. I think that's one of the most important things you can do.
I think the Jays have found a fit for their clubhouse.
Like I said, most of the questions went to Gausman himself. There were, however, a few opportunities for Ross Atkins to say some words about the club’s biggest ever free agent pitching signing.
Is there upside still on Gausman?
A great deal. I'm a huge fan of the development of pitching, the progress of pitching. I think we, as an organization, feel as though those that stay on the mound end up getting better and better. As it relates to upside, I think that turns into the performance that Kevin was speaking of, whether its usage of fastball/split, the effectiveness to individual hitters, I think as professional pitchers like Kevin and like José Berríos mature, it turns into a lot more winning opportunities for teams. And the impact that pitchers like Kevin can have on an organization, beyond the scope of winning when they're on the mound, is massive. Will be massive for the development of Alek Manoah, and for Nate Pearson, and many others.
So I can't say enough about what I, personally, feel it takes to be a starting pitcher in the major leagues, and do it year in and year out. I think it's one of the hardest things to do in the game. Everyone talks about the hardest thing to do in sport being hitting, and I could be on that side of the argument too, but the reliability and dependability of starting pitching is a phenomenal accomplishment in our view.
I mean, I think there's clearly something to experience making a difference, though the aging curve will want a word about that at some point. Still, going from a 2019 rotation that featured virtually nothing beyond Marcus Stroman (Aaron Sanchez had a 6.07 ERA before he was dealt that year, while the club's other double-digit starters were Trent Thornton, Jacob Waguespack, Clay Buchholz, Wilmer Font, and Clayton Richard) to one in 2022 headed by Berríos, Gausman, Hyun Jin Ryu, and Alek Manoah is clearly massive. Upside is great, and I'm sure the Jays have thoughts on how they can maximize Gausman's performance should he hit a little bit of a trough the way Berríos did early on after the trade, but having real, established, mature, prime-age, top quality starters is plenty good even without that.
On how the process played out with Ray and Gausman
I couldn't wait to call Brodie on day one of free agency about Kevin, and obviously we've talked for a long time about him, and we did come close a couple of times prior to today. And a shout out to Robbie Ray. One of the reasons that Kevin is — I don't want to speak for him — but I would imagine Robbie had a lot to do with, certainly from a winning perspective, the impact he had on the organization, where we are sitting today, I would imagined influenced others in their potential of being attracted to come here.
But our process with Kevin was a smooth one. Never easy to close a deal, but very clean lines of communication. Really, for us, we were as blown away with our interaction with Kevin and Taylor, as we talked about the potential relationship. So very fortunate to be here today.
Ross will never tell, I’m sure, but one can’t help but wonder just how smooth this process really could have been, given that Gausman and Robbie Ray both managed to land similar contracts at just about the same time. It seems like there must have been some back and forth with both camps.
I’ve heard it speculated — and, to be clear, it’s merely speculation — that maybe the Jays feared they’d lose out on both Ray and Gausman if they waited to long, and so jumped at Gausman while they had the chance to get it done. Who knows? Still, like I say, I suspect there was more intrigue going on here than the smooth process Atkins refers to here.
That said, as I wrote when the news of the signing first broke, I think there are plenty of reasons to be very happy with the deal the Blue Jays ended up with — particularly the draft pick they’ll accrue, plus the lack of an opt-out.
What do you expect Gausman will bring that can help young pitchers like Pearson and Manoah?
I think experiences, first and foremost. His character. His reputation is as strong as they come in baseball. So all that we would ever ask of him is to be himself, and that will be more than enough. I think those interactions happen organically.
As Kevin alluded to, one of the beautiful things that exists in baseball is we have time. We have so much time together. So over the course of a long, 162 game season, and hopefully a lot of games after that in October, obviously spring training, and over years. These guys end up training together. So there is no doubt in my mind that his impact will be powerful and positive.
The Jays definitely seem to have a type.
• There was a flurry of activity on the trade and free agent market before the expiration of the CBA between the league and the players union, which happened just before midnight on Thursday. Among the deals notable for Jays fans (all links via MLBTR): the Angels taking their excellent closer Rasiel Iglesias off the market with a four-year, $58 million deal; the versatile Chris Taylor, who the Jays had reportedly been looking at, going back to the Dodgers for four years and $60 million; the Red Sox adding starters Rich Hill and James Paxton, then trading Hunter Renfroe to Milwaukee for a pair of prospects and Jackie Bradley Jr.; the Padres giving a four-year, $20 million deal with opt-outs in the first two years to starter and former Texas Ranger Nick Martinez, who is coming off a breakout season in Japan’s NPB; and the Orioles actually giving out real-ish money ($7 million on a one-year deal with a club option for RHP Jordan Lyles).
The big one, of course, was a deal between Marcus Stroman and the Chicago Cubs — a somewhat odd matchup, given the state of the Cubs (bad) and the terms of the deal. Stroman gets just a three-year guarantee worth $71 million, but gets an opt-out after year two. The first two years will each pay him $25 million, and given his durability and track record, if he goes out there and is himself for the next two years, there’s a decent chance he can get a deal heading into his age-33 season that will end up netting him as much money as the Robbie Rays and Kevin Gausmans of the world have received this winter. It’s a bet, to be sure. But not an unreasonable one.
The Cubs’ end of it is a little harder to understand, as it doesn’t appear as though they’re going to be good in either of the first two years of this contract. Still, Stroman could definitely be a trade commodity as soon as this July, and the contract notably doesn’t contain a no-trade clause.
• The owners did what was expected by officially locking players out late Wednesday. It’s a cynical and unnecessary move, something Marc Normandin wrote in an excellent piece for Baseball Prospectus earlier this week.
Marc’s work on this subject is vital, and his simple statement across two tweets early Thursday got straight to the nut of the issue here: “Here is the thing I have been saying since I was still employed, which was mid-CBA: labor peace is a lie, and the sooner you understand that, the sooner you will understand everything the owners say and do,” he wrote. “‘Labor peace’ is upholding the status quo, it has created a situation where the owners shut everything down because the players went ‘we would like to improve the CBA somewhat,’ it allows for sports without interruption but certainly not equitable deals.”
It’s also a jarring move, given the recent spending frenzy across the league — something that Shi Davidi wrote about in a great overview of the situation for Sportsnet late on Wednesday. Also jarring? The sudden disappearance of tons of pictures and content from team and league websites, which now don’t have a hint of any current union members on them.
Already the war of words has also started. In a "letter to fans," commissioner Rob Manfred laid on the spin thick, claiming that "despite the league's best efforts to make a deal," they've been "forced to commence a lockout." He adds that the lockout is necessary "because the Players Association's vision for Major League Baseball would threaten the ability of most teams to be competitive," which is followed by nonsense about magnanimously spending owners that simply runs counter to the way anyone paying attention has observed the economics of the game playing out over the last several years.
In a statement, the union has replied that "the shutdown is a dramatic measure, regardless of the timing. It is not required by law or for any other reason. It was the owners' choice, plain and simple, specifically calculated to pressure Players into relinquishing rights and benefits, and abandoning good faith bargaining proposals that will benefit not just Players, but the game and industry as a whole."
We’ll see in the coming weeks and months just how willing the owners are to destroy the sport in order to preserve slightly better profit margins.
• And with that… I’m on vacation for the next week. (An extremely generous friend is covering the cost of a trip for a few of us, so please don’t take this as an indication that I don’t still need your support!) If something major happens I’ll find a way to write about it, but I’m not exactly hopeful for that. Otherwise I’ll be back with a call-out for mail bag questions in about a week, and I guess we’ll take it from there.
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