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Even before Robbie Ray and Steven Matz officially departed this off-season, the Blue Jays were poised to make a big splash in the free agent starting pitching market.

Toronto accomplished its first goal when the club officially signed José Berríos to a seven-year, $131-million contract on November 18.

Then, the big news came Sunday evening, when ESPN’s Jeff Passan first reported the Blue Jays—after multiple years of trying—reached an agreement with Kevin Gausman on a five-year deal worth $110 million ($22 million per season).

With Gausman officially joining the squad Wednesday, Toronto now possesses an excellent crew of arms. But is it the division's best? Let's see. 

*all ages are adjusted for 2022 Opening Day; all 2022 stats are from Fangraphs’ Steamer Projections.

Blue Jays' potential 2022 rotation

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1) José Berríos, 27 – 3.90 ERA, 196 IP, 24.2 K%, 6.7 BB%, 3.4 WAR

2) Kevin Gausman, 31 – 3.86 ERA, 188 IP, 26 K%, 6.7 BB%, 3.4 WAR

3) Hyun Jin Ryu, 35 – 4.04 ERA, 177 IP, 20.5 K%, 5.8 BB%, 2.6 WAR

4) Alek Manoah, 24 – 4.06 ERA, 147 IP, 26.0 K%, 8.3 BB%, 2.3 WAR

5) Nate Pearson, 25 – 4.31 ERA, 103 IP, 24.7 K%, 10.0 BB%, 1.1 WAR*

*Pearson is included as the fifth starter over Ross Stripling because Fangraphs projects him to be more valuable in terms of WAR.

Total projected WAR: 12.8

Yankees' potential 2022 rotation

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1) Gerrit Cole, 31 – 3.29 ERA, 199 IP, 32.9 K%, 6.9 BB%, 5.4 WAR

2) Jordan Montgomery, 29 – 4.08 ERA, 164 IP, 23.6 K%, 7.6 BB%, 2.6 WAR

3) Luis Severino, 28 – 4.06 ERA, 156 IP, 23.7 K%, 7.3 BB%, 2.1 WAR

4) Jameson Taillon, 30 – 4.67 ERA, 152 IP, 22.0 K%, 7.0 BB%, 1.7 WAR

5) Nestor Cortes, 27 – 4.55 ERA, 139 IP, 24.5 K%, 8.1 BB%, 1.3 WAR

Total projected WAR: 13.1

Gerrit Cole is the difference-maker here, contributing a whopping projected 5.4 WAR in 2022 and giving the Yankees’ rotation a higher WAR total than Toronto's. For comparison, Robbie Ray’s 2021 Cy Young season produced just 3.9 WAR.

There are very few true ace pitchers like Cole, and if he returns to his 2018/2019-season form, he’ll be in the AL Cy Young running again in 2022. Toronto doesn’t have a guarantee like that, but they do have a 1A-1B situation with Berríos and Gausman at the top of the staff, plus a significantly deeper group of afterwards.

Fangraphs is high on Jordan Montgomery, estimating he’ll produce as many or more wins (2.6 WAR) than either Ryu (2.6 WAR) or Alek Manoah (2.4 WAR). Maybe it’s close, but I imagine most front offices—and their clubs’ respective fanbases—would rather have wild child Manoah or the veteran Ryu in their rotation for 2022.

Verdict: It’s narrow, but after each team’s No. 1 guy, Toronto has better options.

Rays' potential 2022 rotation

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1) Shane McClanahan, 24 – 3.60 ERA, 159 IP, 26.1 K%, 8.6 BB%, 2.6 WAR

2) Shane Baz, 22 – 3.71 ERA, 118 IP, 27.2 K%, 8.1 BB%, 2.1 WAR

3) Drew Rasmussen, 26 – 3.91 ERA, 151 IP, 24.1 K%, 9.3 BB%, 1.7 WAR

4) Corey Kluber, 35 – 4.32 ERA, 148 IP, 21.9 K%, 8.1 BB%, 1.4 WAR

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5) Ryan Yarbrough, 30 – 4.79 ERA, 140 IP, 15.7 K%, 5.9 BB%, 0.7 WAR

*Tyler Glasnow likely to miss entire 2022 season

Total projected WAR: 8.5

Tampa Bay’s WAR total is underwhelming, but that’s not to say the Rays can’t outsmart the rest of the division. The Rays’ bottom few starters aren’t superstars, but with their use of openers and a very strong bullpen behind them, Tampa usually finds ways to squeeze extra value out of its one-through-five guys.

