Mail bag: Runnin' down a dream

On off-season plans, Semien and Ray, priorities, the infield, sneaky pick-ups, rotation help, Tampa-Montreal, José Ramírez, Michael Brantley, Randal Grichuk, and so much more!

Turns out we haven’t done a mail bag around here since the All-Star break! I suspect that has something to do with the fact that the Blue Jays had an incredible second half and demanded focus beyond the big picture mail-baggy stuff. Sadly, as you all know, we’ve got a lot more time for that now.

As usual, I could barely get all of your questions in before running into Substack’s post length limit, so thank you so much to everybody who submitted one and my apologies for not being able to get to them all. And thank you especially to those who subscribe, and those have been able to pay to do so.

Speaking of which, before we get going, please indulge me while I attempt to make a living. Because if you’ve been sent here by a friend, or you are an existing subscriber who would like to move to a paid membership so you can comment, ask questions the next time I open up the ol’ mail bag, or just plain old support what I do, click below to upgrade or become a subscriber. I will be eternally grateful if you do!

Hi Andrew, I thoroughly enjoyed you written and podcast work this season, so keep up the good work! You have mentioned that you think the Blue Jays front office may prefer to sign the next Marcus Semien and/or Robbie Ray. Why do you think they may think this way? Who might their targets be?

I understand Ray to a degree given the strong examples of pitching identification and development/reclamation in recent years, but Semien has been at this high level as a hitter the last 3 years, bar the beginning of 2020. There have been allusions to the shortstop class of 2021 to move Bo off of SS (I don’t think this makes sense anymore with the season Bo just had defensively), but that class looks much more underwhelming now and the guy to pay out of the group may end up being Semien anyway. Wouldn’t they just be overthinking it when the player they have potentially been saving their money for may already have been on the team and they can re-sign him? - Noah V.

Hey Noah, thanks so much for your great question, the kind words, and the support!

I’ll tackle the simplest thing here first. Why do I think the Jays might prefer the next Semien and Ray as opposed to the current ones? Money.

By that I don’t mean that they don’t want to pay elite players fair market rates, because they’ve shown that they absolutely will do that. What I mean is that compared to signing shorter-term guys on smaller salaries, bringing back Semien and Ray at the cost it’s going to take will limit what else the Jays will be able to do this year, and will add a big layer of inflexibility to what they will be able to do in the coming years.

Could Rogers pay to keep these guys now and give the Jays greater flexibility in the future by allowing them to run higher payrolls? Oh yes. Is there a good argument that that’s precisely what they should be doing? Absolutely. But I don’t think trusting that to happen would be smart team-building strategy on the part of Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro.

Some quick and dirty math: José Berríos will be a free agent a year from now and the Jays need to extend him. Having Hyun Jin Ryu, George Springer, Ray, Semien, and Berríos on the books for 2023 at salaries of $20 to $25 million starts the payroll at something like $110 million, depending on how things are structured. That’s workable, but now add Teoscar Hernández in his final arbitration year and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in his second of four, which is easily another $20 million. Bo Bichette will be on his first arbitration salary, and if they’re still here this will also be an arbitration year for Jordan Romano, Tim Mayza, Adam Cimber, and Trevor Richards, so throw another $10 million onto that. Add Lourdes Gurriel Jr. at nearly $6 million and another $5 million for pre-arb guys and we’re now up to something like $150 million. Oh, and guess what? Randal Grichuk is still on the books for another $10 million that year, so that’s $160 million.

The Jays can do that, but the problem is it doesn’t leave a whole lot room for external improvements unless you clear some cash. Grichuk isn’t moving without eating dollars or taking some back, but Gurriel and Hernández could be dealt. Maybe you could eat some money and get someone to take the last year of Ryu’s deal. They could work with it. But clearly this path leads to some very hard questions down the road and, unless Rogers approves a significantly higher payroll than the highest one they’ve ever run ($163 million on opening day 2017), not a ton of flexibility to fix whatever holes may exist.

At that point you’re trusting that you’ll have prospects to fill in the gaps that need filling (risky!), or trading from your farm system for inexpensive players to do so (not super conducive to building a sustainable winner around your two mid-20s cornerstones). And the answers don’t get much easier to come by the following winter, because even though the expiration of Ryu and Grichuk’s contracts remove $30 million from the books, heading into 2024 Teoscar’s a free agent, Vlad and Bo are more expensive, etc.

Like everyone else, I’d love to see Ray and Semien back, so if the Jays decided there was a way to make it all work that would obviously be great. But if I’m looking at this through Ross Atkins’ eyes, I’m seeing that doing so will lead to a 2023 team that will be hard pressed to look very different from the 2021 team, except Ryu will be 36, Springer will be 33, Semien will be 32, and Ray will be 31 — and assuming Ray and Semien get five-year deals this winter, those two and Springer will all have three additional years on their contracts remaining at that point too!

I’m not sure that’s a recipe for success, especially when the alternative is having a ton more money to spend on short-term fixes to problems as they arise year to year. Or, if you’re tying up big slabs of payroll long-term, doing it with guys who skew younger.

Berríos, for example, won’t turn 30 until May of 2024.

