The 2020 season will be unique for everyone in Major League Baseball, but more so for the Toronto Blue Jays. The Canadian government denied the Blue Jays’ petition to play in the city, and they will play their home games at the site of their Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo.
The one thing that is known is whenever and wherever the Blue Jays play, they have one of the best collections of young talent in the league. Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, Lourdes Gurriel and quite possibly top pitching prospect Nate Pearson will be fun to watch, even if the wins don’t add up.
With strong drafting, international signings and trades, the Blue Jays have stockpiled in their rebuild after transitioning away from the team that made the American League Championship Series with Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Russell Martin, David Price and Edwin Encarnacion in 2016.
Rebuilding in the same division as the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays isn’t fun, and the Blue Jays have taken their lumps but have stayed the course.
How do sportsbooks see the Blue Jays’ chances at competing for a World Series this season? It’s probably a little early for that, though with all their young talent and a short season, a lot is possible.
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Toronto Blue Jays 2019 Results
The 2019 Blue Jays went 67-95 under first-year manager Charlie Montoyo, down six wins from 2018. Toronto finished in fourth place in the AL East, 36 games behind the division champion Yankees.
The Blue Jays started the season with a 2-1 record, but that was their last time over .500. They ultimately finished 35-46 in home games and 33-43 within the division. A rough spot came in interleague games, as Toronto went a paltry 3-17.
The Blue Jays’ lone All-Star last season was pitcher Marcus Stroman, who was traded to the New York Mets on July 28 for prospects Anthony Kay and Simeon Woods-Richardson.
The season was about MLB debuts.Guerrero Jr. went first with a call-up on April 26, and Biggio came second on May 24. Bichette joined the team on July 29, and from then on, the Blue Jays were 27-28.
Toronto showed signs of improvement as the season went on with a 33-38 record after the All-Star break. The Jays also finished with their “best” month, a 12-13 September..
Toronto Blue Jays Key Additions
General Manager Ross Atkins made a big splash when the team shelled out $80 million over four seasons for 33-year-old LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu. Toronto badly needed an ace and a veteran presence on a young team, and Ryu brings not only that but also top-notch talent.
With the Los Angeles Dodgers, Ryu finished second in the NL Cy Young Award voting with a 14-5 record. In 29 starts, he led the NL in ERA at 2.32 while striking out 162 batters to 24 walks over 182 1/3 innings. Ryu also brings a postseason pedigree with eight career starts in the playoffs.
Atkins traded minor leaguer Chad Spangenberger to the Milwaukee Brewers for right-handed pitcher Chase Anderson. The 32-year-old went 8-4 with a 4.21 ERA in 27 games while covering 139 innings. His best season with the Brewers came in 2017 when he went 12-4 with a 2.74 ERA in 25 starts.
In free agency, the Blue Jays worked on the pitching staff as well, with innings-eater Tanner Roark signed away from Oakland. Roark split last season between the A’s and Cincinnati Reds, going 10-10 with a 4.35 ERA in 31 starts. He has thrown at least 165 innings in five of the last six seasons while racking up at least 135 strikeouts and 10 wins four times.
Toronto also signed right-handed pitcher Shun Yamaguchi from the Yomiuri Giants. Yamaguchi was 15-4 with a 2.91 ERA in 26 games last season, striking out 188 over 170 innings. The 33-year-old is expected to go into the bullpen.
Offensively, the Blue Jays signed infielders Travis Shaw and Joe Panik. Shaw, a corner infielder, struggled mightily, batting .157/.280/.270 with seven homers in 86 games for the Brewers. Toronto hopes he can regain his swing from 2017 and 2018 that totaled 63 homers, 187 RBI and a .250 average.
Panik, a former All-Star and Gold Glove winner, split last season between San Francisco and the Mets, batting .244/.315/.336 with five homers, 21 doubles and 39 RBI.
Toronto Blue Jays Big Losses
The Blue Jays didn’t have many of their own free agents after the 2019 season, and their only trade involved a non-prospect minor leaguer.
First baseman Justin Smoak signed with the Brewers after batting .208/.342/.406 in Toronto last year. In 121 games, he hit 22 homers with 16 doubles, 61 RBI and 54 runs scored.
Infielder Richard Urena was cut after a .243/.273/.324 season. He added four RBI and six doubles in 30 games before signing with Baltimore.
Backup catcher Luke Maile left Toronto for Pittsburgh. He hit .151/.205/.235 in 44 games last year with two homers and nine RBI.
On the pitching side, right-hander Ryan Tepera signed with the Chicago Cubs. He went 0-2 with a 4.98 ERA in 23 games last year with 21 2/3 innings pitched.
Toronto Blue Jays Pitching
Ryu and Roark are the clear 1-2 in their rotation, and Anderson will start the year on the injured list with an oblique problem. The proven inning-eaters and durable starters are exactly what Toronto needs. Last season, Blue Jays starters threw 711 innings,third-lowest total in the Majors.
Following the newcomers will be right-hander Matt Shoemaker. The 33-year-old started last season 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA in five starts before tearing his ACL at the end of April and missing the rest of the season. A seven-year veteran, Shoemaker hasn’t had a full season on the mound since 2016 when he threw a career-high 160 innings.
Trent Thornton went 6-9 with a 4.84 ERA in 29 starts as a rookie last season for Toronto. The right-hander struck out 149 batters in 154 1/3 innings, both of which led the team.
