The Blue Jays are making some headway this offseason, starting off with bullpen depth by acquiring Erik Swanson from the Seattle Mariners via trade and signing outfielder Kevin Kiermaier and starter Chris Bassitt earlier this week.
All signs point to the Blue Jays continuing to add before Spring Training rolls around, likely adding another outfielder even after the Kiermaier acquisition and potentially another starter to round out the rotation. With Bassitt on the squad, the right-hander joins Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman, and José Berríos in the Jays’ rotation, with the fifth spot up for grabs between Mitch White and Yusei Kikuchi barring another starter.
The Jays could trade for a starter given their depth in the catching position, but could also target a veteran starter on a short-term deal. While a lot of the high-profile names are off the board, there are a few starters still available that could slot in as the Blue Jays’ fifth starter.
Corey Kluber – RHP
After 12 seasons, veteran Corey Kluber is a free agent this offseason after spending last year with the Tampa Bay Rays. From 2013 to 2018, the right-hander was one of the most dominant pitchers in the game, earning two Cy Young Awards while pitching to a 2.96 ERA through 186 games with the then-Cleveland Indians. After missing most of the 2019 and 2020 campaigns, Kluber spent one season with the New York Yankees before finding his way to Tampa in 2022.
After earning $8 million last season, Kluber is one of the more veteran arms left on the open market with a solid track record. Through 164.0 innings last year, the Alabama native pitched to a 4.34 ERA through 31 starts while authoring a league-leading 1.2 BB/9 with a 1.213 WHIP. Kluber sat in the 96th percentile in terms of chase rate last year and while his fastball/sinker/cutter sits in the high-80s, he generated weak contact and held opponents to a .729 OPS.
On a short-term deal, Kluber provides veteran experience within the AL East that provides more stability that White or Kikuchi next season.
Johnny Cueto – RHP
Similar to Kluber, veteran right-hander Johnny Cueto is a free agent after a solo campaign with the Chicago White Sox. A 15-year veteran of the MLB, Cueto spent eight seasons with the Cincinnati Reds and six with the San Francisco Giants, with a quick with the Royals mixed in between.
Last year, Cueto authored a 3.35 ERA through 25 appearances while amassing a 1.9 BB/9 and a 3.5 bWAR with the White Sox. While he doesn’t strike out a lot of batters this late in his career (5.8 K/9 and 8th percentile K%), Cueto limited hitters to a .308 OBP last year while pitching over 150+ innings, the first time he has done so since his All-Star 2016 campaign.
A playoff veteran with a World Series win back in 2015, the Blue Jays have already connected with Cueto this offseason so a potential deal could be on the horizon. Having him slide in as the Jays’ fifth starter would solidify the rotation as one of the deepest in the league and provide the rotation with some additional depth if injuries were to arise.
Drew Smyly – LHP
While southpaw Carlos Rodón is still available, it is unlikely the Blue Jays are willing to go into deep waters with another starter of his calibre given their current payroll/roster. The Jays were tied to Andrew Heaney before he signed with the Texas Rangers earlier this winter but if the front office is looking for another southpaw for the rotation, Drew Smyly checks off quite a few boxes.
A nine-year veteran who has suited up for seven different teams, Smyly posted a strong 2022 season with the Chicago Cubs, authoring a 3.47 ERA with a 1.194 WHIP through 22 starts. While the Arkansas product missed a month on the IL with an oblique strain, Smyly had a bounce-back season where he posted a 118 ERA+ and a 2.2 BB/9, a career low for him as a starter.
Not the flashiest signing but a short-term deal for the left-hander makes sense to break up the current four right-handers the Blue Jays have in the rotation with a stronger track record than Kikuchi.