TORONTO – The Blue Jays must make three decisions before the Sunday deadline to submit qualifying offers, and it starts with two of the easiest in baseball.
Both Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien are likely to receive qualifying offers by the 5:00 p.m. ET cut-off date on Sunday. Everyone is likely to step back and step into the free agency at the forefront of the market after completing two brilliant seasons for the Blue Jays, who fell just short of the postseason at 91-71.
Ray and Semien will of course also be at the top of the list of Blue Jays in the free agency. The club needs to add a quality starter and infielder – whether it’s second base, third base, or both – so there’s no more sensible place to start than its own free agents, who fitted in so well last summer. However, if either of the two rejects the qualifying offer and signs elsewhere, the Blue Jays will receive draft-pick compensation that can have some value across the board.
The more interesting case is Steven Matz, and that’s what nobody expected when the Blue Jays acquired the former Mets left-hander ahead of the season.
Matz, now 30, stopped by for a trio of prospects in late January and projected as a back-end starter to provide depth and stabilize the rotation. He did more than that, posting a 3.82 ERA over 150 2/3 innings, including a 2.8 fWAR, which set a new career high.
The potential has always been there for Matz, who was one of the best pitching prospects in baseball prior to his MLB debut in 2015, but he pitched a 4.35 ERA with the Mets over six years and was lost in behind other much-hyped starters of rotation. His time in Toronto got off to a great start in April before some inconsistencies surfaced, but Matz put an ERA of 2.91 in the second half of the season while doing a much better job of capping big punches.
It’s about projections
What Matz did in 2021 matters; it boils down to a simple question. How do the Blue Jays project Matz in ’22, and is that worth $ 18.4 million?
Matz’s peripheral stats all suggest his 3.82 ERA was earned, not the product of luck, and his average fastball speed of 94.5 mph was his best since 2015, his rookie year. Matz really did well when he got into the 96 mph range and, like Ray and many others, benefited from working with pitching coach Pete Walker, who specializes in making new pitchers work to their own strengths before slowly mixing in new ideas.
There is another question for the Blue Jays. Could that $ 18.4 million just be spent more efficiently? Finding another Ray for a $ 8 million deal is very unlikely, but given a multi-year contract or two risky, rewarding signings, $ 18.4 million could be used more creatively if the Blue Jays see value elsewhere. Given that Matz’s case is far from a slam dunk yes, this is a sane way this can all play out.
Even if the Blue Jays are supposed to have a lot of financial flexibility in this off-season, it is not unlimited. That $ 18.4 million wouldn’t hurt their hopes of bringing back someone like Ray much, but it’s clear what the top priority is to kick off the off-season.
Once these offers are posted, players will have until November 17th at 5:00 p.m. ET to accept or decline them. Since the qualifying offer was implemented in 2012, only 10 of the 96 players on display have ultimately accepted it, while the other 86 decline and join the free agency.
Both Kevin Gausman and Marcus Stroman took qualifying offers after the 2020 season, which was a rarity, although Gausman is a different thrower than Matz and Stroman put down a year he didn’t appear after making a decision due to the COVID crisis not to play. 19 pandemic.
Looking back, we can get closer to Matz’s potential worth with cases like Alex Cobb in 2017 or Yovani Gallardo in ’15, but there are plenty of cases along the way where the player-tied draft-pick compensation is worth its while The beginning affects the market. This isn’t a problem for a Gerrit Cole or a George Springer that the Blue Jays signed last off-season, but it would likely impact Matz, who could be on a three- or four-year contract as an unconditional free agent.