Toronto’s top decision-makers talked with reporters to discuss a number of ways they hope to improve upon a 91-win club that came incredibly close to a playoff berth. While a good deal of attention has been paid to who the Blue Jays stand to lose this offseason, executives are rightfully pointing to improvement from within as a reason for optimism.
Chief among those internal improvements is getting a healthy season out of highly touted right-hander Nate Pearson. First he’ll have to recover from offseason surgery to repair a sports hernia that plagued the 25-year-old’s most recent season. Fortunately, GM Ross Atkins expects the surgery to be a blip in the pitcher’s offseason routine and won’t impact his Spring Training availability, stating “He should be fine — he should not be disrupted at all” (per Sportsnet’s Arden Zwelling).
Anything resembling a full return to health for Pearson will surely be a welcome sight for Toronto brass, as the talented pitcher has tossed just 33 innings at the highest level owing to groin and elbow injuries. These recurring maladies very well may have contributed to what’s been a rough Major League tenure so far, as evidenced by a career 5.18 ERA and bloated 16.5% walk rate. Toronto will accordingly proceed with some caution, though Atkins reiterated his hope for Pearson to build his strength back up as a starter and provide “the impact of someone that can punch people out and pitch deeper and deeper into games.”
Other improvements, Atkins notes (via Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi), can come in the form of simply giving left-handed batters more playing time. For context, Toronto lefties stepped to the plate less than any other team last season, combining to produce a .653 OPS that ranked 28th in baseball. While both Atkins and president Mark Shapiro were tight-lipped about players who could help strike a better lineup balance, the latter did speak to the ability of trades that could “take an addition by subtraction.”
Speculatively, any left-handed addition could come from the trade of oft-rumored trade candidates Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Randal Grichuk, both of whom hit from the right side. While Grichuk’s underperformance this past season (.241/.281/.423 through 149 games) — to say nothing of the remaining two years and $20.7MM on his contract — hampers his value, Davidi does note the outfielder drew interest at the most recent trade deadline. Achieving more left-handed opportunities in the lineup might not stem directly from a return in any hypothetical Grichuk trade but may be done so by simply freeing up the at-bats of a previously entrenched right-handed hitter.
The Jays also boast an enviable crop of Major League-ready catchers in their system and could subtract from this group to achieve Shapiro’s aforementioned addition. Danny Jansen and Alejandro Kirk provided strong offensive production from the position last year, posting nearly identical OPS marks of .772 and .764 from the right side. But either could prove expendable given the similar production of the other.
Further crowding the catching picture is the presence of prospect Gabriel Moreno, who had a huge showing in limited action at Double-A this year and continues to mash in the Arizona Fall League. Then again, farm director Gil Kim notes Moreno has done “a lot of work at third base at the Player Development Complex. While that’s not his primary position, it is an option that maybe down the road will be in play. Right now we’re focused on catching but as we’ve seen, maximizing versatility is huge.” With Moreno also batting from the right side, it’s possible his presence affects the status of other righties around the infield, like breakout infielder Santiago Espinal. Whatever transactions are made to address the Jays’ perceived lack of lineup balance and desire to build on last year’s record, the front office surely has room to maneuver with both Major League trade chips and payroll space at their disposal.