Today in MLBTR: Steven Matz chooses the Cardinals
On Steven Matz signing with St. Louis, the Blue Jays (slightly) dwindling pitching options, the non-tender deadline being moved, CBA/lockout stuff, movement on relief market, and more!
Steven Matz will not be returning to the Blue Jays in 2022, as it was reported on Tuesday night that he’s signing a free agent deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. So let’s talk about it! And a whole lot more!
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There will be no reunion for the Blue Jays and the second of Pete Walker’s great 2021 reclamation projects, as Steven Matz has signed a four-year, $44 million deal to join the St. Louis Cardinals per multiple reports.
A Jays lefty signing a four-year deal in St. Louis? What could possibly go wrong?
Jokes aside, this is a job well done by Matz’s agent, because I think few would have expected him to get a fourth year. A two-year or a three-year deal seemed much more likely even as recently as Tuesday — MLBTR’s predictions had him getting $27 million over three years — so that Matz’s camp was able to get the Cardinals to push it to a fourth year is pretty impressive.
It also makes this a threefold disappointment for the Jays.
One, they missed out on a player they had very real interest in bringing back.
Two, this is yet another sign that the cost of pitching in this market is on the high side right now — not great news if you’re a team that needs to add at least one mid-rotation-or-better starter, and ideally two.
Three, one can’t help but wonder if Matz might have rejected the qualifying offer had he had any idea that this kind of money would have been out there for him.
Did the Jays maybe cost themselves a draft pick by not giving him a QO? That’s tough to say. On one hand, if signing him would have required teams giving up a draft pick he would surely have had to sign for less. Even so, his deal with St. Louis carries an average annual value of $11 million, which is well south of what the QO would have paid him, so maybe he would have taken it. It’s also entirely possible that the healthy activity on the market over the last few weeks has come as a surprise, and that at the time he still would have accepted if offered. But maybe not.
Regardless, the Steven Matz era in Toronto is officially over. And rather in a twist that few would have believed on the day of his arrival, it turned out to be a pretty big success. Getting 2.8 fWAR out of Matz’s $5.2 million salary and the three players — Yennsy Díaz, Sean Reid-Foley, and Josh Winckowski — that were sent to the Mets in the deal to acquire him is pretty good! And it was one of a handful of successes that really underscored the fact that this team deserved better than to have to sit and watch the playoffs from home. But, fresh as that wound still is, that’s the past. The Jays need to look forward now, and I don’t think it’s hard to understand why they wouldn’t have been willing to go to a fourth year for the 30-year-old.
On that point, let’s play a quick game.
Player A: 4.24 ERA, 4.34 FIP, 8.58 K/9, 2.75 BB/9, 1.40 HR/9, 47.1% GB%
Player B: 4.27 ERA, 4.27 FIP, 8.90 K/9, 3.34 BB/9, 1.26 HR/9, 42.9% GB%
Player A, of course, is Matz. Those are his career numbers — this season he was slightly less homer-prone (1.08), had a lower groundball rate (45.5%), and produced a 3.82 ERA and 3.79 FIP.
Player B actually isn’t a player at all. Those numbers are exactly league average for 2021. Take 42,615 innings of pitcher performance and it turns out that it looks a whole lot like Steven Matz. Which isn’t bad! You need guys like that. And if you think 2021 was more the real Matz, there’s even more appeal there. Especially if you’re the Cardinals, who will have a very strong defence behind him and might look to get him back to the slightly higher groundball rates of earlier in his career (though even this year he was above average in that regard).
St. Louis got themselves a good starting pitcher here. Meanwhile, the Jays’ rotation still has some glaring holes in it. It would have been nice to see Matz back in the fold. Fortunately, there are still a number of directions out there for the Blue Jays to move on the pitching front. Those options have started drying up a little bit though…
The state of the pitching market
Matz isn’t the only pitcher who in recent days has been snapped up by aggressive teams. Anthony DeSclafani signed a three-year, $36 million deal to remain with the Giants. The Giants also are “nearing” a new two-year deal reportedly worth over $20 million to keep lefty Alex Wood around, and may also be closing in on landing Alex Cobb, too.
