The Toronto Blue Jays are the most exciting fourth-place team in Major League Baseball, and they’ve perfectly complemented their young core this offseason.
The Blue Jays lineup is stacked with promising youth. Whether it be Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernandez, Rowdy Tellez, or Randal Grichuk, the 28-year-old veteran, manager Charlie Montoyo has a lethal offense.
The bulk of the aforementioned players didn’t play the entire 2019 season due to either being a midseason call-up or spending time on the injured list. Still, they all impressed at the plate.
Across just 46 games Bichette hit .311, posted a .930 OPS, and totaled 21 RBIs; Guerrero dazzled with his power, demolishing 15 home runs and totaling 69 RBIs across 123 games; Biggio showcased plate discipline and defensive versatility, drawing a lot of walks and starting games at first and second base, as well as both corner outfield positions. By the way, these three were rookies last season.
Gurriel posted an .869 OPS and has extensive experience starting at second base, shortstop, and left field; Hernandez, the most underrated player in Toronto’s rebuild, has compiled 48 home runs over the last two seasons and was in the top seven percent in the sport in average exit velocity in 2018 (91.8 mph); Tellez hit 21 home runs; Grichuk totaled a career-high 31 home runs and 80 RBIs and has experience starting at all three outfield positions.
How do you complement a young lineup? Get veterans who fill holes around the diamond and build a respectable starting rotation. Toronto has done both this offseason.
General manager Ross Atkins signed infielder Travis Shaw (one-year, $4 million deal) and starting pitchers Hyun-Jin Ryu (four-year, $80 million deal) and Tanner Roark (two-year, $24 million deal). He also acquired right-hander Chase Anderson from the Milwaukee Brewers.
While he’s coming off an injury riddled season where he was devoid of a consistent role, Shaw brings a lot of intrigue to the table. For starters, he plays both corner infield positions interchangeably. He also totaled 63 home runs and 187 RBIs from 2017-18.
Ryu was a finalist for the 2019 NL Cy Young Award. Yes, injuries have plagued his career, but, when healthy, the southpaw is elite. He keeps hitters guessing with his deceiving off-speed pitches and mixes in a high 80s/low 90s fastball, which catches hitters off-guard. The 2.32 ERA across 29 starts last season was pretty good, too.
Roark is a reliable ground-ball pitcher with postseason experience; Anderson recorded a 3.93 ERA in 2018 and a 2.74 ERA the season prior; when healthy, Matt Shoemaker has been a steady force on the rubber.
Last season the Blue Jays starting rotation was 22nd in MLB in ERA (5.25), 23rd in opponent batting average (.274), and 29th in strikeouts (595) while being 28th in innings pitched (711.1). They desperately needed starting pitching, and they got it.
Contrary to the reasons for Toronto to be excited about the 2020 season, some have claimed that their offseason moves are risky based on them being the fourth-best team in their division and highly unlikely to make the playoffs.
Aren’t rebuilding MLB teams getting ripped to shreds for not trying to put a competitive product on the field? The Blue Jays have a deep positional core and are complementing it with veteran starting pitching. These moves indicate that they’re not going to just wait for their young pitchers to come through the farm: they’re trying to be competitive now.
It’s easy for teams to just let their farm system grow up and keep their payroll down until the roster comes into its own. If last season was just a glimpse into what’s come to come, imagine how lethal Toronto’s lineup is going to be in 2020, let alone 2021?
Yes, the New York Yankees are the AL favorites with Gerrit Cole in the fold, the Tampa Bay Rays have won 90-plus games in each of the last two seasons, and the Boston Red Sox have the personnel to bounce back after an underwhelming 84-win season. In all likelihood, the Blue Jays will finish in fourth place in the AL East again next season.
On the other hand, they’re going to be better from the eye test and a production standpoint; their record just may not show it based on their AL East competitors. They have upside for days and improved their glaring weakness.
In the scenario that they play into widespread expectations, that being far removed from the playoff picture in July, Toronto can shop some of the pitchers they signed to acquire young assets from teams in need of starting pitching before the MLB trade deadline.
They have a vibrant offense, a respectable bullpen, and now a functioning starting rotation. They can keep their offense in games and, therefore, provide them with more high-leverage at-bats, something they had little of last season.
Criticizing the Blue Jays for improving themselves is misguided. They’re a better ballclub in doing so, are only going to improve, and have the ability to stockpile more talented young players; it has been a great offseason for The North.