After a memorable 2015 season topped off with an unbelievable run in the playoffs, the Toronto Blue Jays began the offseason with a rotation consisting only of Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison, and R.A. Dickey. They had no quality pitchers in their depleted minor league system, after the big David Price and Troy Tulowitzki trades.
Mark Buehrle, Price, and Marco Estrada were all free agents, leaving no options in the rotation. After swooping in and quickly extending Estrada to a two-year, $26 million deal that added more stability to the rotation, the Jays are far from done for the offseason. They needed to add depth but also add a viable option to start the season with the Blue Jays.
Interim general manager Tony LaCava pulled the trigger on a deal sending Liam Hendriks, who started coming into his own after his great 2015 season in the Blue Jays bullpen, to the Oakland Athletics for Jesse Chavez, a fifth-starter/swingman type of player. Critics were questioning this deal, as Hendriks’ velocity rose from the high 80s to the high 90s and he has an overpowering slider. It seemed like Hendriks was finally figuring out how to pitch in the big leagues and was a huge part of Toronto’s bullpen. He finished 5-0 with a 2.92 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP, having a career year.
On the other hand, Chavez was a career minor leaguer and sub-par major league swingman over his career before suddenly turning the corner and starting 21 games in 2014 and finishing 8-8 with a 3.45 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP in 146.0 innings pitched. He then started 26 games in 2015, going 7-15 with a 4.18 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP in 157.0 innings. When arriving in Oakland after the 2012 season — in which he gave up 20 earned runs in 21 innings for the Blue Jays — he began to add to his arsenal of pitches around his best pitch, his cutter. He rarely used the pitch previously, but he now uses it quite a bit. He took a few miles per hour off his curveball and started using it more often with good success. Due to the improvement and diversification of his arsenal of pitches, Chavez became quite the pitcher for Oakland and helped lead them to a playoff run in 2014.
The Blue Jays are hoping for Chavez to have similar results as Estrada had when they brought him to Toronto last season. He could close out their rotation as a fifth starter or be a long reliever. Chavez, like Estrada, is a fly-ball pitcher and Rogers Centre could be a tricky environment for him to transition to, but Estrada did just fine and that is the hope for Chavez. FanGraphs projects Chavez to go 10-9 with a 3.90 and a 159.0 IP, which Toronto would take gladly. The move for Chavez is to pick up a solid back-of-the-rotation arm and start to deepen their rotation. Although Hendirks will be a loss to the Blue Jays bullpen, this was a move the Jays needed to make and finding solid arms for the rotation is always a tall order.
Only time will tell whether Chavez will fill out the Jays rotation, but it is very much assumed that they are going to target a few more starters, and have already been talking to teams about starters. Chavez is a depth move and a solid arm on a major league roster, and Jays fans can only hope he is another Estrada and is a different pitcher than when they watched him back in 2012.