Speaking of age, you’re right that this year’s free agent class underwhelms compared to the hype that was there for it a year ago, but I don’t think you’re right that Semien is the guy to pay out of that group. On a one-year deal? I could buy that, but honestly even then I’m not so sure. Carlos Correa and Corey Seager are incredibly talented players who will both be 27 on opening day next year. They have not been as durable in their careers as Semien, but they’ve been much more successful — Semien has played over 250 more games than Correa and over 350 more than Seager but all three players are within 1.5 WAR of each other over their careers according to FanGraphs. This year they both walked more, struck out less, had higher averages, and higher on-base percentages than Semien did. Marcus had more power, but both Seager and Correa were better by wRC+.

I don't bring any of this up to disparage Marcus, per se. He had an MVP-calibre season, was a joy to watch, and genuinely seemed to bring huge intangibles to the team. In her piece on potentially extending him, my friend and former colleague Kaitlyn McGrath of the Athletic described Bo Bichette's answer to what playing beside Semien had meant to him like so: “‘Everything,’ Bichette said, holding back tears. ‘He’s meant a lot to me.’”

But Semien was sneakily a little boom-or-bust in 2021, posting a .334 OBP that ranked 77th out of the 132 hitters to qualify for the batting title. And the thing about him being a great hitter for the better part of three years is that, while true, he wasn't great in the same ways. In his breakout 2019 (138 wRC+) he had a career high walk rate (11.6%) and a career low strikeout rate (13.7%). In 2021 (131 wRC+) those rates were back to being virtually identical to his career norms: a 9.1% walk rate (for his career it's 9.0%) and a strikeout rate of 20.2% (exactly his career average) — he just happened to hit a ton more home runs.

Obviously the 45 home runs are a long way from nothing, But, sadly, I like the 2019 version of Semien better, and I think the decision would be tougher here if he’d been closer to that.

I don’t know that the Jays are going to rush out to pay one of Seager or Correa $300 million over a decade either, and there would certainly be financial ramifications if they did. But they’d be easier to swallow in 2023 if your big money infielder was at age-28 or 29 rather than 32.

So, y’know, here we are. Not without options — there are a ton of players available in free agency and in trade on both sides of the ball that will likely command less money and fit better within the Jays’ long-term financial picture — just maybe not with the Jays favouring the options we all want.

I've seen a few jays Twitter pessimists bemoaning the fact that we "wasted" career years from Vlad, Semien, and Ray. I disagree with this framing for many reasons, and I think it wouldn't be crazy if those three came back in similar form next year, but also "two historically dominant offensive performances and a Cy-Young-finalist-and/or-winner performance" are admittedly lofty goals. What do you want to see out of them next year (assuming they're all here)? Are there statistical benchmarks you think are fair to expect? Anything more qualitative you'll be looking for? I'm firmly in the camp of "If they improve at third base and in the bullpen, those guys can regress noticeably and we'll still be in good shape" but am curious for your thoughts. — jimboknows

Unfortunately, as you can probably tell by my answer above, I don’t think it’s very likely Ray and Semien are going to be back. And, honestly, if they did come back and then noticeably regressed, that would be bad, bad news. So I guess I’m not in the same camp as you are. I don’t think you pay those guys what they’re going to command if you don’t think they’re going to be very close to as good again, and for many years going forward, which is why I suspect the front office is likely going to look elsewhere.

As for the notion of “wasting” career years, I would say first of all that Vlad is a different animal than Ray and Semien, much like George Springer is or Bryce Harper is or Max Scherzer is. Vlad is 22 and other than a rough patch to start his big league career he’s been dominant everywhere. He’ll have up years and down years, but I think he’s too good to even think about in terms of a “career year.” But Semien and Ray? Wasted is a harsh term, but I don’t know how you can really say anything else. Those guys were incredible and may have more years like this in them yet, but they gave the team so much on-field value for a relatively small amount of dollars (in MLB free agent terms). That’s a huge win to go along with further wins from Vlad, Bo, Teoscar, Manoah, Romano. Even Steven Matz. The team should have been much, much more successful than it was.

You just don’t get many chances like that, and now everything has changed. If they bring Ray and Semien back the dollars-to-WAR ratio on those two will never be the same, and in fact will just keep on declining until it gets ugly. That’s just how long-term free agent deals work. And while that’s understandably not how fans think about these things, it’s so enormous to get as much value out of as little payroll as possible because that allows a team to do even more with the rest of their dollars. That’s sort of the whole game!

Statistically? I honestly don’t think in terms of benchmarks, but I guess the safe money is that none of them is quite as good next year. Years as good as they had are just incredibly hard to replicate.

Assuming the Blue Jays don't re-sign Semien, and they acquire a star to play 3B (e.g., Ramirez, Story, Corey Seager), what do you think about making a run at Adam Frazier to play second? Lefty bat, high OBP, terrific defence -- all the things Atkins says they're looking for this offseason. Given his post-deadline production, I can't see the Padres holding on to him tightly. — Gideon C.

I guess my question about that would be, how much better is Frazier than Cavan Biggio? Or a Cavan Biggio/Santiago Espinal platoon?

Frazier's hot (128 wRC+) start in Pittsburgh, powered by a .359 BABIP, looks much more like the outlier to me than his cold finish in San Diego. He had an 80 wRC+ over 230 plate appearances in 2020 and for his career has a 103 wRC+ over nearly 2,500 PA. Sure, he doesn't strike out and is a lefty, but he doesn't walk a ton and is pretty pitiful at striking the ball — his 85.4 mph average exit velocity was the fourth lowest among 135 hitters with at least 500 plate appearances in 2021.