Of the starters on MLBTR's top 50 free agents list, so far seven have now signed: Eduardo Rodríguez, DeScalfani, Justin Verlander, Matz, Noah Syndergaard, and Andrew Heaney. None of those were among the top four starters on the list, with most of them being solidly in the middle of the pack.
That leaves 12 starters still remaining, with a clear division between the top of the market — Kevin Gausman, Robbie Ray, Max Scherzer, Marcus Stroman, Carlos Rodón, Jon Gray, Wood (for now), and Clayton Kershaw — and the guys who have some red flags that ended up more toward the back end of the list: Yusei Kikuchi, Cobb, Zack Greinke, Corey Kluber, Danny Duffy.
Given the way I expected the Jays to be looking to allocate their resources this winter, I find it a little surprising that they came up short one some of those mid-market arms. That could be good, in that it means they’re genuinely playing in the big boy end of the pool. It could be not so great if they’re looking to some of those less attractive names, or are more inclined to deal away prospects and address their needs via the trade market.
For the moment, it appears that it may be more the former than the latter.
Gausman is someone the Jays have been interested in before. Shi Davidi of Sportsnet reported back in July that “locking down Ray was the Blue Jays’ first piece of business over the winter and if they had their way, a multi-year deal with Kevin Gausman would quickly have followed.”
Instead, Gausman accepted the Giants’ qualifying offer, which has turned out to be an excellent decision for him. Gausman rode his fastball/splitter combo to a 2.81 ERA and 3.00 FIP this season while striking out 227 in 192 innings. He's awfully good, and at 31-years-old in January, might come slightly cheaper than the Jays' 30-year-old AL Cy Young winner.
Still, a deal in the Zack Wheeler range (five years, $118 million) or higher is a pretty good goal for both of them, which I'm sure would preclude the Jays from going after both again this year. For the moment, however, rumour has it that they're in on both — on the Ray front Robert Murray of Fansided wrote late last week that sources told him the Jays had "prioritized" him and Matz.
Obviously “prioritizing” Matz hasn’t exactly worked out, but there are more Matz-types out there than there are Ray- and Gausman-types. I don’t think the Jays could go wrong with either, but obviously it’s not just up to them, and they’re far from the only team in on these guys. For example, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale tweeted on Tuesday that the White Sox are “still seeking (a) front line starter like Robbie Ray and a second baseman like Marcus Semien.” (Note: Rude). The Boston Globe’s Alex Speier reports that the Red Sox have interest in Ray as well.
With that level of interest, in a world where Matz can get to four years, do guys like Ray and Gausman maybe end up finding someone to give them a sixth? That would be a tough one for teams to swallow, I think. But hey, if that’s the cost of improving your roster, that’s the cost of improving your roster.
Another route the Jays could take, of course, is to explore trades. One name that I’ve seen connected to them (or at least speculated about) may no longer be available. Marlins ace Sandy Alcantara is reportedly nearing a deal to keep him in Miami long-term. Sonny Gray of the Reds, on the other hand, appears to be available.
Would be nice to see them do something before the lockout sets in! Speaking of…
With a lockout looking highly likely to go into effect when the collective bargaining agreement between MLB and the players union expires on December 1, the two sides agreed to a procedural change on Tuesday to help ease the sport into the transaction freeze that will come along with it. Instead of the deadline for arbitration-eligible players to be tendered contracts for the 2022 season being on December 2nd, it will now come on November 30th at 8 PM ET.
Primarily this does two things. One, it avoids having a huge number of players having to spend the entirety of the lockout in contractual limbo. Two, it affords freshly minted free agents a little bit of time to sort out a contract with a new team, should they prefer to go into the lockout with some certainty.
This movement probably won't impact the Jays in a big way, as they don’t really have any major decisions to make on who to non-tender. Here are their arbitration eligible players, with arbitration salaries as projected by MLBTR’s Matt Swartz.
