TORONTO – The path from rebuilding team to contender includes countless steps, most of which occur with little fanfare behind the scenes. And then there are the decisions that catch everyone’s attention.
Late Sunday night, the Blue Jays made one of those moves, agreeing to terms with last year’s National League ERA leader in a bold deal that now ranks among the largest in franchise history. The Blue Jays are in agreement with Hyun-Jin Ryu on a four-year, $80 million deal, Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported first.
Immediately, the deal with the 32-year-old South Korean impacts the Blue Jays on and off the field. He bolsters a rotation that needed short-term help, represents a long-term building block for a franchise looking to contend again and offers the clearest sign yet that the current front office is willing and able to spend big.
Of course, there are questions here too.
A finesse pitcher, Ryu averaged 90.6 m.p.h. with his fastball in 2019 while also relying on a cutter, curve and his preferred out-pitch, a plus change-up. The combination worked in 2019, when he posted an NL-best 2.32 ERA in 182.2 innings while striking out 163.
He joins a rotation featuring two other newcomers, free agent signing Tanner Roark and trade acquisition Chase Anderson. On paper, Matt Shoemaker would be the club’s No. 4 starter while Trent Thornton and Ryan Borucki would be leading candidates for the final spot. That’s a much better rotation than the one that posted a 5.25 ERA in 2019.
“It’s not good enough just to have depth,” GM Ross Atkins said soon after the regular season. “You have to have major-league pieces and guys that can contribute in significant ways.”
Of course, that initial rotation will just be a starting point. A year ago, the Blue Jays used 21 different starters including Ryan Feierabend, Buddy Boshers and Neil Ramirez. The lack of viable starters was apparent at times, with manager Charlie Montoyo once justifying his decision to start Edwin Jackson and his 11.12 ERA by acknowledging “We don’t have anybody else.”
Well, now they do. On paper, the Blue Jays seem poised to begin the season with a triple-A rotation filled with young pitchers ready or nearly ready for the majors. Jacob Waguespack, Anthony Kay, T.J. Zeuch and Sean Reid-Foley all have some big-league experience and can be optioned to and from Buffalo as needed. Plus, there’s Nate Pearson, arguably the game’s top pitching prospect, who should be ready for major-league hitters at some point this season.
Ryu’s presence should help ensure that the days of ‘an opener and a guy’ are over.
Even so, the Blue Jays can’t assume they’re getting 200 innings per season from Ryu, who has missed considerable time over the years. Shoulder surgery cost him the entire 2015 season and the first half of 2016. After just one start back, elbow tendonitis sidelined him until 2017. Hip and foot injuries impacted him that year, but only briefly. Then, in 2018, he missed 90 games with a left groin strain.
Those injuries could resurface, so a fair over/under for total innings pitched in Toronto may be 500 rather than 800. Regardless, that risk is priced into his contract to some extent as Ryu signed for a lower average annual value than fellow free agents Gerrit Cole ($36 million), Stephen Strasburg ($35) million and Zack Wheeler ($23.6 million). Adding to Ryu’s appeal, he won’t cost the Blue Jays a draft pick since he accepted Los Angeles’ qualifying offer a year ago.
Clearly, there’s risk here — it’s the largest free agent pitching deal in franchise history — but the Blue Jays are positioned to absorb it at a time that they have considerable financial flexibility. Beyond 2021, the team’s only commitments are Roark, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Randal Grichuk. It won’t be until the final year of Ryu’s contract that the likes of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio are arbitration-eligible.
Even after completing this deal with Ryu and agent Scott Boras, the Blue Jays should have room to add and retain more impact players in the coming seasons. According to Roster Resource, Toronto’s projected 2020 payroll sits at $106 million — nowhere near the luxury tax threshold of $208 million.
Ryu’s agreement represents the largest Blue Jays deal of any kind since club president and CEO Mark Shapiro took over following the 2015 season. In the intervening years, Shapiro often said the Blue Jays would have the means to spend on major free agents at the right time, but that was often met with skepticism from the fan base. Now, the Ryu deal speaks for itself.
Eventually, the Blue Jays hope he’ll be pitching them back to contention. If everything breaks right, that could even happen as soon as next season. In the perhaps more likely event that 2020 represents a step towards respectability, Ryu’s greatest impact may be felt in 2021 and beyond.
Adding Brantley would give Jays elite offence, set up more possible moves – Sportsnet.ca
On Wednesday, they engaged in serious talks with Michael Brantley, according to multiple industry sources. Earlier on Wednesday, multiple outlets including Sportsnet reported that a deal was in place with Brantley, but a Blue Jays team official later refuted the report.
If completed, a deal would give Toronto’s already-potent lineup yet another impact bat. But given how crowded the Blue Jays’ outfield mix would look with Brantley, adding him might also prompt further moves.