I admit I have questions about Biggio, but a bet on him at the league minimum versus a bet on Frazier at an arbitration raise on the $4.3 million he made this year plus whatever prospect you have to send to the Padres? I know which one I'm taking.

Stoeten, first off thank you (and Nick) for the terrific coverage of the Blue Jays this season. Really enhanced following this team. Would love your thoughts on "Win at all costs vs. balancing the short and longer term" As a fan, I should only care about my team doing whatever it takes to win it all in any given year. But somehow, I've become more concerned about sustaining it for longer periods of time. The 2017-2019 Blue Jays were no fun to watch. Neither were the pre-2015 teams for most of the previous 20 years. How should we want the Blue Jays to handle the offseason? — Seth

Thanks so much for your question and your support man. This is such a huge, huge question for exactly the reasons you bring up. And the thing is, I don’t think there can really be concrete answers until the market starts moving. And that’s probably true every year, which I think is exactly why this Jays front office prizes flexibility so much.

It sucks a whole lot to be counting Rogers’ dollars for them, but I definitely think you’re right that a balanced approach is necessary, at least when you’re at the place in your window where the Jays currently are. Going “all in” in 2015 made more sense because the core of that team was running out of time, both contractually and in terms of the aging curve.

I guess I’d say that an ideal Jays off-season for me would look like an enhanced version of the last one. They don’t need to be quite so cautious this time, especially with respect to term. Springer and Berríos are here now and Vlad, Bo, Teoscar, and Manoah have shown they can be counted on as very productive big leaguers, which makes this a vastly different situation than last year when there was simply hope that they could. They shouldn’t have to lean so heavily toward guys with one-year commitments. But the form of the deals they made last winter can still be instructive, I think.

A year ago they made an early bet at a reasonable price on a guy they liked who fit a need, Robbie Ray. They went out and got their one big ticket item in George Springer. They got creative and made a shrewd trade for Steven Matz that freed up a couple 40-man spots (Sean Reid-Foley and Yennsy Díaz) and cost them a low-end prospect (Josh Winckowski) while adding a useful guy they liked and saving the Mets a few bucks. Then they bargain hunted, picking up Kirby Yates at a discount and flexing their financial muscle on the one-year deal with Semien.

I could see them once again making an early move to help stabilize a part of their roster that needs stabilizing — a reliever, a second or third baseman, a back-end starter — then seeing where the market goes from there and waiting things out a bit. What that ultimately looks like is impossible to say because the Jays don’t always necessarily think of roster-building in terms of role-specific needs. Everyone thought they needed to add another starter last winter and then they went and signed Semien. At the deadline they traded for Berríos, but they also (according to Shi Davidi of Sportsnet in a piece earlier this month) “took a run at” Cleveland’s José Ramírez and Detroit’s Robbie Grossman. If they don’t like the run production options in front of them they can pivot to run prevention and vice versa. The same goes for long-term options versus short term ones.

That agility means they don’t ever seem to feel they absolutely need certain players. Occasionally that means you end up with a Kendrys Morales, or you end up walking away from guys like Semien and Ray. Occasionally it means you get a Berríos and you get a Semien. In the long run I think the approach serves the team better than getting fixated on one or two guys, especially when you have the entirety of Bo and Vlad’s mid-20s to have to think about. So I guess that’s how I’d like to see the winter play out. It could be disappointing at times, for sure. Fortunately the Jays are now playing at the top of the market, so even if Ray and Semien go, there will undoubtedly be impact talent coming back. A Ramírez trade sure would take a lot of the sting out of those losses, wouldn’t it?

Hello Mr. Stoeten,

I was born and bred in Massachusetts, but have been a lifelong Blue Jays fan since 1985 where I learned about ecstasy and agony. (My father, despite being born in Connecticut, adopted the Jays as his own from their inception.) After moving to Florida in 1994 (we all make choices), I had a certain affection for the Red Sox despite my loathing for them while I lived in Massachusetts. However, I've come to regret that old affection despite lifelong Mass friends that somehow still like them despite trading Mookie Betts. Now that I can clearly see that the Sox are classic shitbirds, how do I redeem myself? Should I get rid of my St. Patrick's Day Varitek jersey? — Nick J.

Hey man, no need to feel bad or regretful about any of this! That’s all just part of who you are — or were. Obviously the rivalries are a huge part of the fun of sports and it’s great to have you on our side now, but you don’t need to be redeemed for liking the Red Sox. It’s cool. Hell, I was big into the Red Sox for a spell when I was six and they went on their run to the ‘86 World Series because my dad came back from a business trip to Boston with an ALCS champs shirt — or something like that! LOL. These things happen!

After a full season in the books of this incarnation, I wanted to say thanks for keeping doing what you are doing. Your coverage will always be part of my memories of this remarkable season.

