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What's Next for the Toronto Blue Jays?

The only real word to sum up the 2023 season for the Toronto Blue Jays is disappointing. After another early October exit, it seems the Blue Jays will have to go back to the drawing board to strategize how they want to navigate through the offseason to ensure they put forth a better product on the field for the upcoming campaign.

The Toronto Blue Jays were a team glimmering with talent entering the 2023 campaign with an AL East title in their sights and the pieces on the roster to make that come to fruition.

Now, 6 months later, with only 89 wins and a two-game sweep to the lowly Minnesota Twins to show for it, questions begin to arise as to what the problem is on why this team can’t make that next leap.

Coming into the season, if there was any uncertainty in an area for the Blue Jays it would be in the pitching department. Fast forward to the end of the year and it was, in fact, the arms, both starting pitching and the bullpen, and the defence that ultimately snuck them into a wildcard berth. Uncharacteristically of the Jays teams in recent years, the offence was the downfall of this team, more specifically hitting with runners on base. Losing players like Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. did not help their case, but nobody would’ve predicted the down years many Blue Jays players experienced.

Aside from a tremendous overall season from the likes of Bo Bichette and a slight uptick in performance from Cavan Biggio, a lot of position players regressed this past season. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., George Springer, Dany Jansen, Alejandro Kirk, and Whit Merrifield all took drastic steps in the wrong direction when comparing their numbers to 2022.

Whether you want to point the finger at the offence, defence, pitching, coaching, and/or front office it’s clear that something different is going to have to happen for this team to get over that hump. The Blue Jays might not have a say in the matter for some of these players as several key contributors are becoming free agents. Matt Chapman headlines a list that could test the market this offseason, which also consists of Brandon Belt, Whit Merrifield, Kevin Kiermaier, Hyun Jin Ryu, and Jordan Hicks. How Toronto chooses to address free agency this year is going to play a huge factor come spring training in 2024. One thing is certain though, Ross Atkins will return as General Manager for the team as stated by president, Mark Shapiro. Shapiro went on to say

“In Ross’s case the body of work, to me, is undeniable but we need to get better. We need to do a better job of scoring runs. We need to be even better on the base paths, and there needs to be a higher level of transparency and communication with our players in our game-planning process.”

I believe most fans will be happy to see Shapiro quickly defend his GM and publicly state he will return before any offseason talks, moving the focus strictly on the improvement of the team moving forward. Shapiro further reiterated this point by stating even though the Blue Jays had the seventh-highest payroll in baseball at $210 million, they are likely to continue to spend in a similar fashion to recent seasons. This is a promising statement from the Toronto president and should leave fans eagerly awaiting some splash moves leading into next season.

While it is always more headline-worthy to go out and sign a big-time free agent, taking care of your team internally is if not more important, especially with the number of notable free agents the Blue Jays now have potentially testing the market. The most prominent player without question for the Jays to decide on is Matt Chapman.

He is hitting the open market for the first time in his career, which is a little worrisome for the Jays but in turn, he didn’t finish the season very strong so teams may be wary of handing over a nine-figure contract. His defensive ability is arguably the best in baseball and with the third base market being very thin, I think it would be wise for the Blue Jays to pay the man while also solidifying the left side of your infield for the foreseeable future.

Some of this past season’s solid offensive performers for the Blue Jays could also be hitting the open market in Kiermaier, Belt, and Merrifield. I believe they should move on from Kiermaier as he has already expressed his preference would be to play on a real grass field, even though you lose speed and defence in doing so. That is similar to the Merrifield situation where you lose the defence and speed, but I believe he is going to be asking for too much money.

On top of that, the way Cavan Biggio played down the stretch for the Blue Jays, I think he earned himself the starting job at second base for the 2024 campaign. As far as Brandon Belt goes, if he doesn’t retire, I think the Jays should bring him back to play some DH and offer that power left-handed bat the Jays always seem to need. He led the team in OPS last year but also dealt with a handful of injuries. Keeping on that topic, I think the Blue Jays need to go out and get an outfielder and/or a platoon guy that has power from the left side of the plate as that would solve both their remaining needs. I'd like to see the Blue Jays target a guy like Joc Pederson or Cody Bellinger both of which can play the outfield and DH.

If they can’t land either of those guys, I think Michael Brantley or even Jason Heyward would fit nicely in this lineup, given the defence you may lose to free agency.

The pitching for the Blue Jays was a pleasant surprise as that department was a little bit of a question mark entering the season. Kevin Gausman and Chris Bassitt were tremendous, but it was the resurgence of Jose Berrios and Yusei Kikuchi that really elevated this starting staff. The 5th spot was ultimately taken over by Hyun Jin Ryu when he came off the IR from Tommy John Surgery and performed admirably. With that said, I think he will test the market and get the contract he wants, or he’s also stated he may even head back and play in the Korean Baseball Organization to finish his career. If Ryu walks, the Jays will have to either look at free agency or take another gamble on Alex Manoah.

Nobody knows what happened to Manoah this year as he was a Cy Young candidate in 2022 but then stumbled out of the gate this past season to an ERA of 5.87 over 87 innings before being sent to the minors. He never was able to figure it out which leaves a lot of question marks as the team tries to navigate their way to putting a team together for 2024 because he was supposed to be one of the cornerstone players of the re-build with the likes of Bichette and Guerrero Jr. The bullpen for the Blue Jays was just as impressive as the starters were and got even better with the signing of Jordan Hicks. The framework of the bullpen will vastly resemble this year’s team which bodes well for the outlook for 2024. The main focus should be re-signing Hicks as he just made an already solid bullpen that much stronger.

The “window” for this Blue Jays team to win remains open but the urgency to contend with the best immediately is what should drive Toronto’s front office to make the necessary moves to make this team even more competitive. It won’t be and never is for that matter easy to win in the uber-competitive AL East but to be the best you have to beat the best. It is yet to be determined how the Toronto Blue Jays will navigate this offseason but the fanbase is becoming increasingly impatient for this team to go on a deep October run.

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