The Blue Jays returned to the postseason, yet were eliminated after a devastating collapse in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series. Toronto may now face some tough decisions in how to best take the next step forward as a contender.
- Jose Berrios, SP: $116MM through 2028 (Berrios has opt-out clause after 2026 season)
- Kevin Gausman, SP: $91MM through 2026
- George Springer, OF: $90MM through 2026
- Yusei Kikuchi, P: $20MM through 2024
- Hyun Jin Ryu, SP: $20MM through 2023
- Matt Chapman, 3B: $12MM through 2023
- Yimi Garcia, RP: $6MM through 2023 (includes $1MM buyout of $5MM club option for 2024; option vests if Garcia pitches 49 innings or makes 49 appearances in 2023)
- Lourdes Gurriel Jr., OF: $5.4MM through 2023
- Whit Merrifield, 2B/OF: $7.25MM through 2023 (includes $500K buyout of $18MM mutual option)
- Jackie Bradley Jr. OF: $12MM mutual option for 2023 ($8MM buyout, paid by the Red Sox)
- Anthony Bass, RP: $3MM club option for 2023 ($1MM buyout)
Other Financial Obligations
Arbitration-Eligible Players (projected 2023 salaries via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)
- Teoscar Hernandez (5.097): $14.1MM
- Raimel Tapia (5.020): $5.2MM
- Adam Cimber (4.156): $3.2MM
- Trevor Richards (4.084): $1.5MM
- Bradley Zimmer (4.077): $1.3MM
- Danny Jansen (4.050): $3.7MM
- Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (3.157): $14.8MM
- Tim Mayza (3.156): $1.9MM
- Cavan Biggio (3.129): $2.6MM
- Trent Thornton (3.073): $1.1MM
- Bo Bichette (3.063): $6.1MM
- Jordan Romano (3.051): $4.4MM
- Santiago Espinal (2.149): $2.1MM
- Non-tender candidates: Zimmer, Tapia, Thornton
By the numbers, Toronto had one of the league’s best offenses, though the lineup was also prone to lengthy and almost team-wide cold streaks. While any team would be challenged by an in-form Luis Castillo, the Jays’ offensive inconsistency surfaced in Game 1 when they scattered only seven hits in a 4-0 shutout loss. In Game 2, an 8-1 lead after five innings seemed safe in the hands of a bullpen that had been pretty solid all season. However, “pretty solid” wasn’t good enough, as the Mariners roared back from the 8-1 deficit and then a 9-5 deficit to secure the 10-9 victory.
While two playoff games don’t erase the 92 wins of the regular season, the specific nature of the two WCS losses underlined weaknesses that lingered all year. And, with only a 35-39 mark against teams with a winning record, the Jays had a tendency to come up short against tougher competition during the regular season as well.
Some of those issues were solved when Charlie Montoyo was fired as the team’s manager on July 13, as the Blue Jays played better under interim manager John Schneider (46-28) than under Montoyo (46-42). This was enough to earn Schneider a three-year contract as the team’s proper manager, and now Schneider, GM Ross Atkins, team president Mark Shapiro, and the rest of the Jays brain trust has to identify and patch up these flaws in the would-be strengths of the lineup and bullpen.
In addition, there’s also the more immediate issue of a short-handed pitching staff. Kevin Gausman and Alek Manoah form a strong 1-2 punch atop the rotation, but then the questions start. Jose Berrios was very inconsistent in posting a 5.23 ERA (but also a more respectable 4.13 SIERA) over 172 innings, and since the righty is already locked up to a pricey extension signed last winter, the Jays can only hope that Berrios can get on track going forward. Yusei Kikuchi pitched so poorly that he lost his rotation spot, Mitch White wasn’t much better as Kikuchi’s replacement, and Hyun-Jin Ryu will be a later-season addition, at best, after undergoing Tommy John surgery last June.
