MLB Offseason Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

MLB Offseason Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

by November 7, 2020 0 comments

The 2020 season for the Toronto Blue Jays started with uncertainties on where the team would play their home games and ended with a playoff series loss against the eventual American League champions. The debate in Toronto after the team’s short appearance in the expanded postseason: If this season were played under normal circumstances, would the Blue Jays have been a playoff team? The answer to that question cannot be answered. However, for baseball fans in Canada, the 2021 campaign will be telling as to whether the new Toronto core can be competitive for years to come.

The Jays finished the 2020 season with a 32-28 record, good enough to earn a spot as one of the two Wild Card teams in the AL. Outfielders Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Teoscar Hernandez showed flashes of brilliance offensively, adding to the optimism in Toronto as it pertains to young, budding stars. Despite the strong performances at the plate, two problems emerged out of the Blue Jays’ season一pitching and defense. 

Offseason Strategy

The good news for the Jays’ brass this offseason is that the issues are clear. The team lacks starting pitching depth and reliable fielders. There were few teams in the league that played in more one-run games than Toronto in 2020, and unfortunately for Canada’s only team, most of them came down to fundamental mistakes in the field. The 2020 season in Toronto will be remembered as one of the more chaotic and thrilling ones in recent franchise history. Despite base running and fielding errors throughout the year, the Blue Jays played an entertaining brand of baseball, and one that excited the fanbase.

This is the first offseason in which president Mark Shapiro and general manager Ross Atkins can officially build around Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette. The season marked the first time that all three infielders were on the major league roster for the entirety of a campaign. 

Keys to the Offseason

Add Starting Pitching

In 2020, Hyun Jin Ryu was voted as a finalist to win the American League CY Young award, and top prospect Nate Pearson solidified himself as a key piece going forward. The rotation is not in a bad place by any stretch, but with Ryu approaching 34-years-old and Pearson not quite ace-ready, Toronto will have to fill in the missing pieces this winter to have a deeper class of arms to rely on.

Aside from holding out hope that Pearson is ready to be a starter every five days, the Jays’ rotation is aging and only built for the short term. This may continue to be the formula for Shapiro and Atkins as each offseason comes and goes; agree on short-term deals with veteran pitchers to fill out the rotation. After all, the youth movement comes from the lineup, not the rotation. 

Add Bullpen Depth, Choose a Closer

When the team acquired Ken Giles from Houston in exchange for Roberto Osuna in 2018, the reins of closer were immediately handed to the former Astro, and he ran with it. The native of Albuquerque, NM did such an effective job that the loss of Osuna was soon forgotten in Toronto. After an injury-riddled 2020 for Giles which led to Tommy John surgery in September, the Blue Jays are in need to again fill the void at the back of the bullpen. 

Relief pitching was not necessarily a downfall of the young Toronto squad this season, but in today’s age of the sport, it is as important as ever. The Blue Jays should consider all scenarios in free agency that involve any of the game’s top relievers heading north of the border. Giles’ replacement is incoming and the team’s front office will have to add to the group that will consist of 2020 standouts, Rafael Dolis and Jordan Romano

Offseason Targets

Trevor Bauer, 29, Starting Pitcher

There is not a free agent right now that holds as much intrigue and anticipation than Bauer. The native of North Hollywood, CA has branded himself strongly and on top of that, backed it up on the mound in a big way while playing for the Reds in 2020. The intrigue comes from his confident approach, and the anticipation stems from how many years he will sign for. It was stated by the right-handed pitcher last spring that he will only pursue one-year deals in free agency but his agent Rachel Luba has since closed the door on that statement. 

The Blue Jays are in a position where signing a pitcher like Bauer (even to a one-year deal) would be beneficial. The AL East division is too competitive for the team to go easy on top free agent pursuits. A rotation with Bauer and Ryu at the top would surely make the team a favorite to occupy a wild card spot in 2021, this time in a 162-game schedule. 

Brad Hand, 30, Closer

With Giles all but done in Toronto, it will be important for Shapiro and Atkins to be aggressive in the relief pitching market and target who they believe can close games all season long. No closer in the AL had more saves than Hand in 2020. The left-hander was also an All-Star for three straight years from 2017-2019. 

As far as replacing Giles at the back end of the Blue Jays bullpen, it is possible that the team elects to stay in-house and choose an arm internally. However, if Toronto believes that 2020 was not an oddity and that this is a playoff team in 2021, then there’s not a more suitable option to close games than Hand. Expect the reliever to want a multi-year deal with a player option after the first.

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