Toronto Blue Jays Winter Meetings: Navigating The Free Agent Pitching Waters


Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

At about this time last year (December 16 to be exact), the Toronto Blue Jays had just landed arguably the biggest fish of the offseason.  Robert Allen Dickey, the 2012 National League Cy Young winner who had won 20 games the previous season with the New York Mets, was brought to Toronto in a sign and trade. Add that to the blockbuster that had been pulled off on November 19 of the same season when Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and Jose Reyes joined the team for Yunel Escobar and a handful of prospects, and it was easy to see why the Toronto Blue Jays were considered the winners of the offseason.

However, baseball is a game where the wins and losses occur on the field, and after finishing last season with a mark of 74-88, 23 games behind the world champion Boston Red Sox, GM Alex Anthopoulos and his staff have their work cut out for them. And while various theories, from a lack of team chemistry to a poor manager have been thrown around, the truth is that the team’s repugnant pitching was almost entirely to blame for last year’s plummet into the basement of the division.

As a team, the Jays ranked 28th in quality starts, 27th in runs allowed, 25th in ERA, and 22nd in batting average against. So while all of that points to a spending frenzy on pitchers this offseason, the reality is that there are really only a couple of guys worth pursuing in  free agency.

The guy: Matt Garza, 30 years old, 67-67, 3.84 ERA, 1.28 WHIP

Make no doubt about it, there are 30 teams that would love to have this guy. Wins and losses are deceiving in baseball and Garza is much better than a “.500 pitcher”, as some have suggested. Garza’s best years came between 2008-2011 when he went a combined 44-41 for the Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago Cubs, putting together 3 consecutive seasons with an ERA under four in the demanding AL East, before moving to the less intimidating NL Central in 2011 and winning only 10 games despite a sparkling 3.32 ERA in 31 starts for the Cubs.

Although Garza will likely command a long-term deal that he will not play out, his experience pitching in the AL East is invaluable. With the Rays, Garza managed to put up a 3.86 ERA, despite making the majority of his starts against what was undoubtedly the toughest division in baseball. A potential knock on Garza is his health, having made only 42 starts the past two seasons but by all accounts his injury problems are behind him. Garza would definitely fit in well with the Jays, given his experience and success within the division, as well as the uncertainty with the rest of their rotation.

Could Be The Guy: Ervin Santana, 30 years old, 105-90, 4.19 ERA, 1.28 WHIP

Santana had a ridiculous 2013 season for the Kansas City Royals, pitching to a career-best 3.24 ERA. His nine wins were a product of the lowly Royals offence, which ranked 18th in baseball with only four runs scored per game. However, it has to be said that Santana was also lucky, serving up 26 home runs in 211 innings.

In his nine major league seasons, Santana has only given up less than 21 home runs once, back in his first season when he only started 23 games. He allowed the most home runs in the majors in 2012, surrendering a ridiculous 39 in only 178 innings. Those numbers could well be repeated in Toronto, given that the Rogers Centre  is in the top half of ballparks in terms of home runs allowed every year and ranked third last season, pouring out 1.29 per game. Santana could still fit in as a middle of the rotation innings eater, having made fewer than 30 starts only twice in nine seasons.

Not The Guy: Ubaldo Jimenez, 29 years old, 82-75, 3.92 ERA, 1.35 WHIP

Most people will remember Jimenez for his magic season of 2010, when he went 19-8 with a 2.88 ERA, finishing third in the NL Cy Young voting for the Colorado Rockies. He then promptly demanded a new contract, pitched to an ERA of 4.46 in his first 21 starts of 2011, and was shipped off to the Cleveland Indians. Fast forward a few more seasons and Jimenez is somehow an intriguing option for a handful of teams.

Many will look at his “bounce back” season of 2013, where he finished 13-9 with a 3.30 ERA and believe he is deserving of a big contract. I prefer to pay attention to his nightmarish 2012, when he led the league in losses, going 9-17 with a horrible 5.40 ERA. While his true value is probably somewhere in the middle of the last two seasons, he should not be an option for an American League team. In three years in the AL, he’s 26-30 with a 4.45 ERA. Six years in the National League?  56-45, with an ERA of 3.66. Unless the Jays switch leagues, they should want no part of Mr. Jimenez.

Definitely  Not The Guys:

Part 1: A.J. Burnett.

Like Jimenez, Burnett is an NL-only option, with an ERA of nearly 4.50 in his six years for the Jays and Yankees. He turns 37 in January and may be leaning towards retirement.

Part 2: Bronson Arroyo.

Like Burnett, he turns 37 before the season starts. But unlike Burnett, Arroyo will more than likely be back. Arroyo has pitched in Cincinnati since 2005, and has actually put up ERA’s of under 4.0 in four of the last five seasons. Has some experience in the AL with the Red Sox but is probably an NL-only guy at this point too.

Closing Thought- Halladay: Hall of Fame?

Roy Halladay: The best and most dominant pitcher of this generation, Halladay absolutely belongs in the hall of fame. 200 is the new 300 when it comes to wins for pitchers and Halladay was clearly hampered by playing on poor Toronto teams. Two time Cy Young winner and finished in the top five on five other occasions, eight time all-star, 67 complete games, 20 shutouts, led the league in innings pitched four times, 16th in the history of baseball with a 3.576 strikeout to walk ratio, the list goes on and on. Prediction: will deservedly make it when first eligible in 2019.