Thinking back to the Matz acquisition and those little pockets of hidden value Shapiro and Atkins seem to find, what’s your craziest idea for a “hidden value” free agent or trade this off-season? — giant_badger

Thanks so much for the kind words and the support, man. I wish I had a better answer for you here, but I guess the thing about hidden value is that it’s kinda hidden, right? Steven Matz and Noah Syndergaard aren’t exactly secrets, but I think those guys might end up being able to give a team as much production in 2022 as guys who will be paid quite a bit more or for longer. Eduardo Rodriguez’s 4.74 ERA this year might scare off some teams, but I think his underlying numbers were fine and he should be much better, though he’s not exactly hidden either. Michael Conforto isn’t as good as he looked in 2020 but I don’t think is nearly as bad as he looked this year, and he could maybe end up a guy who winds up needing a similar kind of “prove it” contract that the Jays gave Semien a year ago, and could be a nice fit if the Jays move one of their other outfielders — as could Corey Dickerson, potentially.

One guy I think could be interesting is the Rockies’ Jon Gray. He was atrocious in 2020, with his strikeout rate dipping to 12.6% and his ERA ballooning to 6.69. He bounced back somewhat this year, with a 4.59 ERA (and a 4.22 FIP and 4.04 xFIP) and a strikeout rate back up to 24.4%, but he limped to the finish line, posting a 6.55 ERA in August and a 7.15 ERA in September. The weird thing is, though, while you'd expect a Rockies pitcher to have a higher ERA than most, he was better at home (4.02) than on the road (5.22). I'm not sure what the market is going to make of him, and the Rockies are reportedly looking to extend him before he does so anyway (as they appreciate his ability to pitch well in Denver, even if the road results haven't been great), so he might not become available. But maybe at the right price that’s a guy Pete Walker, Matt Buschmann, and the Jays’ pitching lab will think they can really work wonders with.

Marcus Semien has had two two amazing years (2019, 139 OPS+ and 2021, 133 OPS+) and I think it is fair to say he has been better than some of the stats indicate in many of his other seasons. His 2021 awesomeness can't be understated, playing great defence every day up the middle, hitting the way he did — it was amazing.

And, although it is impossible to ever really know, he seems like a good dude.

I suspect that someone is going to back up a dump truck of money this off season. I would love him to re-sign with the Jays.

But should we be worried about his OBP (his BB% was 9.1% - a three year running decrease) or am I looking to hard for red flags? — Michael S.

Great question man, thanks for it and for the support. As I said above, I do sort of think that’s a red flag — which is such a weird thing to say because I loved watching Semien this year and would like nothing more than to see him play for the Blue Jays for a long, long time. And, honestly, it’s not the only one.

The numbers are what they are, and like I say, they look very much like the guy he was pre-2019 except for the power (with a little additional base running value in there to boot). Semien's ISO (i.e. his isolated power, which is slugging percentage minus batting average) was .273 this year, putting him in the top 10 among qualified hitters. I'm certainly not saying the power wasn't real, but his next best ISO came in 2019 (.237, 44th), and other than that he's never cracked .200.

Playing in Oakland and the AL West for most of his career surely had something to do with that. It also must be noted that Semien's average launch angle of 20.3° was the highest of his career this year, as were his barrel rate, his hard hit rate, and his exit velocity. It is absolutely not out of the question that he worked on these things with the resources afforded him by the Blue Jays and intentionally maximized his skills in this way. But was still a little unusual.

Of the 19 players with 35 home runs or more this season, though Semien's average launch angle was the third highest, his average exit velocity was fourth lowest, his maximum exit velocity was lowest, his barrel rate was the lowest, and his hard hit rate was second lowest.

He made it work, but do you pay him like a 45 home run slugger when he is less than elite when it comes to a skill that seems pretty critical to doing that year in and year out? I don’t know that you do. And I think if he’s more a 30 home run guy than a 45 home run guy this is a different conversation, because, as you point out, the OBP skills aren’t quite elite either. I take no pleasure in reporting this!

Great work this season! I might be one of the rare people who think the Montreal-Tampa thing might work ok (assuming it is something more than a ploy for public funds in Tampa). If it does happen, I have seen a lot of people say how cool it would be to have Toronto-Montreal have a rivalry in the AL East. I am not one of them, as I would prefer having a Montreal team in the NL (also, the Rays out of the AL East? Yes, please). My rationale is that when the Expos were around, they were probably my most favourite, second favourite team in sports and I had legit interest in them. I’m sure this is because the AL and NL were (and still mostly are) so segregated so it didn’t seem like Montreal competed with Toronto. If the new Montreal team stays in the AL East, I will no doubt hate them and I assume the same would be said for Montreal fans with the Jays.

Do you think there is any chance this Montreal-Tampa team shifts to the NL? Would the Jays push to have that team in the NL, with a view to avoiding that team eating at its fan base? Any sense if the Jays have pushed back about this proposal generally (regardless of any AL/NL issue) for that same reason? — Bryan

Thanks so much for the kind words and the support, man. This is a great question with an answer that I don’t think you’re going to like. I 100% am with you that Jays in the AL and Expos in the NL was great. I’d also watch the Expos nearly as much as I’d watch the Blue Jays, and I think you’re totally right we’d lose that by having the two teams playing in the same division — especially if one was really just the stupid Rays in disguise. But 19 games between the Jays and Expos every season? I’m pretty sure the league would find that a much more exciting proposition than finding an NL team willing to jump to the AL East to take the “Rayspos” place.

