The Toronto Blue Jays are expected to make a splash on the free agent market during the 2020-21 offseason. They were the first team to make a deal, re-signing Robbie Ray to a one-year contract for US$8 million. As starting pitching depth has been an issue for the past several years, the Jays will need to make a few more deals if they want to improve on their 8th seed during the shortened 2020 regular season.
Closer Ken Giles, who had been battling arm problems, also reportedly underwent Tommy John surgery in October. Had he remained healthy, the Jays could have considered re-signing him for the 2021 campaign but will instead need to replace him with at least one other back-end option. Jordan Romano had a stellar 2020, but he may not be ready to transition into a full-time closer role.
There are some solid veterans available on the free agency market this year, and the Jays have an opportunity to make a move by spending big.
Masahiro Tanaka, SP
Tanaka has been a major contributor for the Yankees. He is a two-time All-Star who owns a 3.74 ERA (114 ERA+) over seven MLB seasons. While he has never pitched over 200 innings in a season, he has three seasons with at least 30 starts, which is an important consideration given the Jays’ misfortunes with injuries. Tanaka also has 54.0 postseason innings with a 3.33 ERA, which will be valuable to the Jays if they want to make a postseason run next year.
After the Jays acquired Walker from the Seattle Mariners in August, he went 2-1 with a 1.37 ERA in 6 starts. While he has had some injury problems during his career, he is still only 28 and younger than the other top free agent starters available.
Jon Lester, SP
Jon is a sentimental favorite of mine as he helped end the Chicago Cubs’ World Series drought in 2016. At the age of 36, he no longer has his best stuff but continues to grind every game and at-bat. Lester’s potential value comes from his durability – he has averaged over 200 IP and 34 starts over the course of his career – and his postseason experience. He is a warrior and, in my opinion, one of the most reliable postseason performers among active pitchers. While Lester may be looking to end his career where it started – with the Boston Red Sox – the Jays could offer him another chance to compete for a World Series title.
Liam Hendriks, RP
In 2019, Hendriks moved into the closer role for the Oakland Athletics. The pride of Australian baseball posted 25 saves in an All-Star season, which he followed up with a sparkling 1.78 ERA (235 ERA+) in 24 appearances in 2020. The Jays will need high-leverage relievers if they want to make a run in 2020.
Brad Hand, RP
The Cleveland baseball franchise declined Hand’s US$10 million 2021 option in one of the surprise moves of the offseason. He led MLB in saves during 2020 with 16, posting a 2.05 ERA (226 ERA+). Hand is a top lefty reliever with three All-Star Team selections and would be an excellent choice to replace Giles.
The current state of labor relations in MLB and the global political and social climate have created a great deal of uncertainty for MLB free agents. The Blue Jays have an opportunity to significantly improve their team ahead of the 2021 season by paying fair value for experienced free agents. If they pick a few of the options I have discussed, 2021 should be an exciting year in Toronto.