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AL East Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

After a fourth-place finish in 2021, they may be 2022 favorites.

Baltimore Orioles v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images

We are now less than three weeks away from Opening Day, and for the most part the transaction flurry has settled. While some teams may change in some ways before the start of the season, rosters are largely set and so we’re going to take this opportunity to look at what the division looks like right now. For the next four days we’ll look at the roster composition for all of Boston’s AL East rivals, looking today at the Toronto Blue Jays.

2022 outlook in a sentence

The Blue Jays finished fourth in a tough American League East a year ago, but they just continue to get better both through external additions and internal progression, and they will be playing in the same home park all season, all of which could very well make them the preseason favorite in this loaded division.

Position Player Outlook

Broad Look: The Blue Jays offense is, in a word, terrifying. Their core is already among the best in baseball just looking at their 2021 performance, a big chunk of that comes from young talent who should only continue to progress and turn into better, more complete hitters. Their top three of George Springer, Bo Bichette, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. puts them in the conversation for the most impactful start to their lineup, and they really don’t have many holes in the entire group. One of their bigger holes had been third base, but they grabbed Matt Chapman, who is an above-average bat to go along with his all-world defense at the hot corner.

Best Player: I could have gone in a few different directions here, and I suppose one’s mileage may vary when it comes to how to value pure hitting compared to all-around value, but I’m going with the pure bat. Vladimir Guerrero is already in the conversation for best hitter in baseball, coming off an age-22 season that finished with an elite 166 wRC+. Guerrero has huge power, hardly ever strikes out, and doesn’t expand the zone too much leading to plenty of walks. There’s limited defensive value at first base, but the bat is too good for me to look at anyone else as the best player in this deep lineup.

X-Factor: I think there are a handful of very underrated hitters in the lower half of this Blue Jays lineup, but perhaps none more so than catcher Danny Jansen. He’s shown legitimate improvement in each passing year of his career, and while a lot of earned attention is geared towards Alejandro Kirk, Jansen is a more complete player and finished with a 105 wRC+ last year. That is well above-average for his position, and he plays good defense too. Given his track record of improvement and the focus on the rest of this lineup, I can see him getting up in the 110-115 range and suddenly becoming a top 10ish catcher in the game.

Rotation Outlook

Broad Look: Compared to the lineup the Blue Jays rotation has a lot of questions, but that’s a pretty high bar to clear. In reality, I think if anything it’s an underrated group. I’ll (spoiler alert) talk about the top two names in a second, but even beyond that there is upside and experience. Alek Manoah looked outstanding over 20 starts in 2021, which was his first taste of big-league ball. Hyun-Jin Ryu is on the back nine of his career but has a long track record of excellence in the majors. Nate Pearson has trouble staying healthy but has some of the most enticing stuff among young pitchers in baseball. Yusei Kikuchi has some homer issues that could be rough translating into the AL East, but as a number five starter he’s perfectly cromulent. There are ways this can go sideways, but the building blocks for a formidable rotation are certainly there.

Best player: The Blue Jays lost Cy Young winner Robbie Ray in free agency over the winter, but they helped hedge against that possibility last summer when they traded for José Berríos from the Twins. The righty has legitimate swing-and-miss stuff, he limits free passes, and hard contact is hard to come by for opponents. For five straight seasons he’s been at least 10 percent better than league-average in park-adjusted ERA and eight percent better by park-adjusted FIP. There’s not the ceiling here that other contenders have in their aces, but Berríos is steady, and with this lineup that’s all you need.

Division Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v San Francisco Giants - Game Five
Kevin Gausman
Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/MLB Photos via Getty Images

X-Factor: The other way Toronto tried to make up for losing Ray was signing another one of the top free agent pitchers on the market in Kevin Gausman. In fact, I think there’s a fair argument that he is the best pitcher on this staff over Berríos. The only thing that scares me is that he’s moving from a pitcher’s paradise in San Francisco where he revitalized his career back to a division filled with hitters parks, including his own new home park. I think his home run problems could come back in a significant way and make him struggle, but it’s probably just as likely he’s a near-ace once again. That’s the definition of an X-Factor, I believe.

Bullpen Outlook

Broad Look: If there is a weakness on this Blue Jays roster, it’s probably here, but to me it’s a bullpen that’s more fine than great instead of it being straight-up bad. They have a legitimate bullpen ace at the back-end, and have a nice mix behind him of experience and inexperienced upside. They were right in the middle of baseball last year in bullpen ERA, and I think that’s probably a safe baseline to set for them in 2022 as well.

Best player: That aforementioned bullpen ace is Jordan Romero, who has emerged as one of the better relievers in this division. The righty made his debut in 2019, and it was a rough one, but has been excellent in the last two seasons. In 2021, for example, he finished with a 2.14 ERA and 3.15 FIP over 63 innings. Relievers are fickle so perhaps the periodic control issues will become a bigger detriment this year, but based on recent performance it’s hard to look at him as anything other than a legitimate closer.

X-Factor: Julian Merryweather just looks like what you seek in a great reliever in today’s era. He’s a big presence on the mound and has velocity to match, and also has a very good changeup along with a slider that can miss bats. He’s had trouble with injuries and, at times, hard contact, but the pieces are there for him to make an adjustment or two and join Romano for a fearsome late-inning one-two punch.