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Checking in on the AL East: Toronto Blue Jays

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Toronto just missed the postseason in 2021, but they are building up, and fast.

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Los Angeles Dodgers vs. San Francisco Giants
Kevin Gausman has been Toronto’s biggest addition thus far.
Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images

It’s now been about six weeks that we’ve been in a standstill in this offseason, with the players and owners still seemingly far apart as they try to hammer out a new CBA. In the meantime, we’ve been examining the Boston Red Sox from all angles to figure out what lies ahead on the other side of the lockout, but what about the rest of the American League East? For this week, we’ll be looking at where the rest of the division stands this winter, going over what they got done before the lockout, and what questions they have to answer when things pick back up. We’ll go in reverse order of the 2021 standings, today looking at the Toronto Blue Jays.

What happened in 2021?

The Blue Jays entered the 2021 season clearly on the upswing, still not completely coming out on the other end of their rebuild but coming off a berth in the expanded postseason of 2020 and starting last season as a trendy pick in the division. COVID had a greater impact on this team than any other in terms of travel as the Blue Jays were nomadic for the first half of the season before finally getting home to Canada. That coincided with a hell of a run in the second half to get right on the cusp of the postseason. Ultimately, though, it was just a bit too little and a bit too late as Toronto finished a game out of the postseason and now look to recharge and officially announce their arrival in 2022.

Toronto Blue Jays v Minnesota Twins
Robbie Ray
Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

Who did they lose before the lockout?

  • Robbie Ray (LHP) was one of two short-term free agent signings the Jays made last offseason that paid off in ways that no one could have predicted. Ray ended up winning the Cy Young award in the American League, but after the season he went elsewhere, signing a five-year deal with the Seattle Mariners and leaving a hole atop the Jays rotation.
  • Marcus Semien (2B/SS) bet on himself last winter with a one-year deal when he probably could have gotten a modest multi-year contract if he so chose. That bet paid off in spades as Semien finished third in MVP voting. Like Ray, he left Toronto after the season, also heading to the AL West as he signed a seven-year deal with the Texas Rangers.
  • Steven Matz (LHP) certainly didn’t provide the kind of impact that Ray and Semien did for this team, but he was a steady presence in their rotation and good arm to have as a number four in a playoff rotation. He was connected to the Red Sox early in the offseason but ultimately signed a four-year deal with the St. Louis Cardinals.
  • Corey Dickerson (OF) didn’t spend the whole season in Toronto, but was picked up at the deadline and was perfectly cromulent as a good left-handed bat who can play in the corner outfield. He remains on the free agent market.

Who have they added this winter?

The Blue Jays certainly lost big-time talent this winter after both Ray and Semien were two of the most valuable players in the American League last season. The good news for Toronto is that they are nearly overflowing with young talent at the plate to mitigate the loss of Semien, and last summer they traded for starter José Berríos, who was still under team control for 2022 and has since signed a long-term extension. Even so, in a division as competitive as this, they have more work to do, some of which was indeed done before the lockout.

  • Kevin Gausman (RHP) was the big pre-lockout addition for the Blue Jays, signing a five-year deal worth $110 million. In terms of performance in the most recent season, this is a step down from Ray, but their respective track records suggest the actual step back may not be much, if it’s there at all. Gausman will have to prove he can continue to keep the ball in the yard heading back to the AL East from San Francisco and the NL West, but he’s been fantastic for two years in a row, and was showing signs of breaking out before that. Along with Berríos and Hyun-Jin Ryu, this is a formidable top of Toronto’s rotation with good young arms coming up as well.
  • Yimi García (RHP) is not the same kind of impactful signing as Gausman, but he adds some depth to a Blue Jays bullpen that has intriguing talent but no standout arms. He split last season between the Marlins and the Astros and on a playoff team is probably best served just outside the top three of a pecking order.

What to watch for after the lockout

The Blue Jays made their big addition in the rotation, but they could look for another lower-tiered option as well. As noted above, their top three looks very solid, but they may opt for more of a sure thing in the fifth spot. They could roll with Ross Stripling or one of their other young arms waiting in the wings, but again this division is uber competitive and the Jays have money to spend.

In addition to the rotation, the Blue Jays should be looking to add to their infield and bullpen as well. On the dirt, they still haven’t really replaced Semien. Cavan Biggio can play either second base or third base, but right now they have Santiago Espinal as a starting infielder. The former Red Sox minor-leaguer who was sent north in the Steve Pearce trade a few years ago has blossomed into a better player than most expected, but he’s still a better fit as a bench player. I’d look for the Jays to add another starting caliber player there, and in the bullpen they could use another true late-inning arm to go with Jordan Romero.

One way they could acquire that is by flexing the tremendous depth they have behind the plate. What the Blue Jays do with their wealth of young catching is probably the most interesting thing to watch in the latter portion of this winter. Toronto has three viable catchers already in the majors with Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk, and Reese McGuire, and their top prospect is a catcher in Gabriel Moreno. He finished last season with a short stint at Triple-A, so it’s only a matter of time until he further crowds this picture. The Blue Jays should be able to add something impactful with one of their backstops, with a bunch of different possible paths to choose from.