Toronto Blue Jays 2021 Season Previewby Andersen Pickard April 1, 2021 0 comments
The Toronto Blue Jays had a down 2020 season and are ready to bounce back this year. They’ll look to vastly improve on the 32-28 record they posted last year in Dunedin, Fla.
Starter Taijuan Walker and relievers Anthony Bass and Ken Giles are among the Blue Jays’ biggest losses in free agency. Chase Anderson, Jonathan Villar, and Matt Shoemaker also signed big-league deals elsewhere. Parting with Bass and Giles hurts in a strong American League East where bullpen depth could be a major difference-maker.
While Toronto did lose several players, they made major gains, too. The biggest signing out of Canada this offseason was George Springer, who joined the club on a five-year deal. Talented infielder and former MVP finalist Marcus Semien put pen to paper, too. The Blue Jays also hoped to find valuable bullpen depth in reliever Kirby Yates, but he’ll miss the campaign due to Tommy John surgery. Finally, the team signed relievers Tyler Chatwood and David Phelps.
The Jays did make a splash in the trade market, acquiring Steven Matz from the New York Mets in exchange for right-handers Josh Wieckowski, Sean Reid-Foley, and Yennsy Diaz. They also acquired catcher Juan Graterol from the Los Angeles Angels on Wednesday.
Now that we have reflected on the past season and offseason for Toronto, let’s break down what the Blue Jays could bring in 2021.
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A former top prospect, Jansen is now 25 and has not panned out as the star many hoped he would become. He owns a .208/.297/.370 slash line with 22 home runs, 61 walks, and 127 strikeouts over 181 career games. Defensively, he has a decent .994 fielding percentage but has thrown out just 25 percent (30 of 120) base-stealers.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. could see some time at third base but truly projects as a career first baseman. The 22-year-old Canadian has appeared in 183 games over two seasons, showcasing his reliability. Over that time, he has slashed .269/.336/.442 with 24 home runs. Joining him on the right sight of the infield is newcomer Marcus Semien, who spent the last six years in Oakland. He can play shortstop and third base, but he’ll likely see the bulk of his work at second. He had a down year last season but dominated in 2020, slashing .285/.369/.522 while leading the league in games (162) and at-bats (747). The Blue Jays hope he can return to this MVP finalist-caliber level in 2021.
The left side of the infield features two more sons of former big-leaguers. Biggio has been solid over two seasons but not exceptional, so while Toronto has faith in him, they will surely be looking for him to bring his game to the next level this year. On the other hand, Bo Bichette draws minimal complaints. He had a loud, eventful start to his MLB career and has not slowed down, posting a .300-plus batting average in each of the last two years. The biggest knock on Bichette comes defensively as he owns a .964 fielding percentage. The offensive production is there, but he needs to be valuable with a glove on his hand, too.
This is a pretty straightforward outfield. Gurriel, Springer, and Hernandez should all see the vast majority of playing time this year if they can stay healthy. With that said, Springer enters the year a bit banged-up. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Blue Jays proceed with maximum caution and hold him out of the lineup for a little while. Randal Grichuk will start in his place, though Jonathan Davis is an option off the bench, too.
Starting Rotation Projections
At first glance, this rotation looks really solid. Ryu is arguably baseball’s most underrated pitcher. Ray has long been regarded as a solid arm who showed signs of a rebound after the Arizona Diamondbacks traded him away last winter. Matz is a talented veteran whom the Blue Jays trusted enough to part with three prospects for. Roark is an under-the-radar player who provides back-end value with a 3.83 career ERA (3.01 from 2013 to 2016). Lastly, Pearson is a former top prospect but was hit with 15 runs (five home runs) over 18 innings in his rookie campaign last year.
Anyways, this is a strong staff on paper. However, injuries complicate everything. Ray has been out for over a week with an elbow contusion while Pearson has missed a month due to a strained groin. Together, these ailments throw a major wrench into the Blue Jays’ pitching plans and will likely force Ross Stripling and Anthony Kay into the rotation to open the year.
This could have been a really strong bullpen if Yates were healthy, but his Tommy John surgery represents a major obstacle. Nevertheless, Toronto will look to prevail with the pieces it has in place. Romano, Dolis, Chatwood, and Phelps are all capable of taking on late-inning roles, while Stripling’s veteran presence makes him a solid mid- or late-game option, too. Borucki, Mayza, Mayweather, and Thornton are all capable of one or two innings in relief.
Toronto’s bullpen will definitely operate under a “next man up” mentality this year, though at the same time, trading for a reliever at the deadline makes too much sense.
Players to Watch For
A former All-Star and Cy Young finalist, Ray struggled over 2019 and 2020 to the point where Arizona decided to part with him. While his name was linked to many teams in trade talks, Toronto ended up pulling the trigger on deadline day. Many saw him as a reclamation project, which is fair terminology. Whatever you call it, it seemed to work to some extent. The 4.79 ERA in Toronto was an improvement compared to the 7.84 figure he posted to start the year. However, the biggest sign that the Blue Jays feel comfortable in Ray is that they brought him back this offseason on a one-year, $8 million deal. They evidently liked what they saw over his 20.2 innings of work last year. It will be interesting to see if he fulfills expectations on the contending Blue Jays this year.
Another question mark with a limited sample size. Pearson’s rookie season was nothing exceptional as he allowed a run every 1.2 innings. His 2020 struggles combined with a nagging growing injury that has kept him out for over a month serve as legitimate warning signs. It is far too early to lose faith in the former first-round pick and top prospect. Rather, let’s watch him closely when he returns to the mound. Whether he impresses could be a major factor in the Blue Jays’ postseason chances.
One of Toronto’s top offensive performers, Bichette is someone you simply don’t want to face as a pitcher. He is a solid pull hitter who possesses decent power, too. However, as alluded to already, his work at shortstop is suboptimal. Bichette isn’t leaving Toronto anytime in the next handful of years, but a position change could be in order if his defense doesn’t improve soon.
As much as the Blue Jays’ roster deserves criticism for injuries to the rotation and bullpen, this team could be the best in baseball when healthy. Ryu is vastly underrated while the additions of Springer and Semien provide Toronto with a pair of highly-regarded veterans.
Consider this a warning, baseball world. If things click for Toronto, there’s no looking back. The Blue Jays are ready to put on a show.
Record: 90-72 (third place in AL East)
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