The Blue Jays must be getting sick of losing in the Wild Card Round at this point despite fielding a talented roster.
Stop me if you have heard this before: the Toronto Blue Jays were swept in the Wild Card Round. Make that three of the last four Octobers where the Blue Jays lost a three-game series 2-0, and the other year they missed the playoffs by one game. This big-name team keeps faltering in the first round of the postseason, and at this point it seems more like a trend than a fluke.
The Blue Jays won 89 games this year, good enough to grab the last wild card spot in the AL, and then they proceeded to score one run in two games against the Minnesota Twins. In 2022, they won 92 games but lost to the Seattle Mariners despite being big favorites and leading Game 2, 8-1. The 2021 Jays won 91 games and fell just short of a playoff bid. During the shortened season, Toronto won 32 games for a similar winning percentage but lost handily to the Tampa Bay Rays in the expanded round.
Success in the playoffs is pretty random, but when a team consistently loses at the same point in the season, they have to make some different moves in order to advance further. 1B Vlad Guerrero Jr. is no longer the MVP candidate from ’21, and John Schneider still can’t figure out how long a leash to give his starters. No one has talked about GM Ross Atkins being on the hot seat, but one more season like this could lead to a switch up top. It might be time for some broad-sweeping changes, or Canadian fans can expect a similar ending in 2024.
Question Marks in the Field
At first glance, the Blue Jays seem to have a rather settled roster. But a number of their key contributors are free agents, including 3B Matt Chapman, 1B Brandon Belt, and 2B Whit Merrifield. Those are three clear holes on the infield, and Chapman is one of the most desirable position players available. Even though the sons and OF George Springer headline the lineup, the team overall underperformed at the plate this year. They finished 8th with a 107 wRC+ and 10th in wOBA at .324. Those are solid numbers but down from 2022, when they finished second in both categories.
SS Bo Bichette had another strong year at the plate, but the other bright spots actually lead to more question marks. Belt’s career renaissance means he is due for a raise, and the Jays must decide if an aging platoon bat is worth more than $9 million. Breakout star 2B Davis Schneider posted a 1.008 OPS in 35 games, but who knows if he can post anything close to that next year. At the very least, he is the incumbent favorite at the keystone. OF Kevin Kiermaier is also a free agent, and his elite defense in center will be tough to replace.
Springer had a down season due to two frigid months, and he is now entering his decline years. I expect a nice bounce back in 2024, but his time as an MVP candidate is over. The same might be true for Guerrero, who declined at the plate for the second-straight season. His .788 OPS is quite similar to his first two seasons and nothing like 2021, when he finished second in MVP voting. A 117 OPS+ is perfectly serviceable at the cold corner, but his groundball rate prevents Vlad from being a difference maker.
For all the talk about SP Alek Manoah, the Blue Jays ended up with a really strong rotation. No one in baseball had a worse year than Manoah, but the rest of the staff picked up the slack. The other starters were all above average, and SP Chris Bassitt reached 200 innings. SP Jose Berrios had a much-needed bounce back, lowering his ERA from 5.23 to 3.65. SP Yusei Kikuchi had the best season of his career, posting an ERA below 4.00 for the first time.
The rotation finished third in starter ERA while the bullpen finished eighth in reliever ERA. CP Jordan Romano is an elite closer with a lot of help in front of him. RP Tim Mayza is one of the best LOOGYs remaining, and his ERA plummeted to 1.52. Trading away OF Teoscar Hernandez worked out, as RP Erik Swanson had a strong year, and deadline acquisition RP Jordan Hicks ended up having a larger impact than I expected. The Blue Jays are potentially interested in a reunion with him.
Toronto is in the market for another starter, but that is a lower priority. If they sign or trade for someone, selling low on Manoah is more likely. Regardless of other moves, hanging on to the prodigal son might be a wiser move in the hopes he can regain his 2022 form. Manoah finished third in Cy Young voting that year with a 2.24 ERA. I think the team would be happy with him improving to league average next season.
Ross Atkins has many tough decisions to make in the coming months. The Blue Jays appear to still be in the running for SP/DH Shohei Ohtani. Wooing the biggest star in the sport up north will determine every other move they make. Tying up at least $40 million to one player might prevent any other splashes, like signing OF Cody Bellinger. But apparently some other teams have shifted away from Ohtani so they can get the jump on free agents. Either way, the Blue Jays must prepare for scenarios where they are left with only mid-tier free agents. I hope they are doing their research on OF Michael A. Taylor.
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