Teoscar Hernández – $10.0 million
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – $7.9 million
Ross Stripling – $4.4 million
Cavan Biggio – $1.7 million
Adam Cimber – $1.5 million
Danny Jansen – $1.5 million
Tim Mayza – $1.2 million
Trevor Richards – $1.1 million
Trent Thornton – $900,000
Ryan Borucki – $800,000
The only players you really even have to think about on that list are Borucki and Thornton. as neither are coming off very good seasons.
Borucki was homer-prone in 2021, and his strikeout rate (21.4%) was way down from his above-average 28.8% rate the previous year, but his walk rate improved to almost league average after issuing 12 free passes (one intentionally) over 16 2/3 innings in 2020. He's been injury prone, and he's out of minor league options, but it's not like he'll be breaking the bank salary wise, and I think you can still squint your eyes and believe there could be a useful bullpen piece there.
The same goes for Thornton, who also can be considered a potential depth starter. The strikeout and walk numbers were where you'd expect to see him in 2021 (24.1% and 7.4% respectively), but Thornton allowed 12 home runs in 49 innings, which helped lead him to a 4.78 ERA that, frankly, feels flattering. The Jays, and Pete Walker in particular, spoke glowingly about Thornton as a possible reliever early on in the season, but Thornton allowed runs in 12 of his final 21 relief appearances of the year, leading to a demotion to Buffalo. Unlike Borucki he's got minor league options still left, and that coupled with the low cost might be enough for the Jays to choose to keep him around.
More on the CBA/lockout
One quick thing that doesn’t come from MLBTR, which was this series of tweets about the coming lockout from Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith back on Monday.
I don’t really have much to say about all that, but I think it’s pretty informative stuff about a side of this situation that few have spoken about.
The relief market is moving, too
The Jays certainly still need more help in their bullpen, and though the biggest waves to have been made so far this offseason have been on the starting pitching front, we’re also starting to see the relief market take shape as well.
On Tuesday, the White Sox came to an agreement on a three-year, $24 million deal with Kendall Graveman. A day earlier, the Angels signed Aaron Loup to a two-year deal worth $17 million.
Both pitchers are, of course, former Blue Jays. Graveman pitched just 4 2/3 innings for the club back in 2014 before being sent to the A's in the Josh Donaldson trade. Loup was sent to the Phillies as he neared free agency in late 2018, bringing back Jacob Waguespack. Both are coming off career years in 2021. Graveman switched to the bullpen in mid-2020, but didn't take off until this season, posting an ERA+ above 100 for the first time in his career (241), and being worth 2.1 WAR according to Baseball Reference (1.1 WAR according to FanGraphs). Loup, meanwhile, had some success in the past, particularly his first two years with the Jays (2012 and 2013), but never anything like his 2021. Pitching 65 times for the Mets, Loup posted a 0.95 ERA, putting up a remarkable 2.8 WAR per B-R (1.6 per FanGraphs). His ERA+ was 422.
A reunion with Loup isn’t something I’d ever spent much time thinking about — though former Jays executive Perry Minasian, who is now the GM of the Angels, evidently did — but Graveman was definitely a reliever that could have made sense here. His addition to Chicago’s bullpen perhaps means that the White Sox will be even more inclined to trade Craig Kimbrel, whose option they picked up earlier in the month, but who struggled in an eighth inning role after being acquired from the Cubs in late July.
Back on Sunday, MLB Network’s Mike Hawk reported that talks on Kimbrel seemed to be heating up, with the Mets and Phillies in hot pursuit, and the Dodgers and Red Sox also having checked in. He added on Tuesday that the Phillies’ package “is rumored to be centered around Jean Segura.”
As for the Jays’ remaining options, again looking at MLBTR’s top 50 free agents, there are a couple big names. Raisel Iglesias would be an exciting get, even though he’s a somewhat homer-prone 32-year-old who is in line for a hefty multiyear deal. And 34-year-old Kenley Jansen could make some sense, even though I’ve been waiting for that well to dry up for years now. Beyond that it’s really just the usual collection interesting guys who probably aren’t going to be game-changers.