As for the Jays, it wouldn’t surprise me if, privately, they were not so thrilled about the prospect of no longer being “the only team that represents a whole country,” as they’ve made that a pretty big part of their marketing and (seemingly) team-building efforts. But ultimately I don’t think there would be a whole lot they could do to stop it. When the Expos went to D.C. the nearby Orioles opposed it but the rest of the league approved the move. According to Google you can get from Nationals Park to Camden Yards in under four hours by bicycle. That’s a hell of a lot bigger an encroachment on a team’s territory than Montreal is to Toronto.

But this is all stuff to be worried about down the road. The Rays are certainly making noise about all this, but the group they’re working with in Montreal is not. Like you say though, it could all just be a big show for the benefit of getting what they want out of Tampa/Pinellas/St. Pete. It definitely wouldn’t be the first time a sports franchise has done that. But that said, every step of the way this scheme has come it’s seemed more and more serious than I’ve ever given it credit for. It still seems really weird to me, but I’d be lying if I said my hope wasn’t that the long-term aim is actually to have the Expos back full-time in Montreal.

Looking at the rotation for the year I see Pearson and Stripling as the perfect piggyback combo. Nate won’t be able to throw a full season and Stripling is so hit and miss that combining them seems like the best way to maximize their efficiency through the year. Inning lengths are flexible based on performance on any given outing and avoids taxing the bullpen on days that one doesn’t have it going. — Scott

Thanks so much for the question and the support, Scott. I definitely get the idea, but I’ve gotta say, I hear the word “piggyback” literally every winter but how often does it actually happen? For limited stretches sometimes maybe?

Teams are having success with openers and using their pitchers in non-traditional ways, but generally that isn’t locking two guys in to go every fifth day regardless of the matchup. It’s about creating favourable matchups, unless it’s about scrambling to cover innings in case of injury.

Personally, I think the way to maximize Stripling is to use him as little as you have to. Pearson they’ve said they still hope can be a full-on starter. If he has to be limited to a few innings at a time, put him in the bullpen and pick your spots so you can use him when it matters most. Make Stripling the long man and aim higher for the back of your rotation.

Right now, the Jays could have a decent starting rotation (Berrios, Manoah, Ryu, Pearson? Stripling) but after that it gets pretty thin. I'm always rooting for Thornton and Kay but I wouldn't want to depend on them. What free agent pitchers would you go after? Are Ray and Matz obvious targets or is that my hometown bias? There's a lot of elite level guys out there but a bunch of them are getting a little old to offer multi year deals. I always look forward to new posts and podcasts — keep up the solid work! — John M.

Thanks so much for the kind words and your support man! You’re definitely not wrong that the rotation seems thin still and they’re going to have to do something there. I think they’ve got to add at least a couple arms to that group on big league deals, plus another minor league free agent or two as well (plus there’s also Thomas Hatch and Zach Logue).

Matz could be an interesting one, especially with the potential of the qualifying offer hanging over him. Teams aren’t penalized as harshly as they were prior to 2017, so the situation isn’t quite the same, but one wonders about maybe trying to do with Matz something similar to what the Jays did with Marco Estrada, who they extended a QO to after 2015 before simply re-signing him for two-years and $26 million.

Ray could still happen, but as with Semien, I have my doubts. There are red flags there too: age, cost, the unconvincing pre-2021 track record, his limited repertoire, and the fact that he seemed to really be throwing at max effort to make it all work.

I don’t want to equate Ray’s grunting to his effort level, but he really was going out there like a high leverage reliever for five, six, seven innings or more. His average fastball velocity was 93.7 mph in 2018. It dipped to 92.4 in 2019, rebounded back to 93.7 in 2020, and then he set a career high with it at 94.8 in 2021. Adding back velocity isn't unprecedented but it's a bit unusual. Justin Verlander did it, going from 93.5 mph in 2016 to 95.3 mph in 2017, holding in about that range for three seasons before his arm blew apart. There are obviously many reasons a pitcher can get hurt at any time, so I want to be careful implying that correlation equals causation here, I’m just saying that the extra effort/velo is a bigger concern if you're going to sign a guy on a five-year deal than it is if you were signing him for one year.

And the “two pitch pitcher” thing? Ray certainly made it work in 2021, and there are guys who are capable of doing that. The Phillies’ Zack Wheeler, whose five-year, $118 million contract is a good comparable for what Ray will be looking for, is somewhat similar. He throws harder and uses his curveball a little more than Ray does (10.7% of the time in 2021 versus Ray’s 6.0% of the time), but like Ray throws about 60% fastballs and a ton of sliders on top of that. It can work! And the argument can be made that the pitchers who ought to be called upon to get through a lineup more than twice are few and far between anyway. But it’s a limitation to consider. Adding it all up I’m just not sure the Jays are going to offer as much to him as necessary, especially considering the long-term financial stuff I was talking about earlier. Then again, they know him best, and if they don’t share these concerns and back a truck of money up to his house, even better!

As for other names, I’ve mentioned a few already — Syndergaard, Rodriguez, Gray. Verlander himself is another one, and though, as you say, there’s risk in going multiple years with guys his age (particularly when they’re coming off of Tommy John surgery), I actually do think he’d be a great fit, provided his stuff looks like it’s back to normal. Max Scherzer, too. The fact that these guys are too old to be giving four- or five-year deals is actually a feature, not a bug. That would help keep the finances much tidier going forward while (likely) giving huge value in the present. Do I see it happening? No. But I’d love for the Jays to make a huge run at them. (Less so Clayton Kershaw, who is somehow still only 33, so will probably require more term.)

