By Cole Parkinson
After a long 162 game MLB season, the Toronto Blue Jays fell just short of extending their season to 163 games and possibly playing in the AL Wild Card game.
Instead, the Boston Red Sox beat out the New York Yankees as they continue to play in the AL Division Series.
But, in the final weekend of the season, the Blue Jays did exactly what they were supposed to do by sweeping the lowly Baltimore Orioles.
On the final day, they needed either a New York or Boston loss, but unfortunately, each team won their 162nd game of the season.
So, now with playoff baseball on TV, and the Blue Jays back home for the offseason, there are plenty of questions facing this roster.
Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette will once again be two core pieces for the team, and they’re only going to get better.
Vlad is arguably the AL MVP this season, and if Shohei Ohtani stumbled at all this season, he would be a unanimous winner.
But, looking at his numbers, Vlad did everything he could to push this team into the playoffs.
In 604 at-bats, Vladdy had 188 hits (fifth in the league), 48 home runs (tied for first), 111 RBI (tied for sixth), an on-base percentage of .401 (third), a slugging percentage of .601 (third), which was good for an on-base plus slugging of 1.002 (second) and a 6.8 Wins Above Replacement (sixth).
He also led the league in total bases with 363 and with runs created with 144. And for a slugger, Vlad has a great eye at the dish as he accumulated 86 walks this season.
Those are incredible numbers for any player, and while the Jays have already moved him to first base after projecting him as their everyday third baseman, I don’t see that as a negative. He’s already a really good first baseman and he will get better with more reps. At first base, he had a .993 fielding percentage with only eight errors on 1,080 chances.
Bichette meanwhile struggled defensively, but considering he’s in a much more demanding defensive position, I really don’t see it as an issue. I can’t remember the last time a young shortstop came into the league and was immediately a strong hitter and bringing diamond defence — it’s usually one or the other.
Bichette had a great offensive year — 191 hits, 29 home runs, a .298 batting average, 102 RBI, 25 steals, an OPS of .828, and a 6.0 WAR.
His double-play partner at second base, Marcus Semien, was spectacular in a show-me type deal.
After a down year last year in the shortened season, Semien hit a career-high 45 home runs and provided a 7.1 WAR.
As a free agent, he’s likely to command a decent raise this offseason with a number of years on the deal.
The Jays have to be one of the top contenders for his services this coming season.
I know the Blue Jays have let tons of free agents walk in the previous years, but this is a contending team and letting Semien walk does not make much sense unless he doesn’t want to come back.
Rounding out the offence, Teoscar Hernandez built on his strong 2020 and looked just as good this year. His .296 batting average and .346 OBP were both career highs, and his power continued to show out as he had 32 home runs, 116 RBI and 29 doubles.
George Springer was injured a lot this season and was either incredibly hot or incredibly cold when in the lineup. If the Jays get a full season of Springer next season, that will be a major addition to the lineup.
Looking at holes, if Semien departs, I expect the Jays to put Cavan Biggio back at second. He never looked comfortable at third base and while he’s not exactly a gold glove candidate at second, he’s much better there than at the hot corner.
Danny Jansen and Alejandro Kirk look to be back as the one-two behind the plate, though Gabriel Moreno is lurking. If scouts are to be believed, Moreno is the catcher of the future, and his minor league numbers look to back that up — though the minor leagues are not the MLB and that jump to the best baseball league in the world is a big step.
So, one of either second or third base will need an upgrade. The dream for third base would be Cleveland’s Jose Ramirez, which according to reporters, the team looked into him during this past trade deadline. A decent package would need to be put together, but the Jays have tons of minor league talent.
The outfield looks set with Springer, Hernandez, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Offensively, even without Semien returning, the team should be a juggernaut.
And speaking of UFAs, the Blue Jays also have to resign Robbie Ray, who looks to be the AL Cy Young winner this season.
Pitching will once again be a concern this offseason, and the possibility of losing Ray has to be one of the biggest priorities for the management staff. In 32 starts, Ray pitched 193.1 innings, had 248 strikeouts (first), a walks and hits per innings pitched of 1.045 (eighth), an earned run average of 2.84 (seventh), and a 6.7 WAR.
With Hyun Jin Ryu signed, Jose Berrios and Alek Manoah still under team control, the pitching staff would certainly look much better with Ray returning. If Nate Pearson can finally transition into the front five, he could also provide plenty of optimism for the staff.
The team can also look at re-signing Steven Matz, who had a pretty good season in Toronto.
There’s also plenty of free agents that could be signed for the starting rotation including Max Scherzer, Kevin Gausman, Carlos Rodon, Marcus Stroman, and a variety of others.
The bullpen will also look very different next season, as is per tradition for the vast majority of MLB teams.
Jordan Romano, Tim Mayza, Julian Merryweather, Adam Cimber (arbitration), and Trevor Richards (arbitration) look to be locks heading into next season.
But, the front office will no doubt be bringing in a handful of veteran arms from free agency to shore up the pen.
The team will have plenty to review this coming offseason and hopefully this time next year, we’re back watching the Jays in the postseason.
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