First, let’s turn our attention to Brantley, Springer’s former Astros teammate and fellow client of Excel Sports Management. Now 33, he remains one of MLB’s best bat-to-ball hitters, as his lifetime .297 average suggests. He combines those contact skills with an excellent plate approach that often sees him walk nearly as often as he strikes out. While he doesn’t offer Springer’s power, he hit 17 home runs in 2018 and 22 homers in 2019, making the AL all-star team both times.
Defensively, Brantley’s a corner outfielder at this stage in his career with the bulk of his career experience coming in left field. He was also Houston’s designated hitter 26 times in 2020, so manager Charlie Montoyo would likely include him in the team’s DH mix, too. With 34th percentile sprint speed, he’s doesn’t chase down fly balls with the same ease that he did when he first came up with a Cleveland team overseen by current Blue Jays executives Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins.
All told, he’s been worth 3.8 wins above replacement per 650 plate appearances, meaning he’s consistently been an all-star player when healthy. During the shortened 2020, he generated 1.7 WAR according to Baseball-Reference, and the year before that he was worth 4.8 WAR.
Where exactly the Blue Jays go from here is unclear, but it stands to reason that a deal with Brantley would be a precursor to more. As soon news of advanced talks broke Wednesday, industry speculation began about possible trades involving Lourdes Gurriel Jr. or Randal Grichuk. It’s even possible the Blue Jays already have a framework in place for a possible deal involving one of those players (Gurriel Jr., who has three years and $14.7 million remaining on his contract before one final year of arbitration eligibility in 2024, has far more trade value of the two).
Regardless, the additions of Springer and Brantley would give the Blue Jays one of the best lineups in the American League. From here, the Blue Jays have further needs on the infield and on the pitching staff, but this week has already been extremely productive for a team looking to build on its first playoff appearance in four seasons.
Blue Jays agree to three-year deal with OF Brantley – TSN
The Toronto Blue Jays have not added Michael Brantley, yet.
Contrary to earlier reports, ESPN’s Jeff Passan writes there is no agreement in place as of yet between the two sides. He notes the Blue Jays are still in on Brantley, and could still reach a deal with the veteran outfielder.
After the Jays reached a six-year, $150 million agreement with Springer late Tuesday night, TSN Blue Jays Reporter Scott Mitchell tweeted there were “legit legs to the Michael Brantley package deal” and the Blue Jays are very open to it.
Mitchell noted Tuesday night that adding Brantley, a 33-year-old left fielder, would create an outfield logjam, but the Jays could use the surplus to upgrade their pitching on the trade market.
Brantley had been the mark of consistency at the plate during his lengthy big league career and that continued once he arrived with the Houston Astros after the 2018 season.
Brantley has hit .309 combined over the past two seasons, good for eighth best in baseball over that span.
Prior to his tenure in Houston, Brantley is known for the 10 seasons he spent with Cleveland, appearing in 1,051 games during that time period. He is a four-time All-Star and a one-time Silver Slugger Award winner (2014).
Brantley was originally selected by the Milwaukee Brewers in the seventh round of the 2005 MLB Draft and arrived in Cleveland in a 2008 trade deadline deal that saw left-hander C.C. Sabathia head to Milwaukee.
Edmonton Oilers coming apart at seams through first four games of season – Edmonton Sun
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There’s no word on whether one of them is Maple Leafs Zamboni driver David Ayres.
With Stuart Skinner as the current backup, having a total of zero games of NHL experience, the Oilers are going to be relying heavily on Koskinen, who looked better in the second game against Montreal, but still gave up two soft goals in the loss — one on a wrist shot from the blue line and the other from behind the goal line.
“Yeah of course this is not what we wanted and we can’t get frustrated,” said Koskinen, who has faced 145 shots and conceded 15 goals. “It’s only four games done and we have to keep the work ethic and find a way to win games. It’s going to be a long push and we need to be ready when we play against the Leafs in a few days.”
The Oilers are going to need better than a 3.80 goals-against average and .897 save percentage to get back into the hunt. They’re also going to need the power play to be much better.
A unit that scored once on every three opportunities last season, has two goals on 18 man-advantage situations this year and has already given up two shorthanded goals.
Not having James Neal on the top unit hurts, but Barrie has not made the impact expected yet and his biggest contribution to date was not inadvertently breaking up a drop pass from Draisaitl to McDavid, which led to a highlight-reel goal against the Vancouver Canucks.
“I think we have to shoot the puck more,” Tippett said. “We had some chances but you’ve got to bury some of those chances. Montreal’s doing a good job around the front of your net and you’ve got to pay the price to score. And we didn’t bury the chances and we didn’t shoot the puck enough.
“You look at the two games, I think we had 10 power plays and we came out minus-2 on power plays. That’s an area that should be one of our strengths but it wasn’t the last two games.”
The Oilers can’t rely on McDavid and Draisaitl scoring four points per game to win. The supporting cast put together by Holland on a shoestring budget, after paying the top three forwards $27-million combined, has to start punching above its weight.
If they can’t, then those four playoff spots in the North Division could pull away in a hurry.
On Twitter: @DerekVanDiest
Adding Brantley would give Jays elite offence, set up more possible moves – Sportsnet.ca
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