For me the older guys are actually kind of intriguing. Corey Kluber was pretty decent when healthy, but couldn’t possibly command more than a one year deal because once again for so much of the year he was not. Zack Grienke saw his strikeout take a big step back and had the worst HR/9 rate of his career, he also had an abysmal finish to the season (his ERA went from 3.41 to 4.16 over his final four starts), but maybe it’s worth seeing if he’s got anything left in the tank — not as the centrepiece of your rotation makeover but as a guy to potentially push Stripling back into the bullpen and/or give Hatch, Kay, and Thornton time to sort themselves out.

The other free agents are either much more costly (Kevin Gausman, Carlos Ródon), not happening (Marcus Stroman), or just not very exciting. The Jays have been linked to Gausman in the past, so there could be something there, but he'll be 31 in January so a long-term deal has many of the same risks as with Ray.

On the trade side it's a bit tougher. There seem to be fewer teams ready to blatantly tank this season, and the ones that are suck for a reason. One dumb thought I had was taking back Madison Bumgarner in order to reduce the prospect cost in a trade for Arizona’s Ketel Marte. Marte is a name that’s out there. A switch-hitting infielder, he had a 139 wRC+ this season, albeit in only 90 games, and had a seven-win year in 2019. He's also got three relatively cheap options remaining, so checks a lot of boxes for the Jays. Bumgarner is 32 and under contract for three years at sizeable dollars. He has struggled since leaving San Francisco two winters ago, but pitched decently in the second half of 2021 (or at least had a respectable enough 3.95 ERA, though FIP, xFIP, etc. were much less kind). He does have a limited no-trade clause, however, which would probably put an end to these discussions faster than you can hear 1,000,000 Torontonians pronouncing his name as “Baumgartner.” That’s probably for the best because this is almost certainly a really terrible idea.

Here are some waaaay too early questions for you!

• Y/N The Jays have enough quality SPs at the start of the '22 season so that Stripling can be a long reliever?
• Which is more likely, Semien as 2B for the Jays in '22, or SS for the Yankees?
• 100+ MLB innings for Nate Pearson in '22, Y/N?
• Y/N The Jays start the '22 season with a LH/SW-hitting 3B not currently in the organization?
• In the long run, who signs an extension with the Jays first - Vlad or Bo?

Enjoy! Appreciate all the work! — Mister Meh

Rapid fire! I like it. And thanks for the kind words and the support, Mister Meh! Haha.


1) Absolutely yes.
2) Oof. Yankees. (But that would be a travesty. No one should force that man to shave!)
3) Heart says yes, head says no.
4) José Ramírez, yes.
5) Both on the same day, spring 2023.

I'd love to see Semien back, but I can't see it happening. Given we've got some solid infield prospects who are a few years away, do you see the Jays acquiring another quality veteran 2B or 3B for another short contract to bridge the gap before the homegrowns take over? — OzRob

Thanks so much for the question and the support, Rob! (I know I keep repeating this for almost every question, but seriously, thank you all!)

I definitely see the Jays acquiring someone for one of those positions, though I think that’s much less because of the prospects coming and much more because this is a win-now team and that’s an obvious area where they can improve.

Honestly, if the right guy came along — Corey Seager, for example — I think they’d have no problem blocking guys like Jordan Groshans and Orelvis Martinez indefinitely, even though I agree that those two seem like great prospects for the future. If talented players are blocked by more talented players, you can always use them in trade to address other needs, just as the Jays did (on a much smaller scale… uh… talent-wise) by moving Rowdy Tellez this summer for Trevor Richards.

As talented as some of the up-and-coming guys are, unless they’re someone like Gabriel Moreno, who is now viewed by many as a top 10 prospect in the entire sport, it’s probably best not to get too attached. Which is great, of course, because it means the Jays will be continuing to look to add impact talent wherever possible. And that’s exactly what I expect them to do at either second or third this winter.

Do you expect vaccination status to factor into decisions re: player signings? For example Matz turned things around this season, but was out of commission for a stretch because he caught COVID. Personal choice is one thing, but the potential impact on a team that may lose key players because of their failure to get vaccinated can be significant. — Cheryl F.

Thanks so much for the question and the support, Cheryl! Great question. And I think you’re absolutely right that this should be a big consideration. I hope it’s a big consideration. By which I mean, I hope it’s disqualifying if somebody isn’t.

Whether it will be a factor? That’s a question for the Blue Jays.

Now, to be fair to Matz, it was reported at the time he hit the COVID list that it was not publicly know whether he was vaccinated or not. But obviously after seeing what happened in August and September to the stupid Red Sox — who have somehow endured and are still stupidly alive in the stupid playoffs — I think it would be negligent to be bringing in unvaccinated players. Not just because of baseball, of course, but in general.

Thanks for a great year of analysis. Honestly, between you and Tao, I’m pretty satisfied with my Jays articles.

So, the Jays had two names last off season that were tied pretty close to the organization that ended up signing elsewhere. Do you think Kim (Padres) or Brantley (Astros) should have been signed and would they have made a difference in the overall scheme of things?

Cheers! — Bob

Thanks for the kind words and the support, man! This is a really interesting question that I hadn’t thought about.

