The Toronto Blue Jays shocked the world in 2020 when they, alongside the Rays and Yankees, represented the AL East in the MLB postseason. In year one of his four year pact worth $80M, Hyun Jin Ryu posted his second consecutive top three Cy Young finish. Lourdes Gurriel posted an .882 OPS. Just a year removed from a 67-95 record, the Blue Birds went 38-22 in a season where they played in Buffalo, NY due to Canada’s COVID protocols.
It is those same protocols that force the Blue Jays to play in Dunedin, Florida to open the 2021 season. The stadium in Dunedin is around a half hour drive from Tropicana Field, home of defending AL East Champions Tampa Bay Rays, and could ultimately end up being a disadvantage in certain divisional games for the Jays. Alas, this was the hand that they were dealt. Do they have a team capable of making it an irrelevant point?
Key Additions: Robbie Ray, Kirby Yates, Steven Matz, Tyler Chatwood, George Springer, Marcus Semien.
Key Subtractions: Taijuan Walker, Travis Shaw.
The Blue Jays went to the postseason for the first time since the days of Edwin Encarnacion and looked to jump on the chance to improve the ballclub. The team is ahead of schedule and by the looks of things, that’s okay for the front office.
The Young Core
Talk of the Blue Jays core is getting rather redundant, but it’s the most obvious storyline heading into the 2021 season. Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are second generation prodigies, with the latter two being the children of MLB Hall of Famers. The Blue Jays young core consists of those three, Rowdy Tellez, Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdies Gurriel Jr. It’s those six that the Jays hope are the cornerstone of a perrenial contender.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was a can’t miss prospect. Guerrero mashed his way through the minor leagues to make his MLB debut at 20 years of age in 2019. Vladdy hasn’t quite been the complete hitter that fans were anticipated, but still extremely solid. His 109 OPS+ across his first two seasons puts him slightly above league average performance. Across 183 games, he’s posted a .269/.336/.442 slash. Guerrero is entering his age 22 season, thus he still has a ways to gone before even reaching his prime. With his patented violent swing and dropping a number of pounds, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. looks to breakout this season. One notable flaw in his game was his range as a third baseman, having committed a team-high 17 errors in 2019. Guerrero will likely played first base this year, allowing him to worry less about his defensive prowess. With the move to third, it moves Rowdy Tellez to an everyday DH role.
The Jays look to get Rowdy in 2021. Armed with his fluid swing, Tellez has light-tower power. Tellez hit to an .886 OPS in 2020, well above league-average in that regard. That said, he only received 113 at bats. In 609 plate appearances, Tellez has a .797 lifetime OPS. It’s projected that he’d hit 33 homeruns a season in a 162 game pace. Perhaps, this is the year we can finally see what Tellez is truly capable of in the middle of the order.
Cavan Biggio is the anti-thesis of Craig Biggio production at the plate, yet similar in his perception of hitting. From 1994 to 1999, Craig in his prime hit .306 cumulatively. The steady at bat and work of the count was the key to his success. For Cavan, it’s the opposite. Despite having not played a full season, over the course of his two campaigns his production correlates to a 24-homerun, 112 walk season on a 162 curve. The pop is potent in middle infield terms with a stellar eye on the plate, making Biggio the perfect middle of the order bat for this club.
Bichette is the gem of this club. A tablesetter of the offensive, Bichette has only played in 75 games in the Show so far, yet they’ve been masterful. With an .896 OPS, Bichette is one of the game’s top hitters when on the field. The big breakout of 2020, however, was Teoscar Hernandez. Hernandez posted a .919 OPS with 16 homeruns in 190 at bats, solidifying himself a spot in the heart of the Jays order going forward. In similar vein, left fielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. posted an .882 OPS with 11 homeruns in the 60 game season.
