Kevin Gausman’s Journey From Being DFA’d to a Cy Young Finalist

Back in 2019, Kevin Gausman's career as a starting pitcher was in doubt after he was cut by multiple teams. Now he is one of the game's best.

Blue Jays
TORONTO, ON - APRIL 27: Kevin Gausman #34 of the Toronto Blue Jays walks to the dugout with pitching coach Pete Walker before playing the Boston Red Sox in their MLB game at the Rogers Centre on April 27, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)

It was announced earlier this month that Blue Jays right-hander Kevin Gausman was named a finalist for the AL Cy Young Award alongside Yankees starter Gerrit Cole and Twins right-hander Sonny Gray.

While Cole took home the award honors, with Gray and Gausman finishing second and third respectively, the Blue Jays’ splitter aficionado has been through a wild journey in the big leagues, one that seems to have really panned out well for the Colorado product as he enters his 12th season in the big leagues.

Dating back to his high school days, Gausman stood out right from the get-go at Grandview High School in Aurora, Colorado, so much so that the Los Angeles Dodgers used their sixth-round pick of the 2010 MLB Draft on the senior, although he chose not to sign.

Instead, he took his talents down south to Louisiana State University, where two seasons in the Tigers’ rotation saw Gausman raise his stock to the Baltimore Orioles in the first round, becoming the fourth player off the board in 2012 behind Carlos Correa, Byron Buxton, and Mike Zunino.

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He made his big league debut for the Orioles a year later in the form of a mid-May start against his current team, the Toronto Blue Jays. He allowed four earned runs through five innings, including a home run to first baseman Adam Lind, although he also picked up his first career strikeout by getting slugger Edwin Encarnacion to go down looking, a mark he now likely holds high over the Jays legend.

Kevin Gausman begins his career in Baltimore

The right-hander spent parts of six seasons with the Orioles organization, amassing a 4.22 ERA through 150 appearances (127 starts) with 697 strikeouts and a 1.350 WHIP across 763 2/3 innings. With the Orioles, he finished with a 100 ERA+ and with an immaculate inning under his belt, doing so against Cleveland in his final year with Baltimore.

At the 2018 trade deadline, Gausman and reliever Darren O’Day were dealt to the Atlanta Braves for a group of prospects and international slot money, signaling an end to his time in Baltimore.

With Atlanta, Gausman finished strong to end the 2018 season (10 starts to the tune of a 2.87 ERA) but struggled in 2019, allowing 10.4 H/9 and four or more earned runs in seven of his 16 starts, while battling multiple ailments throughout the season.

The Braves would DFA the right-hander in early August, with the Cincinnati Reds picking him up to finish the year. With the Reds, Gausman appeared mostly as a reliever (15 outings) with just one start.

Following the 2019 season, Gausman became a free agent for the first time in his career after the Reds decided to non-tender him because of his projected $10.6 million arbitration value. Looking for a new start and with the San Francisco Giants needing a rotation arm, Gausman took his talents to the Bay Area on a one-year deal worth $9 million (with incentives).

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While the pandemic limited the MLB season to just 60 games, Gausman saw a resurgence on the mound with the Giants, posting a 3.62 ERA through 12 outings and 59 2/3 innings. He dropped his ERA to 3.62 while seeing his H/9 decline to 7.5 and seeing a rise in his strikeout rate to a career-high 11.9 K/9. Gausman finished the season with a 3.09 FIP and a 1.106 WHIP and set himself nicely for a contract walk year.

That offseason, Gausman received plenty of interest (including the Blue Jays) and was also presented with the qualifying offer from the Giants, valued at $18.9 million that winter. The Colorado product decided to sign the offer and returned to San Francisco for another season despite offers from other clubs across the league.

Gausman gambles on himself

It was a gamble that could have gone poorly for Gausman, turning down guaranteed money for multiple years while taking the one-year qualifying offer, with the hopes of turning in another good season to increase his value. But it was a gamble that the right-hander took full advantage of and took his talents to another level.

In his second season with the Giants, Gausman made a league-high 33 starts to the tune of 192 innings (a career-high) and produced a stellar 2.81 ERA and a 3.00 FIP, earning his first All-Star nomination. He dropped his WHIP even further to 1.042 and also dropped his H/9 to 7.0, the lowest mark of his career. His impressive season earned him some Cy Young votes, finishing sixth in the National League, and set himself up well for free agency once again.

Multiple teams came calling, and with Gausman not attached to a qualifying offer, he became one of the top arms on the free-agent market during the 2021-2022 offseason. Those two impressive seasons in San Francisco turned into a five-year, $110 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, with Gausman reportedly turning down more money from other organizations to sign with Toronto.

Since taking his talents North of the border, Gausman continues to impress on the mound. He has made 31 starts in each of the first two seasons of his deal and has posted sub 3.40 ERAs in both campaigns, with last season seeing Gausman become the ace of the squad while he led the American League in strikeouts (237). His 11.5 K/9 this past year was also one of the highest of his career and also led the AL, which helped Gausman with his Cy Young finalist case.

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Experiencing the highs and lows of big league baseball

Baseball can be a cruel game sometimes, with some players finding success in the Minor Leagues and unable to translate that over to the big leagues while some players have to go through various challenges to emerge victorious on the other side (with some not finding that glory ever).

For Gausman, he has felt every rung of the success ladder in the big leagues.

He was an established starter with the Orioles, found both success and struggles in Atlanta, a role change in Cincinnati, and then a resurgence in both San Francisco and Toronto that now has him in the upper tier of pitchers across the big leagues, known for striking out batters and being able to control the strike zone.

From DFA’d to Cy Young finalist in a matter of just four years. Not many in professional baseball can say they have experienced both ends of the spectrum.

For Gausman, it’s an interesting story that showcases the highs and lows of professional baseball and that no story is the same across the game. This year he is a finalist, next year he could take home the trophy.