Where the Blue Jays stand as MLB lockout ends
After 99 days, Major League Baseball and its players finally agreed on a labour deal to end the lockout on Thursday.
With a new collective bargaining agreement in place, the focus can once again shift to on-field subjects as teams prepare for spring training and a full 162-game season. With many of the top free agents still unsigned, the coming days should bring a frenzy of activity.
Eager to accomplish a good chunk of business before the lockout, the Toronto Blue Jays were among the teams to act with urgency prior to the work stoppage. They watched reigning Cy Young winner Robbie Ray sign with the Seattle Mariners, and MVP finalist Marcus Semien join the Texas Rangers, but landed a new frontline starter in Kevin Gausman. Toronto also addressed its bullpen by adding veteran right-hander Yimi Garcia.
While the roster isn't finalized and more additions are still necessary to improve upon last season's 91-win campaign, the Blue Jays are in pretty good shape coming out of the freeze. Here's a breakdown of how the roster looks and the projected starters at each position.
This is unquestionably the part of the team that still needs the most work. Semien's departure opens an enormous hole at second base, and it's not realistic to expect the Blue Jays to simply replace him with MVP-level production at the position. Cavan Biggio is an option to slide back to second, which is where he plays his best defence.
Third base was a problem for the Blue Jays last season, and that hole has not yet been filled. There isn't a great internal solution on the big-league roster or in the high minors, so an external add is likely coming here, whether through free agency or trade.
At least the Blue Jays know they have star power at first base and shortstop with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, respectively.
Current projected starters: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (1B), Cavan Biggio (2B), Bo Bichette (SS), Santiago Espinal (3B)
Barring injury or trade, the Blue Jays' opening day outfield is set with Lourdes Gurriel Jr., George Springer and Teoscar Hernandez from left to right. Randal Grichuk can also slide in as he looks to rebound from an abysmal 2021 season.
Springer has battled injuries over his career, so a full year of production is hardly a given, but if the Blue Jays can get 130-150 games out of him it will be a huge boost to the lineup. The 32-year-old only managed to suit up in 78 contests last year.
Current projected starters: Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (LF), George Springer (CF), Teoscar Hernandez (RF)
The Blue Jays have a good situation behind the plate, with Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk and Reese McGuire all options for them at the big-league level. They also have one of the best prospects in the game knocking on the door in Gabriel Moreno.
With catcher being a position of strength, it seems reasonable for the Blue Jays to try and move one of them to patch up other areas of the roster. With Moreno looking like a future star, perhaps the Blue Jays dangle Kirk and his enticing bat in trade talks.
Kirk is projected for a 125 wRC+ (25 percent better than league average) and an .842 OPS in 2022. Considering the catcher spot is often an offensive black hole for teams, many would likely sign up for the 23-year-old's offensive potential.
Current projected starter: Danny Jansen
The starting rotation was the main focus early in the offseason, with Jose Berrios inking a seven-year extension and Gausman landing a five-year pact. Even with Ray and Steven Matz signing elsewhere, the Blue Jays are in good shape with Berrios, Gausman, Alek Manoah and Hyun Jin Ryu locks for starting gigs.
The fifth spot could go in a number of different directions. Toronto is probably hoping 2022 is the year hard-throwing prospect Nate Pearson puts it all together, but that's obviously no guarantee. Externally, the Oakland Athletics and Cincinnati Reds are among the teams with intriguing trade pieces. The Blue Jays could also elect to continue shopping in free agency and target an established veteran or a bounce-back candidate.
Toronto's starting staff doesn't currently feature a true ace, but it is still solid from one to four.
Current projected starting rotation: Jose Berrios, Kevin Gausman, Hyun Jin Ryu, Alek Manoah, Nate Pearson
A poor bullpen cost the Blue Jays numerous games in 2021, especially before the mid-season acquisitions of Trevor Richards and Adam Cimber. The 2022 group is already looking sturdy, but no part of a team is as volatile year-to-year as the relief corps.
Jordan Romano established himself as a strong closer last season, with Richards, Cimber and Tim Mayza proving capable in high-leverage spots. Garcia is another reliable option Charlie Montoyo can now lean on, while a return to form from Ryan Borucki and a clean bill of health from Julian Merryweather would go a long way. Ross Stripling appears destined for a long man role, but could slide into the rotation if injury strikes.
Another name to watch is David Phelps, whose minor-league deal in late November flew under the radar of the big-name signing frenzy. Phelps was very effective for the Blue Jays in 2021 before a lat injury ended his season in May.
The Blue Jays could trot out a decent bullpen if the season started tomorrow, but expect additional depth moves before spring training. Toronto has been reluctant to target big-ticket relievers, so a Kenley Jansen signing or blockbuster trade probably isn't in the cards.
Current projected bullpen: Jordan Romano, Tim Mayza, Adam Cimber, Trevor Richards, Yimi Garcia, Ryan Borucki, Ross Stripling, Julian Merryweather
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