The Toronto Blue Jays are a team that many are looking forward to watching. The Jays were aggressive in free agency, and it makes sense considering the team is owned by Rogers, a powerful media conglomerate in Canada.
Yes, the days of a monster power lineup consisting of Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion are gone. But the team that President Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins are bringing out in 2021 isn’t a joke either. The young Blue Jays are ready to make some noise in 2021, and the league is about to be put on notice.
The Blue Jays made massive strides in 2020, going 32-28 and making the playoffs for the first time since 2016.
Hyun Jun Ryu was absolutely silly in his first season, finishing third in AL Cy Young voting behind Shane Bieber and Kenta Maeda. Teoscar Hernandez had a career year, mashing .289/.340/.579 with 16 home runs and an OPS+ of 148. Hernandez ended up picking up a Silver Slugger Award, and it’ll be interesting to see if the 27-year-old can turn out similar numbers in 2021.
The Jays ended up being swept by the Tampa Bay Rays in the Wild-Card round, but advancing to the postseason in itself was an incredible feat for Canada’s team.
Key Additions to Blue Jays
In the offseason, Shapiro and Atkins showed the Yankees and Rays that Toronto is to be feared in the AL East. Three-time All-Star outfielder George Springer was signed to a monster six-year deal, and he was one of the biggest free agents available. Springer is still in his prime and is coming off a season where he hit for an OPS+ of 140. The Jays also added infielder Marcus Semien, who is coming off an off-year but in 2019 finished third in AL MVP voting with a .285/.369/.522 slash line.
Toronto added Kirby Yates as its closer, and he’s a huge pickup for their relieving corps. Yates led the league in saves with 41 in 2019 with the Padres and finished with a 1.19 ERA in 60.2 innings pitched. Last season, Yates only made six appearances due to injury.
Steven Matz signed with the Jays as well, as the former Met looks to revitalize his career.
The great thing for the Jays is that they didn’t lose any key pieces. Utility man Travis Shaw is no longer with the club, and right-hander Chase Andersen has found a new team as well.
Derek Fisher was dealt to the Brewers, Brandon Drury signed a minor-league deal with the Mets, and Taijuan Walker joined New York.
Walker was a significant trade deadline acquisition for Toronto last year but his stuff wasn’t that great, and he won’t necessarily be missed.
After Ryu, top prospect Nate Pearson will be the second man in the rotation. Pearson got his feet wet in the big league’s last year, but this season will be expected to be his first full campaign as a starter. The highly touted 24-year-old was drafted in the first round by the Jays in 2017.
Robbie Ray, Tanner Roark, and Matz round out the rotation. Ray has always boasted a high strikeout rate but gave up way too many home runs in 2020. Roark was one of the worst starters last season and needs to bounce back. Matz has been a below-average starter the last few years but still isn’t bad for someone as a fifth starter. Toronto’s rotation is probably considered the “weakness” but it’s still probably somewhere around league average. This is a team that’s going to win with their loaded offensive lineup.
After free=agent acquisitions Springer and Semien, look out for the likes of Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, and of course, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. For Guerrero Jr, this could be his breakout year. In his rookie season, the then-20-year-old Dominican batted .272/.339/.433 in 123 games for an OPS+ of 106 (100 is league average.
Last season, Guerrero Jr. bumped up his OPS+ to 115, although his lack of home runs were a bit disappointing. This offseason, Vlad has slimmed down, losing nearly 50 pounds. He’s going to be faster and stronger, and I expect this to be the season we’ve all expected from the touted prospect.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s offensive numbers have been getting better and better ever since entering the big leagues in 2018. Last year, Gurriel finished the season with an OPS+ of 139.
3 Key Players
Guerrero Jr. is the face of this team and will be expected to perform well in the cleanup spot. At the bottom of the order, it will be interesting to see if Danny Jansen can finally get his bat going in the big leagues. Jansen had no trouble hitting in the minors but hasn’t been able to put it together at the plate at the MLB level. If Jansen struggles at the plate, look for young Alejandro Kirk to replace him as the starting catcher.
It will be interesting to see how Randal Grichuk performs in 2021, as he’s someone who’s currently listed as the fourth outfielder. Grichuk is being paid over $9 million in 2021, and he needs to play better, or else he’ll continue to fall out of favor with skipper Charlie Montoyo and Blue Jays management.
The Jays’ season starts in the Bronx on national television Thursday, when they face Gerrit Cole and the Yankees. Toronto will then travel to Texas to play three against the Rangers and begin their first homestand at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Florida, on April 8.
The BetUS World Series odds have the Blue Jays +1500 to win the World Series. Toronto’s BetUS over/under for regular-season wins is 87 and are listed at +325 to win the AL East.