By Zachary Cormier
The Toronto Blue Jays have made some confusing moves so far this off season.
They got off to an excellent start when they managed to re-sign free agent starter Marco Estrada to a two-year, $26 million US deal.
Estrada was good enough through the back end of last season to easily become the third-best starter in the Jays’ rotation behind David Price and Marcus Stroman, so re-signing him was a no-brainer, especially since the Jays have already lost ace starter David Price and veteran workhorse Mark Buehrle to free agency.
Yet the Jays still took their time before tendering the 32-year-old right-hander from Mexico an offer, literally waiting until the deadline for them to do so before other teams could begin talks with Estrada.
Then there was the Jesse Chavez trade.
Early last month, the Blue Jays sent relief pitcher Liam Hendriks to the Oakland Athletics for starter/reliever Jesse Chavez.
In my opinion, that trade was one of the worst moves Toronto could have made.
Hendriks was lights-out last year, allowing just 23 runs in 64 innings of work and posting a 2.92 ERA, he was easily among the Jays’ best relievers. And, at 22-years-old, Hendriks wouldn’t have been eligible for free agency until 2020.
Chavez, meanwhile, struggled last season, posting a 7-15 record in 26 starts and just 157 innings pitched. Oh, and he’s due to become a free agent in 2017.
And now that the Blue Jays have signed starter JA Happ, more on that later, Chavez may not even crack the starting rotation.
The trade is a Band-Aid solution that weakens Toronto’s already-thin bullpen while giving them someone who’s basically just a filler arm whom might not even start for them next season.
Finally, just last week we learned that Toronto had signed starting pitcher JA Happ to a three-year, $36 million contract.
This will be Happ’s second stint with the Blue Jays in his career.
He started 58 games during his time in Toronto, pitching to a 19-20 record before being traded to the Seattle Mariners. In itself, that’s not a bad record. It’s close enough to the .500 mark that it tells me that he’s good enough to hold down the fort.
But then I found out that in those 58 starts came over the course of three seasons, only one of which Happ spent as a full-time starter with the team.
During that full season, the big left-hander started 26 games, posting an ERA of 4.22 in just 158 innings pitched. That’s not great. Then you factor in that he posted an 11-11 record and I, personally, start to get a little nervous.
Last season, Happ was extremely similar to Estrada in that he had a mediocre first half but followed it up with an incredible second half during which he posted a 1.85 ERA in 11 starts.
The difference here, however, was that in order to do that Happ needed a change of scenery, moving from the batter-friendly confines of the Mariner’s Safeco Field to the pitcher-centred wide-0pen spaces of Pittsburgh’s PNC park.
Only time will tell if he’ll be able to keep those numbers that low pitching in a small ballpark like the Rogers Centre.
Now I’m all for taking a gamble on a veteran, but a guy with the kind of numbers that Happ has posted in recent years is not worth the third-largest contract the Jays have ever given a free agent starter.
The Jays brass taking a huge risk on Happ, and if it doesn’t pan out there isn’t a team in the league who will want to pick up his contract.
It’s a move that I just don’t get, especially since there are much more consistent left-handed starters like Scott Kazmir on the market that the Jays could pick up for the same price.
So, in summary, while the Blue Jays have made moves to strengthen their starting rotation, they’ve done it in a way that both weakens their bullpen and forces them to gamble with a starter that hasn’t exactly been the picture of consistancy.
Personally, that makes me more than a little curious to see how the Jays approach the rest of the off season.