The Blue Jays have hopes of regaining the AL East crown, and they have a strong enough roster to get the job done.
Entering 2023, the Blue Jays will once again do battle for the top spot in the AL East and a ticket to the postseason. An active offseason means the lineup and rotation look a little different, but all of the recognizable stars are still around to bring the World Series back north of the border.
Chris Bassitt – RHP, 3 years, $63MM
Chad Green – RHP, 2 years, $8.5MM
Brandon Belt – 1B, 1 year, $9.3MM
Kevin Kiermaier – OF, 1 year, $9MM
Daulton Varsho – OF, acquired from Arizona Diamondbacks
Zach Thompson – RHP, acquired from Pittsburgh Pirates
Erik Swanson – RHP, acquired from Seattle Mariners
Ross Stripling – SP, San Fransisco Giants
Raimel Tapia – OF, Boston Red Sox
Bradley Zimmer – OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Jackie Bradley jr. – OF, Kansas City Royals
Julian Merryweather – RHP, Chicago Cubs
Gabriel Moreno – Traded to Arizona Diamondbacks
Lourdes Gurriel jr. – Traded to Arizona Diamondbacks
Teoscar Hernandez – OF, Traded to Seattle Mariners
David Phelps – Retirement
Offseason Grade: B
While not signing any marquee free agents this winter, the Blue Jays still managed to put together a decent offseason by using trades and under-the-radar free agency signings to shore up the pitching staff and outfield.
Chris Bassitt is the most recognizable addition to the Blue Jays staff. The now 34-year-old Bassitt has owned a 3.29 ERA in 593.2 innings since 2018, which he split between Oakland and New York. Bassitt is a much-needed shot in the arm for an underperforming Blue Jays rotation, but his age is cause for concern about how many innings the Jays can reasonably expect from the right hander. The introduction of a powerhouse American League East division also calls into question how productive the hurler can feasibly perform, especially considering his age.
Chad Green won’t make his return until late in the season, but his career 3.00 ERA and wealth of playoff experience makes him a sneaky-good addition to the squad.
Brandon Belt and Kevin Keirmaier are both solid depth options, with the latter shoring up vacancies left by Raimel Tapia, Bradley Zimmer, and Jackie Bradley Jr.
The Daulton Varsho Trade
The Daulton Varsho trade is my biggest knock on the Jays’ otherwise decent offseason. The Blue Jays sent Lourdes Gurriel jr. and Gabriel Moreno to Arizona for Daulton Varsho – effectively trading Gurriel for himself with more power and throwing in one of the best catching prospects in baseball in Gabriel Moreno.
Varsho for Gurriel is as close to a lateral move as you can make, save for the power and age difference for which I give the slight edge to Varsho. Gabriel Moreno is a different story altogether. In 253 games as a minor leaguer since 2017, Moreno slashed .310/.365/.479 and last season made his MLB debut at just 22 years old, posting a .319/.356/.377 triple slash in 25 games. Moreno, now 23, will more than make up for the difference between Varsho and Gurriel, making this a head-scratcher for the Jays.
Opening Day Lineup:
C: Alejandro Kirk
1B: Vladimir Guerrero jr.
2B: Cavan Biggio
3B: Matt Chapman
SS: Bo Bichette
LF: Daulton Varsho
CF: Kevin Kiermaier
RF: George Springer
DH: Whit Merrifield / Brandon Belt
+ Danny Jansen
+ Vinny Capra
+ Jackie Bradley jr.
1. Alek Manoah
2. Kevin Gausman
3. Chris Bassitt
4. Jose Berrios
5. Hyun-Jin Ryu
6. Yusei Kikuchi
1. Jordan Romano
2. Erik Swanson
3. Yimi Garcia
4. Anthony Bass
5. Tim Mayza
6. Adam Cimber
7. Zach Pop
8. Trent Thornton
The Blue Jays offense enters the 2023 campaign poised for another solid year.
The Jays will once again rely on cornerstone Vlad Guerrero jr. to lead the offense. While it was a step back from his 2021 heights, Guerrero still managed above average production in 2022, posting a .274/.339/.480 with 32 home runs and 97 RBI. Bo Bichette also figures to be a big piece of the puzzle. Bichette struggled through much of the first half, slashing .257/.302/.418 in 92 games, before turning it on in a big way down the stretch to the tune of .337/.378/.543 in his last 67 games.
The departure of Teoscar Hernandez to Seattle was undoubtedly the biggest loss for the Jays this winter. In the three seasons since his 2020 breakout, Hernandez averaged 24 homers, 74 RBI, and a .283/.333/.519 slash line, good for a 132 OPS+. Hernandez failed to duplicate his 2021 success but still bashed his was to a solid 127 OPS+.
Bats like Alejandro Kirk, Matt Chapman, Daulton Varsho, and George Springer will round out the Jays’ lineup, which was second in run production in the American League in 2022. If the bats continue to produce and take the burden off the pitching, the Jays could make a run at a division title.
The Blue Jays pitching is as volatile a rotation as you’ll find in the American League. Aces Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman continue to shine atop the Toronto rotation, and their success will set the tone for the rest of the pitching staff. Recent addition Chris Bassitt looks to bolster the lackluster trio of Jose Berrios, Yusei Kikuchi, and Hyun-Jin Ryu, who combined for a 5.26 ERA in 299.2 innings in 2022.
Jose Berrios surrendered the most runs and hits in the American League, at 100 and 199 respectively, en route to a 5.23 ERA. Needless to say, 2022 was a massive let down for Berrios and the Jays, the first year in a seven-year, $131MM pact which now seems more terrifying than promising. There is still a chance of a return to form for Berrios, who is now just two years removed from a campaign in which he finished ninth in Cy Young voting. If Berrios can flip the switch, the Blue Jays have one of the most impressive front of the rotations in MLB.
Despite his age, Chris Bassitt will likely be a solid producer once again in 2023. Across the last 3 seasons, Bassitt has owned a 3.13 ERA in 402 innings while posting 381 strikeouts and receiving Cy Young votes in 2020 and 2021. His 3.42 ERA in 2022 marks his highest in a season since 2019 and his introduction to the AL East at 34 years old raise some questions about how much the Jays can expect from the right hander.
Any contribution from Yusei Kikuchi or Hyun-Jin Ryu would be icing on the cake. Ryu is entering the final year of his four-year, $80MM pact and at 36 years of age, is likely nearing the end of his MLB career.
The Jays saw a need and got to work, adding three arms to the ‘pen this past winter. Chad Green likely won’t be a factor until the final stretch, but his annual playoff experience will be vital in October. Erik Swanson, the Jays return for Teoscar Hernandez, was fantastic last season, posting a 1.68 ERA in 53.2 innings for Seattle. Zach Thompson is a starter, but the rotation is already chock-full of pitchers who had a 5+ ERA last year, so Thompson might see some time in the bullpen instead of jumping right into the rotation.
As always, Jordan Romano will be closing games for Toronto. Forgiving his dreadful cup of coffee in 2019, Romano has a 2.03 ERA for his career in 141.2 innings. He was a premier closer once again in 2022, earning himself an All-Star nod and recording 36 saves.
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