There also isn’t any obvious and immediate help on the farm, given such uninspiring depth options as Casey Lawrence, Thomas Hatch, or Bowden Francis. Former top prospect Nate Pearson had another injury-plagued season and now looks ticketed for a multi-inning relief role rather than starting work. Current top pitching prospect Ricky Tiedemann has plenty of promise but only had a handful of Double-A outings, while Yosver Zulueta made it to Triple-A yet is still battling significant control issues. These promising youngsters may indeed play a role for the 2023 Jays, but not by Opening Day.
With all of this rotation turmoil, Ross Stripling was one of the team’s unsung heroes of 2022. After Ryu was injured, Stripling moved into the rotation for good, and he finished the season with a 3.01 ERA and an elite 3.7% walk rate over 134 1/3 innings. This excellent control helped Stripling offset a below-average 20.7% strikeout rate, and Stripling also got a bit of batted-ball luck in the form of a .269 BABIP.
Stripling is now a free agent and will be looking for his first multi-year payday as he enters his age-33 season. Though he has worked mostly as a swingman throughout his career and his overall results as a starter are somewhat hit-or-miss, Stripling’s success in 2022 and the league-wide need for pitching will earn him a good contract on the open market.
While Stripling’s price tag won’t be excessive, re-signing the right-hander might require the Blue Jays to outbid several other teams, and to make another notable investment in their pitching staff. It doesn’t help that Ryu ($20MM), Kikuchi ($10MM) and even Berrios ($15MM) are taking up such a sizeable chunk of the payroll, even though the Jays don’t know what they’ll really be getting from any of the trio in 2023.
If not Stripling, at least one more starter will have to be acquired, and perhaps two if the Blue Jays don’t want to risk giving a rotation spot to either of Kikuchi or White on a full-time basis. The Jays have had some notable successes (e.g. Robbie Ray, Steven Matz, Stripling) in acquiring starters during Atkins’ tenure, but with just as many misfires (Tanner Roark, Chase Anderson, and Kikuchi through one year), there is certainly risk involved in targeting another rebound candidate. But, given the money already committed to the rotation, shopping at the top of the market doesn’t seem likely.
Or, does it? The Jays have greatly increased their payroll as the team has become more competitive over the last two seasons, with a club record of roughly $171MM committed to the Opening Day roster. That record is already on its way to being broken in 2023, as projections from Roster Resource and Cot’s Baseball Contracts set the Jays’ payroll at around $192MM, with a Competitive Balance Tax number of approximately $217MM — within striking distance of the $232MM tax threshold.
That payroll number will likely drop at least a little due to some non-tender decisions. (Raimel Tapia, for instance, generated only 0.2 fWAR last season, so his $5.2MM projected arbitration salary is steep.) Since the Blue Jays have never really been close to the tax threshold before, it remains to be seen if ownership considers the CBT as an upper limit on payroll, or if they would be willing to spend beyond the threshold in the right circumstance.
Justin Verlander gave serious consideration to signing with Toronto last winter. Now that the ace is certain to test free agency again, would the Jays realistically be able to offer the type of deal (maybe a $40MM average annual value) it could take to pry Verlander away from the Astros or other suitors? If not Verlander, perhaps another top-of-the-rotation arm like Carlos Rodon could be feasible.
Moving away from the pitching side, could the Jays even get involved in the shortstop market? Given how public defensive metrics painted a grim picture of Bo Bichette’s glovework in 2022, the Blue Jays could shake up their lineup by moving Bichette to second base and signing one of Carlos Correa, Dansby Swanson, or longtime AL East foe Xander Bogaerts.
Since we don’t know how far ownership is willing to go with payroll, it may be prudent to not count on too many splashy signings. Also, it is possible the Jays might need some future payroll space earmarked for possible extensions for Manoah, Bichette, and/or Vladimir Guerrero Jr. If big free-agent moves might not be in the cards, the trade market could be the answer to the Blue Jays’ issues.
The farm system has lost some depth due to past trades, and Toronto will likely be hesitant to further deplete its prospect stock in any meaningful way (i.e., the likes of Tiedemann probably won’t be available). While Atkins has downplayed the idea of moving a player from the current core, that might be the most realistic way for the Blue Jays to make an impactful addition to the rotation, bullpen, or perhaps at another position in the lineup.
