2023 MLB Season Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

Image: Chris O’Meara / Associated Press

2022 Record: 92-70 (.568 win%, 2nd in AL East)

2023 Payroll: $188,895,270 (11th)

Projected 2023 Lineup:

  1. RF George Springer, .263 AVG/.346 OBP/.339 SLG, 3.1 fWAR
  2. SS Bo Bichette, .284 AVG/.329 OBP/.486 SLG, 4.7 fWAR
  3. 1B Vladimir Guerrero Jr. .298 AVG/.373 OBP/.569 SLG, 5.8 fWAR
  4. C Alejandro Kirk, .282 AVG/.363 OBP/.469 SLG, 2.9 fWAR 
  5. LF Daulton Varsho, .237 AVG/.310 OBP/.450 SLG, 2.2 fWAR 
  6. 3B Matt Chapman, .225 AVG/.310 OBP/.430 SLG, 2.8 fWAR 
  7. DH Brandon Belt, .222 AVG/.328 OBP/.416 SLG, 1.1 fWAR 
  8. 2B Whit Merrifield, .265 AVG/.310 OBP/.395 SLG, 2.6 fWAR 
  9. CF Kevin Kiermaier, .244 AVG/.378 OBP/.375 SLG, 2.9 fWAR 

Projected 2023 Rotation:

  1. Alex Manoah (RHP), 188.0 IP/3.65 ERA/1.15 WHIP, 3.1 fWAR
  2. Kevin Gausman (RHP), 172.0 IP/2.98 ERA/1.21 WHIP, 2.8 fWAR
  3. Jose Berrios (RHP), 165.0 IP/4.75 ERA/1.32 WHIP, 2.1 fWAR
  4. Chris Bassit (RHP), 186.0 IP/3.76 ERA/1.26 WHIP, 2.5 fWAR
  5. Yusei Kikuchi (LHP), 152.0 IP/4.17 ERA/1.31 WHIP, 1.7 fWAR

Projected 2023 Top 3 Relievers:

  1. Jordan Romano (RHP), 66.0 IP/3.26 ERA/1.16 WHIP, 0.8 fWAR
  2. Erik Swanson (RHP), 65.0 IP/3.67 ERA/1.21 WHIP, 0.6 fWAR
  3. Yimi Garcia (RHP), 64.0 IP/3.95 ERA/1.24 WHIP, 0.4 fWAR

Offseason Recap:

Just like the 2021 Offseason, the winter of 2022 featured more big moves for the Toronto Blue Jays as they continued work towards building a team that could compete with the Yankees and the rest of the American League. The Jays started by trading outfielder Teoscar Hernandez to the Mariners for pitchers Adam Macko and Erik Swanson. Hernandez, who turned 30 one month ago, finished his career in Toronto posting a .283/.333/.519 batting line with 73 home runs and 71 doubles through 1,337 plate appearances over the past three seasons. In 2022, Statcast ranked him in the 94th percentile or better in hard-hit rate, average exit velocity, max exit velocity, barrel rate, and expected slugging percentage. 

Many questioned the move by Toronto to depart from such a powerful hitter. Hernandez was set to be a free agent next winter and was expected to ask for a big contract. Also, the Blue Jays had other players in mind during the offseason, and they wanted to clear money for these transactions. 

In Seattle last season, Swanson pitched in 57 games, posting a 1.68 ERA with 3 saves and 70 Ks. He will be a vital piece in the back half of the bullpen, primarily as Jordan Romano’s set-up man. Macko is an exciting addition for Toronto, as the 21-year-old left-handed pitcher is ranked as the 9th best prospect in the Blue Jays organization according to MLB.com.  

Despite a shoulder issue and inconsistent command at times, Macko has a plus-plus curveball (70/80 according to Baseball America), a 98 mph fastball, and an above-average slider to give him a three-pitch threat. In all, this trade is about bolstering the bullpen and grabbing a piece for the future, while departing for the player that was going to be too expensive in a year.

The Jays also improved their starting rotation, adding RHP Chris Bassitt to a three-year, $63 million contract. Bassitt had a very productive season for the Mets last season, putting up a 3.42 ERA in 181.2 IP, adding 167 K and a 3.2 fWAR. Bassitt will easily move into the three-hole of the rotation, and should provide solid depth at the back half of the rotation. 

The Jays gave extra depth to their offense, too. They signed outfielder Kevin Kiermaier to a one-year, $9 million contract, replacing Hernandez in the lineup. They then signed first baseman Brandon Belt to a one-year, $9.3 million contract, who is expected to be their DH at the start of the season. 

Toronto also acquired power-hitting catcher/outfielder Daulton Varsho from the Diamondbacks in exchange for catcher Gabriel Moreno and outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. The Blue Jays even locked up shortstop Bo Bichette to a three-year, $33.6 million extension. The Jays are showing they are not afraid to spend and hope the offseason moves translate to the field.

2023 Season Preview:

The roster on paper appeared to be enough last season for the Blue Jays to win the division and at least one playoff game. Neither of those scenarios happened, however. The acquisitions of Berrios and Kikuchi last offseason did not pay off in major ways, as both struggled mightily on the mound. Zach Logue, Kirby Snead, and Kevin Smith also didn’t play well in 2022, and Gunnar Hoglund couldn’t stay healthy. The Jays needed a revamp in all areas of the field to contend once again. 

The starting rotation addition of Chris Bassitt will allow for Kikuchi to lot into the fifth spot in the rotation, giving the job to the better player. Also, with the addition of Bassitt, it will force the other pitchers in the rotation to perform at a high level. 