It's worth noting that the young talent in Tampa’s rotation is frightening. McClanahan and Baz are both in their pre-arb years and, like the Jays’ rookie Manoah, showed flashes of why their ceiling is so high.

Verdict: Let’s revisit this in two years time. For now, the Blue Jays boast a more established rotation.

Orioles' potential 2022 rotation

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1) John Means, 28 – 4.46 ERA, 181 IP, 21.9 K%, 5.4 BB%, 2.6 WAR

2) Bruce Zimmerman, 27 – 4.84 ERA, 138 IP, 21.5 K%, 9.2 BB%, 1.2 WAR

3) Keegan Akin, 27 – 4.94 ERA, 131 IP, 20.7 K%, 9.5 BB%, 0.9 WAR

4) Dean Kremer, 26 – 5.13 ERA, 86 IP, 19.5 K%, 9.1 BB%, 0.7 WAR

5) Zac Lowther, 25 – 4.95 ERA, 118 IP, 19.0 K%, 9.9 BB%, 0.6 WAR

Total projected WAR: 6

They call Baltimore ‘Charm City,’ but there’s nothing lovable about the rotation the Orioles will trot out in 2022.

Coming off a season where Baltimore allowed a league-worst 5.85 team ERA, Fangraphs estimates the club’s No. 1 starter, John Means, to be just as valuable as Ryu, the Blue Jays’ third or fourth starter, with little promise beyond that. There’s also no guarantee Baltimore doesn’t trade Means at some point in 2022.

Verdict: Sorry Orioles fans. Toronto, along with most of baseball, has you beat here.

Red Sox's potential 2022 rotation

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1) Chris Sale, 33 – 3.57 ERA, 171 IP, 29.8 K%, 7.1 BB%, 3.6 WAR

2) Nate Eovaldi, 32 – 3.94 ERA, 183 IP, 24.2 K%, 5.7 BB%, 3.5 WAR

3) Tanner Houck, 25 – 4.18 ERA, 148 IP, 24.5%, 8.7 BB%, 2.2 WAR

4) Nick Pivetta, 29 – 4.61 ERA, 162 IP, 24.3 K%, 9.2 BB%, 2.0 WAR

5) Michael Wacha, 30 – 4.70 ERA, 125 IP, 21.0 K%, 7.1 BB%, 1.2 WAR

*James Paxton signed a deal with the Red Sox Wednesday, per Sportsnet's Chad Dey. Paxton is coming off Tommy John surgery and, for now, Fangraphs projects him to contribute just 0.7 WAR in 2022.

Total projected WAR: 12.5

The Red Sox’s trip to the 2021 ALCS showed us their rotation is sneakily talented. Full seasons out of Chris Sale, assuming he can stay healthy, and young gun Tanner Houck, who flustered the Blue Jays last year, will be the real deciding factors.

Fangraphs’ WAR favors the Yankees, but Boston’s rotation is deeper than New York’s and boasts a one-two punch of Eovaldi and Sale, similar to the Jays’ Berríos-Gausman duo.

Verdict: Let’s call this a wash. If Berríos and Gausman stay healthy—which their track records suggest they will—and one of Eovaldi or Sale misses a chunk of time, Toronto gets the upper hand.

Conclusion

It’s a futile effort to predict how a starting rotation will play out over the course of a full season. Injuries, inconsistency, and potential post-lockout signings make these projections ever messier, but right now, Toronto looks strongest.

The future is promising, too—apart from Ryu, all four of Toronto’s remaining projected starters are under contract through 2026. The band is going to stick together for a while, and with pitching coach Pete Walker’s influence and some mighty bats to drive in runs, the Blue Jays are a dangerous team in 2022 and beyond.

h/t Jeff Passan, Chad Dey