By: Eli Silverstone
When the Blue Jays missed the playoffs by one game in 2021, fans were disappointed but excited for the potential of the team. When the Jays blew an 8-1 lead to the Mariners in last year’s Wild Card, it was a massive disappointment, but there seemed to be a direction for how they were going to get better. After last week's meltdown in the Wild Card to the Twins, hope feels lost.
Ross Atkins said John Schneider will return as manager for next season, a decision that Toronto fans don’t seem too happy with.
The already-infamous decision to take Jose Berrios out of the game was the final straw when it came to Toronto fans’ respect for the coaching staff. While Schneider is safe and Luis Rivera has already announced his retirement, it will be interesting to see if hitting coach Guillermo Martinez returns. He was on the hot seat all year, as practically every player in the Jays lineup had career lows in HRs and slugging percentage.
In the past couple of seasons, the Blue Jays had the reputation of a fun but immature squad that hadn’t won anything yet. Toronto felt the need to change that, so they got rid of the home run jacket, traded away fan favourites, and brought in veterans such as Whit Merrifield, Matt Chapman, Kevin Kiermaier, and Brandon Belt. All of them played well, but are now free agents with not much interest in returning.
So what will the Jays do?
Toronto will probably promote infielders Orelvis Martinez (MLB #88 Prospect) and Addison Barger (Blue Jays #5 Prospect) to take on Chapman and Merrifield’s roles. The infield will be composed of Barger, Martinez, Bo Bichette, Santiago Espinal, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Cavan Biggio.
As for the DH spot, the perfect free agent might be Jorge Soler of the Miami Marlins. Homers win playoff series, and Soler gives you that in bunches. A player of his skillset would be a big help to the Jays’ suddenly underwhelming offence.
Daulton Varsho led all of the majors in Defensive Runs Saved last year and the likelihood is he’ll move into CF to replace Kiermaier. George Springer can stay in RF, but they’ll want to give him more and more games at DH as he gets older. Expect the Jays to pursue free agents Joc Pederson, Adam Duvall, Harrison Bader, and maybe even Teoscar Hernandez to fill a corner outfield spot. I’m sure there are a few nostalgic Blue Jay fans who want to see free agents Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. resign back in Toronto.
The rotation stays the same except for the likely departure of Hyun-Jin Ryu, while the Alek Manoah debacle will continue all winter into spring training. Who knows if he’ll be able to get back to his 2022 form or if he will pitch for Toronto again? To be safe, Toronto should pursue a fifth starter through free agency. Possible candidates could be Tyler Mahle, Drew Smyly, Sean Manaea, or Michael Lorenzen.
The improvement of this team will matter less about who they bring in and more about the improvement from within. Players who had down years, such as Guerrero Jr., Manoah, Varsho, Espinal and Alejandro Kirk bouncing back is more valuable than any free agent signing.
For the third straight year, the team will look good on paper. They have a fantastic rotation and bullpen; they just have to work on the offence. The question is whether looking good on paper is enough and whether they need to make any coaching decisions to get the machine to work as it should.