Offseason Review: Toronto Blue Jays

Back in December, fresh off the signing of Hyun-Jin Ryu, I penned a quick piece on the Blue Jays as a looming threat. Toronto may not quite be ready for the limelight, but they’re certainly not far off. They seemingly flew under the radar this winter, but it’s hard to describe the team’s offseason as anything other than a success.

Rotation boost

Whether you prefer ERA, FIP, or DRA, the Blue Jays had one of the worst pitching staffs in the majors last year. Trading away Marcus Stroman midseason was a curious decision, but wisely, the team turned around and rebuilt its rotation for the upcoming campaign.

Ryu, the reigning MLB ERA champion, was the big addition to the staff. Health has always been a concern for the southpaw, but when he’s healthy, he’s terrific.

Toronto didn’t stop with Ryu, though. The team also brought in Tanner Roark, Chase Anderson, and Shun Yamaguchi. Along with the return of Matt Shoemaker, who missed nearly all of 2019, Toronto has literally remade its rotation from top to bottom. Sure, Shoemaker made five starts for the Jays last year, but that’s the only carryover in the rotation from last season.

Now, this isn’t a terrific rotation by any means. PECOTA isn’t a huge fan of the staff:

PlayerProj. ERAProj. DRA
Hyun-Jin Ryu3.464.32
Tanner Roark4.234.88
Matt Shoemaker4.545.17
Chase Anderson4.375.02

There’s no projection for Yamaguchi, at least not yet, but that doesn’t preclude the fact that this group is better than last year’s low bar to clear. It’s a staff that buys more time for the team to develop young pitchers like Anthony Kay and Trent Thornton along with top prospect Nate Pearson. The depth also gives them cushion for Ryan Borucki’s worrisome elbow soreness. Not that any of these guys, aside from Pearson, are promising per PECOTA:

PlayerProj. ERAProj. DRA
Nate Pearson4.074.55
Anthony Kay4.585.36
Ryan Borucki5.616.17
Trent Thornton4.154.80

A flyer on Travis Shaw

What a difference one season can make. 2019’s version of Travis Shaw was unrecognizable compared to the hitter from seasons prior. Last year, Travis Shaw hit .157/.281/270 (45 OPS+) for the Brewers last season after a stellar first two seasons in Milwaukee. In 2017 and 2018 combined, Shaw slashed .258/.347/.497 (120 OPS+) and had established himself as a stalwart in the Brewers’ lineup. But that goodwill wasn’t enough for the Brew Crew to keep him around following a dismal 2019 campaign.

Shaw was projected to earn $5.1 million in arbitration, but after Milwaukee non-tendered him, he inked a $4 million deal with Toronto. Quite a bargain for Toronto, especially considering that they can retain him in arbitration next year should all go well in 2020. If not, it was worth a gamble.

For what it’s worth, PECOTA still likes the left-handed slugger. It expects a rebound year, albeit not to 2017-2018 levels. That said, adding a projected .242/.337/.479 (107 DRC+) hitter ain’t too shabby.

Even though Shaw was groomed as a third baseman, expect to see him mostly at first base for Toronto. He should get time at the hot corner too whenever Vladimir Guerrero Jr. DHs or has a night off.

Let the kids play

The focus of Toronto’s offseason was to rebuild its rotation, and for good reason. They did add Shaw to its position player mix, but considering the lack of activity elsewhere, the franchise’s mission is clear: let the kids play. Vlad Jr., Bo Bichette, and others are going be the club’s main attractions this season.

Guerrero, Bichette, and others like Cavan Biggio or Lourdes Gurriel may not have hit their peaks just yet, but they’re still going to be good in 2020. That’s a little scary now, but even scarier down the road. On the face of things, it doesn’t seem like their window is open just yet. Nonetheless, sometimes windows open earlier than expected. We saw that with the 2017 Yankees. That doesn’t mean that the Jays’ timeline will be accelerated, but it can’t be ruled out given the team’s talent.

PECOTA has Toronto at 77 wins at the moment, and if you’re familiar with how these projections work, you know that this isn’t an exact prediction. There are error bars to consider. Now, that could mean Toronto will be closer to the 67 win squad it ran out in 2019, but it also means there’s a scenario in which they win 90 games. And really, when you look at this roster, would it be crazy for things to break their way and fend for a Wild Card spot? I don’t think so.

Could they have done more?

There’s a lot to like about the Blue Jays roster and long-term prospects. That said, would it have been worth it to push a little harder for short-term improvements? Yes, they addressed the rotation needs in a major way. And sure, there are plenty of budding stars in its position player ranks. That said, there are some areas this roster is lacking that could hold them back for the time being.

The big weak spot: the outfield. Gurriel broke out last season, but after that, things are thin. Randal Grichuk, Teoscar Hernández, and Derek Fisher aren’t terribly exciting. The first two have power and Fisher has some former-prospect sheen, but someone like Marcell Ozuna would have looked really nice out there for them.

The Blue Jays’ bullpen is a problem too. Ken Giles is a terrific closer, but that’s just about all they’ve got. Anthony Bass is seemingly their second-best reliever, but that’s not saying much. They figure to shuffle through a whole bunch of arms throughout the season as they try to figure out what clicks.

Offseason Summary

Lastly, here’s a quick look at the changes to the Blue Jays major league roster.

In:

  • Hyun-Jin Ryu
  • Tanner Roark
  • Chase Anderson
  • Shun Yamaguchi
  • Travis Shaw

Out:

  • Derek Law
  • Luke Maile
  • Jason Adam
  • Ryan Tepera
  • Devon Travis
  • Clay Buccholz
  • Clayton Richard
  • Justin Smoak

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3 Comments

  1. MikeD

    So Sevy will be back for the stretch run in 2021 post the All-Star break! Not really surprised based on what we already knew but still disappointing. Was really looking for a Cole/Severino one-two punch. Gonna need Monty to step up more so now. Who is our 5th starter now? I know we’ll have German back in June, but I’m really not expecting Paxton until mid-season, despite his positive words. Need another starter, even as filler early on.

  2. MikeD

    They’re one of those teams that could surprise because of their young talent. They could be annoyingly pesky if Baby Vlad, for instance, took a big step forward and their pitching hits the upper percentile of capability, More likely they’ll struggle to play .500, but teams with young talent can often surprise on the upside. Who exactly did they get in the Stroman deal? I seem to remember it was underwhelming. Maybe they would have been better off holding.

  3. DJ Lemeddardhieu

    The Jays are an emerging threat and our biggest obstacle in the division, Derek. They remind me of China and India. Ryu gives them an ace to duel with Cole. They already had a better and younger core than we do and theirs have championship pedigrees. Biggio, Guererro, Bichette and Gurriel are a modern day murderer’s row. They could surround those 4 with a senior’s center and they’d still win 90 games. Last season once those kids came up they played even with us. We’d go up there to Toronto and struggle to win and it’s going to be more of the same this year. I still think we’re better but the Jays are going to win 90+ games and make the postseason, no doubt about it.

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