But it mattered in a tiny corner of the universe where the market is moving no faster than the average baseball game due to the coronavirus pandemic and stingy owners. Ray, a left-handed player, paved the way for a quiet and frustrating off-season for players. Two November ago MLB started for an off-season when big stars waited for big orders and the “middle class” of the sport in the cold. With teams pointing to losses due to a lack of fans in 2020, it’s hard to guess who could benefit from another break in spending.
For one, the Blue Jays can easily raise their hand. They ended up Ray on a low risk contract and filled their rotation with a 29-year-old whose command was out this summer. But when he’s okay, Ray is a solid fourth or fifth starter with a knack for innings. Many teams could use this pitcher, including the Washington Nationals. The signing gives them a template that goes beyond the number of years or the average annual value that Ray has received. Timing is key here.
In their slow and subtle way, the Blue Jays crashed a stalled market to get Ray. In November and early December 2018, the fall before the Nationals won the World Series, they used a similar situation to make five moves by the end of the month. They traded for Reliever Kyle Barraclough, signed Reliever Trevor Rosenthal, signed Catcher Kurt Suzuki, traded for Catcher Yan Gomes and signed Patrick Corbin, one of the best available starters, while most clubs were still working out their plans.
“We’re very impatient,” said General Manager Mike Rizzo on December 1, 2018, when he was about to trade with starter Tanner Roark, signing first baseman Matt Adams and five days later starter Aníbal Sánchez. “We have a wish list and we try to get things done. When you see something that makes sense to you … “
Rizzo stopped that thought to destroy the Barraclough and Rosenthal additions. The point, however, was that the Nationals don’t waste time when a player passes.
They broke out of that final off-season when they lost a title and re-signed Stephen Strasburg, Gomes, Howie Kendrick, Daniel Hudson, Ryan Zimmerman and Asdrúbal Cabrera. Most of their moves took place in the first week of January. But that winter, Rizzo was able to return to his impatient ways with eight obvious holes. That of course depends on whether he has the mandate to spend as usual. This is the only way for Washington to bury and fight for a year as it has for a decade.
And in that mindset, rotation would be a good place to start. The Nationals turned down a $ 12 million option for Sánchez in October. The Righty will be turning 37 in February and has just landed a $ 19 million two-year deal that looked smart as Sánchez stepped past the back half of 2019 and nearly hit a no-hitter in the National League Championship Series. But replacing it is also a wise choice, and internal options are few.
According to the annual tradition, Joe Ross and Erick Fedde should have the chance to be the fifth starter in 2021. Another frequent contestant, Austin Voth may have missed his chance last season. That leaves a place between Max Scherzer, Strasburg and Corbin and the one that rules between Ross, Fedde and possibly Voth. Ray, who was selected by Rizzo in the 12th round of the 2010 draft, could have passed well. The remaining pool includes Charlie Morton, James Paxton, and Rick Porcello, among others.
That said, there’s no shortage of seasoned starters like Ray who can get a one-year contract with a decent salary. There is also a large group that, like Sánchez, wants two to three years and about $ 8 million a season. Morton, who turns 37 this week, could be the most expensive of the first group after a strong playoff run with the Tampa Bay Rays. The Nationals looked at him before signing Sánchez but didn’t jump for the two-year $ 30 million deal Morton signed with the Rays. Alex Wood, a 29-year-old leftist, is available and was almost taken over by the Nationals at close of trading in 2019. Jake Odorizzi, 30, is another younger free agent who could fill the void for a fair price for a couple of years.
Then there are Marcus Stroman and Kevin Gausman, who have received qualifying offers from the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants, respectively, and who would cost the teams a draft pick if they signed. The Nationals might even rely on familiarity in the weeks and months to come. Gio González, Jordan Zimmermann and Tommy Milone are all on the market. González and Zimmermann, once staples of the Washington rotation, could go cheap and late-career reclamation projects, though the Nationals are unlikely to turn to them for help. Milone – a 33-year-old linker who made two stops in Washington and was drafted by the club in 2008 – was solid for the Baltimore Orioles this summer before transferring to the Atlanta Braves on the deadline.
The point is, the Nationals could now jump into the mix and address a blatant need. They could look at their former selves, the quick donors of a not-too-distant past, and turn an immovable market into their own inefficiency. And thanks to the Blue Jays, they wouldn’t even have to show the way.