Héctor Neris? Mark Melancon? Ryan Tepera? Daniel Hudson? Joe Kelly? Collin McHugh? Andrew Chafin? Brooks Raley?
All those guys either appeared in MLBTR’s top 50 or among the 17 guys in the “honourable mention” category. In a recent bullpen rumours piece we also get the names Mychal Givens, Taylor Rodgers (who the Twins may be willing to trade), and Jeurys Familia.
Definitely some interesting arms there, and I would bet on the Jays landing at least one of them, and probably more. Quantity over quality would be my guess here — MLBTR’s prediction for the Iglesias contract is a B.J. Ryan-esque four years and $56 million, which is a lot! — but just because spending big on a reliever would be out of character for Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins, that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t go there. Don’t forget: they also haven’t been in a position where adding a star closer made nearly as much sense for them as it does right now.
• The Rays have agreed to an 11-year, $182 million extension with star 20-year-old shortstop Wander Franco. The Rays! Franco looks like he’s going to be an outstanding one, so this is going to be a problem for the Jays for however long the Rays actually choose to keep him. Given the way they operate I'm sure he won't play out the whole deal. I’m also sure that clowns are already out there trying to insinuate that this reflects badly somehow on the fact that the Jays have yet to lock up Vladimir Guerrero Jr. on a long-term extension — a silly argument that ignores the fact that Vlad had some real questions hanging over him in his first two years in the majors, as well as the fact that he presumably doesn’t have nearly as much incentive to forgo free agency because of the vast amount of money his father has already made in the game of baseball.
I also worry that this might be the best takeaway here:
Yancen Pujols @YancenPujolsThe deal proposed to Franco would be for a 10 year plus commitment worth between $150 - 200M. Franco batted .288 with 7 HR and 3.5 WAR, coming third in ROY voting, won by teammate @RandyArozarena 2/4. Franco's camp is studying the offer and are expected to counteroffer.
• In order to free up space on their 40-man roster back on Friday, the Yankees designated both Clint Frazier and Rougned Odor for assignment. Lol. Lmao.
• The Orioles are reportedly willing to listen to offers on top starter John Means. Pathetic.
• Japanese star slugger Seiya Suzuki is reportedly going to be posted this week. The 27-year-old Suzuki is a right-handed hitter and a corner outfielder, so doesn't make a ton of sense for the Blue Jays' roster as currently constituted, but is such a talent that he could be worth pursuing regardless. In 133 games for the Hiroshima Carp in 2021 he slashed .319/.436/.640, hit 38 home runs, and struck out just 87 times while picking up 88 walks. He's also won a Gold Glove in right field four times. The posting system gives teams a 30 day window in which to sign posted players, but that window will be paused if/when the league goes into a trade freeze due to the lockout.
• Jon Heyman tweets that Jays reliever Adam Cimber has switched agents, in case that means anything to you.
• There was pair of pieces worth checking out from Baseball America this week. In one, Geoff Pontes looks at 10 prospect pitchers with “intriguing analytical profiles,” which includes Jays Rule 5 eligible reliever Adrian Hernandez, who has a wicked changeup that plays well off his fastball and might give him a chance to pitch in the majors at some point this year, as well as the elite spin that top pick Gunnar Hoglund. In the other, Pontes and J.J. Cooper preview the Rule 5 draft with a look at all the eligible players worth knowing, including two Jays (Samad Taylor and Joey Murray) plus a former Jays farmhand (Ryan Noda, who was one of the pieces sent to the Dodgers in 2020’s Ross Stripling trade).
• Lastly, congrats to the four members of the 2021 Blue Jays who were named All MLB Team selections this week: second team outfielder Teoscar Hernández, and first teamers Robbie Ray, Marcus Semien, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.! This team really should have made the playoffs!
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