While Anderson is out, the fifth starter at the beginning of the season will likely be lefty Ryan Borucki. The 26-year-old made 17 starts for the Jays in 2018 but just two in 2019. Overall, he is 4-7 with a 4.31 ERA in his MLB career.
Top pitching prospect Nate Pearson isn’t on the 40-man roster, and there’s a service-time issue into August, but expect him to make his MLB debut in 2020. A 2017 first-round pick, Pearson went 5-4 with a 2.30 ERA in 25 minor league starts last season, with his final three outings coming in Triple-A Buffalo.
The bullpen ends with closer Ken Giles, who was on the trade block this winter but didn’t go anywhere. He went 2-3 last season with 23 saves and a 1.87 ERA in 53 games.
Sam Giviglio is a quality set-up man with a 4-2 record last season and a 4.61 ERA. In 52 outings, he struck out 88 batters over 95 2/3 innings.
Right-hander Anthony Bass was claimed off waivers from Seattle last season. He went 2-4 with the Mariners in 44 games while picking up five saves and posting a 3.56 ERA.
Yamaguchi and Kay will be options as long relievers or spot-starters. Jordan Romero, Rafael Dolis and A.J. Cole are also wild cards that could have an impact on the bullpen in 2020.
Toronto Blue Jays Offense
Montero has a bunch of options lineup-wise, but it appears the top four will be where the fun and power comes/ A likely lineup option for the Blue Jays looks like this: SS Bo Bichette, 2B Cavan Biggio, LF Lourdes Gurriel Jr., DH/1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 3B Travis Shaw, CF Richard Grichuk, RF Teoscar Hernandez, DH/1B Rowdy Tellez, C Danny Jansen.
Bichette played in 46 MLB games last season, batting .311/.358/.571 with 11 homers, 18 doubles, 21 RBI and 32 runs scored. In two minor league stops, he hit .288/.355/.485 with eight homers and 33 RBI in 60 games.
Biggio, son of Hall of Famer Craig Biggio, hit .234/.364/.429 in 100 games as a rookie in 2019. He added 16 homers, 14 steals, 17 doubles and 48 RBI while scoring 66 runs.
Gurriel will play both corner outfield spots, though injuries limited him to 84 games last season. He hit .277/.327/.541 with 20 homers, 19 doubles, 50 RBI and 52 runs scored.
Guerrero, 21, has long been touted as a can’t-miss prospect, and he arrived in Toronto last season, batting .272/.339/.433 in 123 games with 15 homers, 26 doubles and 69 RBI. In 2018 in the minors, the son of Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero Sr. hit an impressive .381/.437/.636 with 20 homers, 29 doubles and 78 RBI in 95 games.
Grichuk, who can play any of the outfield spots, brings the pop to the lineup as he led Toronto with 31 homers, 80 RBI and 29 doubles last season. A potential Gold Glove winner, Grichuk batted .232/.280/.457 with 75 runs scored in a team-leading 151 games.
Hernandez will play centerfield when Grichuk is in a corner spot. Last season, he hit .230/.306/.472 with 26 homers, 65 RBI, 19 doubles and 58 runs scored.
Jansen caught 107 games as a 24-year-old last season, batting .207/.279/.360 with 13 homers, 12 doubles, 43 RBI and 41 runs scored. Reese McGuire will serve as the backup catcher after hitting .299/.346/.527 with five homers in 30 games last season.
Montoyo has bench options as well, with Anthony Alford, Derek Fisher and Billy McKinney in the outfield plus Panik and Brandon Drury on the infield. Drury hit 15 home runs last season while McKinney had 12.
Toronto Blue Jays Three Key Players
For baseball fans, this starts with Guerrero and Bichette, two of the three highly touted sons of former MLB stars on this team. Both tore up the minor leagues and were prominently featured on prospect lists and at the MLB Futures games.
Guerrero has the power, charisma, flair and talent to be the face of the franchise for the next decade-plus. As a 21-year-old, this could have been his breakout season with a 30-plus homer campaign and the first of many All-Star appearances.
Now he will need to have an impact, and it will be interesting to see how he transitions to first base after committing 17 errors in 96 games at third base as a rookie.
Bichette is a pure-hitting leadoff man, so it will be up to him to set the table for Gurriel, Guerrero and Grichuk. The 22-year-old has played alongside Guerrero since their days together in rookie ball at Bluefield in 2016.
There will be pressure on Bichette at shortstop, but he appears to have the pedigree to deal with lofty expectations.
Even in a full season, Ryu would have been hard-pressed to repeat his 2019 numbers after leaving perennial contenders in Los Angeles for a rebuilding Toronto squad. But the Blue Jays need a solid 10 to 12 starts from their big-money free agent to lay the foundation for the next four years and to have a positive impact on the rest of the rotation and the bullpen.
Toronto Blue Jays Schedule Breakdown
The Blue Jays will play 40 games against AL East opponents and 20 interleague games against NL East opponents. It appears they will be season-long road warriors with home games in Buffalo.
Toronto starts the season with a five-game road trip to World Series contenders Tampa Bay and Washington. There will also be another pair of games in Washington with Toronto designated as the home team. The Jays will play the Rays 10 times before they face the Yankees. In fact, all 10 games against the Bronx Bombers come in a 17-day span in September.
The BetUS World Series odds have the Blue Jays as a long shot at +6000, behind the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox in the division.The Blue Jays’ BetUS over/under for regular-season wins is 28, and finishing four games under .500 would be quite an improvement for a young team that went 67-95 a season ago.