Michael Brantley is obviously the big one here, because it really did seem like something weird went down when that deal leaked out — like it was agreed in principle, correctly reported as such, and then the Astros upped their offer and he decided to stay in the place he knew best. What’s interesting in retrospect is how Brantley was a guy who definitely would have helped “diversify” the Jays’ lineup, which is something they clearly still view as a problem a whole season later. He’s a left-handed hitter, not a ton of power, but doesn't strike out, puts the ball in play, always has a high BABIP, and can take a walk reasonably well (though he was below average at that this year). On one hand, I think it would have served the Jays really well this year to have a bat like his in the lineup regularly, and maybe some of their "late and close" problems would have been mitigated by having such a different type of hitter mixed in. On the other hand, I don't think they get Marcus Semien if they get Brantley, so I guess I've got to call that a win. Brantley only played 121 games, and though his 123 wRC+ was pretty decent, his defence was average at best, and adding him probably would have necessitated trading Lourdes Gurriel Jr. as well, who didn't have a great year overall but was incredibly important for the Jays down the stretch.

The Ha-Seong Kim question is a much easier one to answer. Really interesting player, great hitter in the KBO, the defensive metrics loved him no matter which position he played this year, and he only just turned 26 over the weekend. But part of the reason he ended up choosing San Diego over the Jays was, reportedly, that none of the Jays' offers had a clause that would guarantee that he wouldn't be sent to the minors, whereas the Padres were willing to guarantee him an MLB spot all year. In the long run that could still work out for the San Diego, but Kim slashed .202/.270/.352 this season, which translates to a 70 wRC+. His hitting was so poor that despite playing in 117 games he only managed 298 plate appearances. He wouldn't have helped the Jays very much this year — especially if he also would have prevented them from going after Semien.

Is there a market for Randal Grichuk? Who would be in that group willing to pay a hefty chunk of Grich's salary? Who are among the best available options for a backup CF (maybe with some positional flexibility) who would also do us proud as a starter? Or maybe it just makes sense to keep him?

So many questions there. Everybody's making plans for Randall. We only want what's best for him (and the team). Randall just needs that helping hand.

I know you kind of answered this, but I'm fomenting that there are teams out there that will believe a starting Grich who could hit 30 HRs next year might help their offense. The Mets maybe? Just hazarding what might be possible. Personally I hate to see Randall saddled with being a backup when he can clearly start somewhere.

Sub-question, and maybe more interesting broadly: Why are so many players getting hurt? I just read your breakdown of trades tiers now and even MiLB players seem to be doing down like flies. What has happened that the biggest question about players and trades now seems to be whether or not they'll stay on the field? — Fazmasherley

Great questions, even though it’s now got me humming XTC. Thanks so much man, and thanks for the support — though I guess I told you that the other day!

Honestly, I wish I thought there was an actual market for Randal, because a year in Pittsburgh getting everyday at-bats on a team where results don’t matter could probably do him some good. Unfortunately, unless there’s a salary floor coming in the new CBA, I think it’s going to be hard to find him a new home without the Jays eating money or taking back somebody else’s problem.

I wonder sometimes if Randal is his own worst enemy. His first four seasons, back when he was in St. Louis, he struck out 30% of the time. With the Jays this year he had that number down to 20.9% — a respectable enough rate, below league average — but what did it get him? The worst season at the plate of his career: a .241/.281/.423 line (85 wRC+). Back in 2015 he only played 103 games, and only came to the plate 350 times, but he hit 17 home runs that campaign. He hit 22 in 545 PA this year, and the only time he's topped the 30 mark (31 in 2019) he was sort of in between those two poles. It took him 628 PA to get there, and he struck out 26% of the time. It's admirable that he's tried to be a more complete hitter, and his 12 HR in 231 PA last season maybe understandably made him feel like it was clicking, but clearly it wasn't.

I think you could get a non-contending team to give you an interesting bullpen arm or something for him if he was making the league minimum, but with $18.7 million owed to him over the next two years, that makes it really, really tough. So tough that, like I said in my trade tiers piece last week, the best — and maybe only — play is to take your lumps with him as your fourth outfielder in 2022 and deal with it next winter when there will be less money left for you to have to eat in order to move him (and it's more likely you're just going to end up releasing him and eating it all in the end anyway).

I just don’t think front offices exist anymore that are going to look at the power and the RBIs and ignore the warts and the cost. Though the Blue Jays’ people are certainly more creative than me, so I guess we can’t rule it out.

If they do somehow find a way to move him, I’d honestly be fine with bringing Corey Dickerson back, even though he was clearly miscast as a centre fielder. But the thing about that is, if you’re eating money to move Grichuk and then paying Dickerson, now you’re paying way too much for a spot on your roster that probably deserves the least amount of dollars. So, with that in mind, maybe both Teoscar Hernández and Cavan Biggio could be options in a pinch. Obviously playing centre isn’t purely about sprint speed, but they’d both be be at the back of the middle-of-the-pack among centre fielders at least. Otherwise, I just… I just think it’s Grichuk! Would love to be proven wrong on this though.