Berrios is on a big contract, but he needs to step up in a big way this year. Toronto gave up Simeon Woods-Richardson and Austin Martin – both of whom were top ten prospects in their farm system. The payoff hasn’t been present up to this point, so 2023 is a big year for Berrios. 

Alek Manoah is coming off of his best season, pitching to a 2.24 ERA in 194.2 IP. He started towards the bottom of the rotation, but quickly rose to the top, even jumping big 2021 Offseason free-agent acquisition, Kevin Gausman. While Manoah had a stellar year last season, the expectations are very high for him to repeat back-to-back. While Manoah will still have the largest impact on the rotation this season (barring injuries), his production could slip a little.

Kevin Gausman dominated last year, too. The big offseason addition continued to mow down batters at a consistently high rate. Nothing has changed with Gausman, and he will be back to his regular role this season. 

The pitching is mostly the same – it’s the everyday players where the shakeup occurred this offseason. 

With the departure of Hernandez and the addition of Kiermaier, the outfield will look different this season for Toronto. George Springer will move from center to right field, Kiermaier will slide into center field, and Dalton Varsho will play left field. Kiermaier is known for his defense, and is a contact first hitter. Varsho is the opposite. He can play many positions at an average level, but he has a lot of power in his bat. Springer can do both. The defense is expected to increase all around in the outfield, and the offense will come in waves. 

Despite the change in the outfield, the infield will stay mostly the same. The trio of Vlad Jr., Bichette, and Chapman will man the infield, as well as the bulk of the hitting lineup. Brandon Belt will slide into the DH spot, but he can also play first base when Guerrero wants a day off. For a team that was second in runs scored last season, the offensive production is not going to change much into this season. 

The team all around is very intriguing. It is filled with big names, a mix of older and younger players, and every player has a unique skill set they can bring to the table. The trick will be if the team can work well together. Some players hit for power, others hit for contact, and a few look for walks. It will be important to build off of these differences to create a successful lineup. 

This team has the potential to beat anyone in the league. But, it will have to go through the same obstacle of The Yankees to get to the top. They have a chance, but it will be an uphill climb. 

Player (target) to Watch #1: SP Chris Bassitt

Bassitt could be a number two starter for most teams, but he chose to come to Toronto where he would be the third or fourth guy in the rotation. Part of this is because he is turning 34 and threw 157 innings last season, which was the most in his career. It will be fascinating to see how Bassitt’s presence impacts the rest of the starting rotation. 

Jose Berrios let anyone hit off of him last season, and despite signing a seven-year extension a season before, he is now at risk of falling down the rotation. Bassitt was very consistent for the Mets, especially when DeGrom and Scherzer were out with injuries last season. 

Bassitt struggled in the playoffs against the Padres, so some question how he plays under pressure. Nonetheless, he isn’t expected to be a number 1 guy this season. Toronto has a top-half pitcher manning the bottom half of the rotation. He will draw favorable matchups and should pick up key wins this season for the Jays.

Player to Watch #2: OF Daulton Varsho

Varsho hit 27 home runs last season for the Diamondbacks, but he struck out 147 times, both doubling his numbers from the season before. He can play anywhere in the outfield and he can man the backstop, too, but Varsho will have big expectations to live up to filling in for Teoscar Hernandez in left field. 

Varsho is more than capable of hitting the long ball, but the microscope will be on him if he isn’t consistently hitting for power. Fangraphs has Varsho hitting .237 this season, but he is intriguing because he can change the game with one swing. If Varsho gets hot, the Toronto lineup looks unstoppable with Vlad, Bichette, and Chapman around him. If he goes cold, it could be a long season of stranding runners on base and heartbreaking ends to innings. 

Player to Watch #3: RP Erik Swanson

In return for Teoscar Hernandez, Toronto received Erik Swanson. In Seattle last season, Swanson pitched in 57 games, posting a 1.68 ERA with 3 saves and 70 Ks. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that Swanson is known to be a heavy fly-ball pitcher. T-Mobile Park in Seattle tends to be very pitcher-friendly – keeping the ball in the stadium more often than in other stadiums. Rogers Centre is a different story. 

Many are concerned that Swanson could be in for a rude awakening if batters can get ahold of his pitches. Last season, Swanson ranked at the top of the league in average exit velocity (98th percentile), hard-hit rate (96th), expected ERA and wOBA (97th), expected slugging percentage (94th), overall strikeout rate (96th) and opponents’ chase rate on pitches off the plate (93rd). 

If Swanson wants to be the guy he was for The Mariners, he must continue to have strong command. Nonetheless, Swanson proved to be very effective for Seattle and is expected to be the primary set-up man for Jordan Romano this season. 

Record Prediction: 89-73 (2nd in AL East, 1st in Wild Card)

The Blue Jays surpassed 90 wins in 2022, it boasted one of the AL’s best lineups, their 116 OPS+ led the league, and their 4.78 runs/game ranked second only to the Yankees. They even had two ace starting pitchers and a very solid bullpen. Nonetheless, Toronto still fell 7 games short of the division to the Yankees, and they lost two straight games to the Mariners in the AL Wild Card round to end the season abruptly. 

Until The Jays can show the world they can compete in the AL East until the end of the season, it is hard to trust that they will finish first in the division. With the loss of Teoscar Hernandez, the production will need to be picked up by a plethora of players. Kiermaier and Belt have been inconsistent at times, and they are getting older. Varsho is a big play waiting to happen, but he gets streaky too. 

Toronto will still flirt with 90 wins this season, but it hasn’t proven it can go the extra mile to beat New York and host a divisional-round playoff game.

Categories: 2023 Season Preview, Articles, Season Analysis

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