Early in the offseason, it was reported that the Blue Jays wanted to revamp the look of the roster, and by all means, they did just that. George Springer agreed to a 6-year/$150M contract in January, breaking Vernon Wells record for richest contract in Blue Jays history. This looks to round out the Blue Jays outfield with Hernandez and Gurriel patrolling the corners, yet it was reported that Michael Brantley had also signed with the Blue Jays before the Astros swooped in to retain the 3x All-Star. Having nine spots to hit people didn’t matter to the front office, who made an already crowded infield even more crowded when they inked Marcus Semien. Semien, who was the every day shortstop for Oakland, will transition to second base on a one year commitment. Both Semien and Springer play in October every year, including against each other in the 2020 ALDS. This makes a young lineup much more experienced.
The Blue Jays focused on adding pitching depth, which was the missing link in 2020. The club recently traded for Steven Matz, who had pitched for the Mets from 2015-2020. On a free agent front, they targeted and landed Robbie Ray for the rotation. Ray has disappointed in recent memory, but the lefty was an All-Star in 2017 when he posted a 2.89 ERA for the Diamondbacks. Should Ray return to form, that gives a very formidable 1-2 punch paired with Hyun Jin Ryu. In the bullpen, the major signing was that of Kirby Yates. Yates gives the Jays a shutdown closer. An All-Star in 2019, Yates posted a league-leading 41 saves and a 1.19 ERA for San Diego.
How Does Springer Perform Outside of Houston?
All eyes are on fixated on George Springer. Springer spent his first seven MLB campaigns with the Astros. It was a successful one on the surface, featuring three All-Star selections, a World Championship and 174 homeruns. A deeper dive, it’s not a guaranteed success, despite the large contract and .852 OPS lifetime performance. Just over a year ago, it had been revealed that starting in 2017, the Astros were giving trash cans bangs that even Dallas Page would be envious of. Harmless on the surface, it was revealed that it was all part of an illegal, elaborate sign-stealing scheme. All three of Springer’s All-Star selections were in the 2017-2019 window, and he posted an .877 OPS over that stretch.
All of this being said, Springer played with a chip on his shoulder in 2020 and posted an .899 OPS, giving credence that his success wasn’t based upon cheating. The stigma may never go away, but strong performance during the duration of this deal will go a long way to minimize the damage to his credibility. Springer’s 2020 slashline was .265/.359/.450, falling in line with his career slashline of .270/.361/.491. While his on-base and average were down slightly, Springer actually saw his slugging improve from his career normal in 2020 without the sign-stealing.
My Projected Opening Day Lineup
SS Bo Bichette
2B Marcus Semien
CF George Springer
RF Teoscar Hernandez
3B Cavan Biggio
1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
DH Rowdy Tellez
LF Lourdes Gurriel JR.
C Danny Jansen
Bench: Alejandro Kirk, Randal Grichuk, Joe Panik, Jonathan Davis.
LHP Hyun Jin Ryu
RHP Nate Pearson
LHP Robbie Ray
RHP Ross Stripling
RHP Tanner Roark
Bullpen: Kirby Yates (closer), Rafael Dolis, Tyler Chatwood, AJ Cole, Steven Matz, Ryan Borucki, Jordan Romano, David Phelps.
Outlook For 2021
The Blue Jays are one of the most volatile teams in baseball in terms of which way their performance could go. In 2020, most of their hitters played above their career paces, allowing the subpar pitching to get off of the hook. While the pitching situation was somewhat addressed, it feels as though there are still a number of holes. The rotation is the third best in the division and the bullpen doesn’t have many arms that stand out once you get past Yates and Dolis.
With mediocre pitching, the lineup will once again have to mash. It’ll be interesting to see how the Spring Training site translates to the regular season. The team lineup is certainly improved with the additions and it seems as though the biggest strength of the team is its depth. The Blue Jays have a crowded outfield and infield by design, which is the best problem to have. A sudden injury allows another quality player to just step into an expanded role. With teams such as the Rays and Yankees having rosters that are hurt often and without as much depth, the Blue Jays are most certainly a wild-card. The Blue Jays look to not only get back to the postseason, but make a lot more noise when they do.
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