As for your question about injuries, I could only guess but that guess would be after-effects of last year’s downtime because of COVID and the growing appreciation for caution that has come with teams getting more sophisticated and proactive when it comes to health. The Jays have 35 names listed under the High Performance heading of their front office directory, and while some of those are consulting physicians who aren’t necessarily involved day to day, there are strength and conditioning coaches, nutritionists, massage therapists, mental coaches, physical therapists, etc. etc. It’s a different world than even five years ago, and I think that’s reflected in how often players are off the field. It’s also just straight up more stressful on players’ bodies to do what they do in 2021 — an average fastball was 89.0 mph in 2002, now it’s 93.5 and bat speed has had to go up by necessity with it. They’re pushing the limits of what human bodies can do, literally. That takes a toll. It’s also incredibly impressive.

A few holes for the Jays to fill this offseason, especially pitching. As far as the rotation goes, I'm in the camp that says extending Berrios should be priority number 1 and  re-signing Matz option two. I'm a touch leery about overpaying for Ray. I've heard the Randy Johnson comparisons, but Johnson was a much more fully formed pitcher than Ray when he finally put it all together. Ray basically has two pitches and there were signs that some teams (notably Boston and Tampa, who happen to play 18 times against Toronto) were beginning to figure him out by year end. So he's third, behind Berrios (a true staff ace, IMO) and Matz, who put up very solid numbers for most of the year. At a minimum, Matz needs to be given a qualifying offer. Thoughts? 

I would also love to see Semien back, but if he's not, who is the optimal replacement? I'm guessing that this would be Jose Ramirez.  Would some combination of two of Gurriel/Kirk and Groshans get it done, or does Ross Atkins have to consider dealing a real blue chipper like Orelvis Martinez or (God forbid) Gabriel Moreno? Ramirez gives the team a LH bat, contract certainty and would largely replace Semien's offensive output, (as would a full season of George Springer). Or do you go cheaper with an option like Kyle Seager and platoon him with Espinal?  Maybe if that's the option taken, you try to acquire a guy like Robbie Grossman from Detroit and package Gurriel to meet a different set of needs? 

It's definitely going to be a fascinating off-season to cover. Lots of permutations. I do hope you're wrong about the prospects of re-signing Semien, but he may well decide he wants to go back to the Bay Area and I can see the Giants making a play for him. Or perhaps the Yankees to have him play SS (his preferred position).

In any case, a big thank you to you, Andrew.  I consistently enjoyed your excellent work over the season and look forward to lots more of it in 2022.

All the best. — Marshall A.

Wow, lots to digest here. I’ve covered some of this already, but there’s are some new things here, the first being… Randy Johnson comparisons? Can’t say I’ve heard those. Johnson was 6’10, reaching into your grill from a crazy angle with as much heat as anybody in those days. Can’t say I see it!

I’m with you on Berríos being the top priority. I think it can wait until later in the off-season, but I’d love to see an extension done before the spring. Matz is an option, the QO is an option, others are options, Ray at the right price would be fine. I’m sure they’ll find a solution that disappoints everyone equally.

As for Semien, I don’t see the Giants doing that with Brandon Crawford having just signed a two-year extension in August, but as discussed above, I do think the Yankees could be in play (don’t do it Marcus!).

I think Ramírez is obviously the ideal target as a replacement and the fact that the Jays took a run at him at the deadline but came up short makes me hopeful that Cleveland was maybe just looking for guys the Jays needed too much at the time — they couldn’t have given up Kirk or Gurriel then, but in the off-season it will be a bit easier. Might it take a Pearson? That would be tough, but I’d do it. A Groshans? Sure. Not Moreno though.

Corey Seager yes, Kyle Seager no. Grossman is interesting and had a decent year, but doesn’t really move the needle for me, and I think Detroit is probably in a place where they’re ready to start throwing money around rather than continually tearing down — which is maybe why they were reluctant to deal him at the deadline.

Thanks so much for the question, the kind words, and the support, man!

Congratulations on a great season of coverage Stoeten! I'm still not ready to dive into the offseason stuff (this team was so much fun and so good, gahhhh!), so I'll ask a coverage-related question(s). You've been creating content based around this team for a long time, how has writing for yourself here at The Batflip compared to your earlier career stops, and what do you think has changed about your coverage the most over time?

Always love the emails popping up about a new post, keep up the great work :) — Adam L.

Thank you as well for the kind words, and the support, and the question man. I honestly don’t want to navel gaze too much, but yeah, it’s been quite the ride to this point. And I’ll say this: I don’t miss having to bang out content as often as possible to get pageviews, but I do miss how much funnier and experimental I was back in the olden days. Haha. Twitter really changed everything — that’s the place for weirdness and immediacy, clearly — it just took a while for the rest of the industry to catch up. I was wary about the subscription model and going behind the paywall when I went to the Athletic at first, and it’s been honestly amazing and heartwarming to now be out on the other side of that experience doing this all for myself and making it work without limiting access to people — and I obviously couldn’t keep doing it without all of you who read and subscribe, so honestly thank you so incredibly much. My bosses at the Athletic (and everywhere else!) were genuinely great and it was a great place to work, but I’m not going to lie that getting shitcanned (again) was a blessing and I’m much happier being back on my own. I could probably use a few more kicks in the ass about getting stuff done over the course of the year, and I could certainly use getting paid a little bit closer to what I was getting then (please subscribe!), but operating at my own pace on my own time in a place that feels like it could really a durable home in media world that has been anything but? Hell yeah.

So it’s good! Season two is going to be even better, and I think we’re even going to move to two podcasts a week in the new year!