Free agent starting options Blue Jays could consider

Nick Ashbourne
·MLB Writer

The Toronto Blue Jays enter the 2019 offseason with the explicit goal of improving their starting rotation and an unspecified, but not-insignificant, amount of money to spend. Although trading for a starter isn’t out of the question, it seems like free agency will be their first port of call to supplement a group that has plenty of youth, but few known quantities.

Gerrit Cole is clearly the top option available, but the idea of him considering Toronto his best option in terms of both money offered and competitive situation is far fetched. He will have a number of massive offers thrown his way and it would be shocking to see the Blue Jays in that mix.

Beyond the top dog, though, there are relatively few limits as to the kind of starters the Blue Jays could pursue. A top-of-the-rotation guy is certainly needed, but innings eaters would be helpful too considering the amount of uncertainty the team is dealing with.

Here’s are a few guys they could try to reel in:

The Big Fish: Zack Wheeler

CINCINNATI, OHIO - SEPTEMBER 21: Zack Wheeler #45 of the New York Mets pitches during the game against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on September 21, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Bryan Woolston/Getty Images)
Zack Wheeler would be a top-of-the-market possibility for the Blue Jays. (Bryan Woolston/Getty Images)

Age: 29
Throws: Right
Arsenal: Four-seam Fastball, Curveball, Changeup, Slider, Splitter
Fastball Velocity: 96.7 mph
2019 stats: 8.98 K/9, 2.30 BB/9, 1.01 HR/9, 3.95 ERA and 3.48 FIP in 195.1 IP

How it works: Cole is arguably the best pitcher in the game, but Wheeler is higher in the league’s hierarchy than many realize. After struggling with injuries from 2015-2017, the big right-hander has been outstanding in the last two years posting a WAR of 8.9 that’s ninth in the majors, sandwiched between aces Charlie Morton and Aaron Nola.

Wheeler would require a huge commitment, with both cash and term, but there’s a good chance he’d be worth the investment. As he approaches 30, the right-hander has shown no signs of decline whatsoever. In fact, his average fastball velocity in 2019 (96.7 mph) was better than it’s ever been, and a significant improvement over 2018 (95.9 mph).

Signing Wheeler would be an uncharacteristically big move for the Blue Jays, but if they consider Nate Pearson their only top-of-the-rotation prospect spending big on another guy who fits that bill isn’t the worst idea.

The Ultimate Innings Eater: Rick Porcello

ARLINGTON, TEXAS - SEPTEMBER 25:  Rick Porcello #22 of the Boston Red Sox at Globe Life Park in Arlington on September 25, 2019 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Rick Porcello is as reliable as they come. (Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Age: 30
Throws: Right
Arsenal: Four-seam Fastball, Two-seam Fastball, Curveball, Changeup, Slider
Fastball Velocity: 90.5 mph
2019 stats: 7.36 K/9, 2.32 BB/9, 1.60 HR/9, 5.52 ERA and 4.76 FIP in 174.1 IP

How it works: Porcello is not a particularly exciting name and he’s coming off a really tough season. That said, if the Blue Jays are looking for reliable pitching it’s hard to find someone you can count on more. Porcello has made at least 27 starts in 11 consecutive seasons, munching over 2000 innings before his 31st birthday. Although he was outstanding in 2016, the vast majority of the time he’s been simply simply good - a standard he didn’t reach last year.

An investment in Porcello is an investment in peace of mind. In all likelihood he’ll produce an ERA in the mid 4s, and give you 170-200 innings. That won’t put the Blue Jays over the top by any means, but the team would benefit from a reliable presence in what could be a chaotic rotation. Porcello’s AL East track record gives a little bit of a bonus as well.

The Breakout Buy-In: Jake Odorizzi

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - OCTOBER 07: Jake Odorizzi #12 of the Minnesota Twins throws a pitch against the New York Yankees in the first inning of game three of the American League Division Series at Target Field on October 07, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
Jake Odorizzi was outstanding in 2019. (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Age: 29
Throws: Right
Arsenal: Four-seam Fastball, Cutter, Curveball, Changeup, Slider
Fastball Velocity: 92.9 mph
2019 stats: 10.08 K/9, 3.00 BB/9, 0.91 HR/9, 3.51 ERA and 3.36 FIP in 159 IP

How it works: Odorizzi is a pitcher seemingly built for this age of baseball. He doesn’t go deep into games, but he is extremely effective and puts his team in a good position to win more often that not.

This is a tricky time to invest in the right-hander because he produced 4.3 WAR in 2019, by far the best mark of his career. A platform year like brings his price tag up significantly. That doesn’t mean he’s not worth the investment. Odorizzi’s fastball velocity jumped from 91.1 mph to 92.9 mph, the kind of bump in his raw stuff that’s easy to believe in.

While the 29-year-old isn’t a top-of-the-rotation horse, he’s made at least 28 starts in each season since 2014, and that durability combined with his swing-and-miss repertoire makes for an awfully appealing package.

The Buy-Low: Alex Wood

MIAMI, FLORIDA - AUGUST 29:  Alex Wood #40 of the Cincinnati Reds in action against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park on August 29, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Alex Wood would be a great investment if he could recapture the form he showed prior to 2019. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Age: 28
Throws: Left
Arsenal: Two-seam Fastball, Changeup, Slider
Fastball Velocity: 90.0 mph
2019 stats: 7.57 K/9, 2.27 BB/9, 2.78 HR/9, 5.80 ERA and 6.38 FIP in 35.2 IP

How it works: Wood is coming off a dismal season derailed by a major back injury. That makes him a little bit riskier than the other options here. However, it’s far too soon to bury the 28-year-old, who was awfully effective as recently as 2018. In fact, between 2014-2018 Wood’s WAR of 12.2 was 33rd in the majors. For reference, Marcus Stroman’s was 12.0.

Despite a lack of big-time velocity Wood has proven to be at least a mid-rotation starter when healthy. Much like Odorizzi, he doesn’t traditionally go too deep into games, but he’s been a major it’s hard to argue with the 3.31 ERA and 3.43 FIP he managed over the aforementioned span. Being confident in his medicals would be absolutely essential to making an offer, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Wood come far cheaper than pitchers with cleaner bills of health and wind up producing far more.

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