Between Alejandro Kirk, Danny Jansen, and star prospect Gabriel Moreno, the Blue Jays have perhaps the most catching depth of any team in baseball. This trio became even more valuable in 2022, after Kirk reached the All-Star team, Jansen posted an .855 OPS and 15 home runs over 248 plate appearances, and Moreno looked solid in his first 25 games in the big leagues. Moreno’s potential as a multi-position player could mean that the Jays don’t need to make a decision on their catching corps just yet, but trading a catcher has long seemed like Toronto’s most logical route to landing a big trade target.
Any number of clubs could use reliable catching help, but the Brewers, Diamondbacks, and Marlins stand out as teams who both need catching, and who have been frequent trade partners with Toronto in recent years. It seems less likely that Moreno would be the one dealt, since clubs rarely move prospects of his pedigree. But, moving Kirk or Jansen could land the Blue Jays a controllable starting pitcher, or an everyday second baseman, or perhaps an outfielder to play center field or one of the corners.
As for the players already in those positions, some plausible trade chips could be placed on the table. Both Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. will be free agents after the 2023 season, and the Jays may need to open up a corner outfield spot sooner rather than later for Springer, for both health and defensive reasons. Springer is probably still the best bet up the middle for 2023, though Whit Merrifield might get some time in center field as part of a super-sub role, or one of Jackie Bradley Jr. or Bradley Zimmer could be brought back as defensive depth.
If the Blue Jays do need to create some room in the budget for other additions, Hernandez’s projected $14.1MM arb salary could increase his chances of being traded. On the other hand, Hernandez has a lot more power and general consistency than Gurriel, so Hernandez might be the preferred option for a Jays team trying to win in 2023. Whatever a decision could be, it doesn’t seem like both Gurriel and Hernandez (or maybe even either) will receive contract extensions, especially not if the Jays are also trying to lock up Guerrero and company. If one or both of these outfielders aren’t in Toronto’s long-term plans, a trade this offseason might be the best answer.
The Jays might also look into dealing from their second base mix of Merrifield, Santiago Espinal, and Cavan Biggio, if they plan to deploy Merrifield in more of an everyday role. The 2022 campaign was the worst statistical season of Merrifield’s career, though he hit significantly better after the Blue Jays acquired him from the Royals. Depending on how much Toronto intends to use Merrifield in the outfield as well as second base, the Jays could dangle Espinal or Biggio in trade talks, and give rookie Otto Lopez a longer look in the infield picture.
As noted, Toronto’s lineup was quite potent last season, so there is a limit to how much of a shake-up the front office needs (or wants) to make. But, moving at least one regular create rooms for the Jays to diversify their lineup, whether that’s adding speed, more athleticism, or one or two left-handed everyday bats to a very right-handed batting order. The 2022 Jays had a regular lineup that was almost entirely right-handed and a bench that was almost entirely left-handed, with lefty swingers like Tapia, Biggio, Bradley, and Zimmer providing subpar offense.
The bullpen also tilted to the right-hand side, as Tim Mayza was the only southpaw who received significant innings last year. Adding another reliable left-hander is one obvious need, and Atkins has noted that the Jays will also look to add another power arm to a bullpen that was middle-of-the-pack in strikeouts. Anthony Bass and David Phelps both pitched well last year, so the Blue Jays are likely to exercise their club option on Bass and at least look into re-signing Phelps in free agency.
The front office hasn’t traditionally invested big dollars into the relief market, though they have been aggressive in adding new arms via multiple trades over the last few seasons. It’s probably safe to expect that same strategy this winter, though the Jays will have more difficulty in picking and choosing which relievers to keep from what was (the playoff meltdown notwithstanding) a decent bullpen.
While just getting back to the postseason was no small feat in the wake of the Jays’ near-miss in 2021, their playoff trips in both 2020 and 2022 have yet to yield a single win, let alone a series victory. The 2022 campaign revealed that the Blue Jays have to find ways to improve — both to just keep up with the ever-competitive AL East, and to establish themselves as a true threat in October.