MLB Team Roundup: Toronto Blue Jays
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TORONTO BLUE JAYS
2021 Record: 91-71
Fourth Place, AL East
Team ERA: 3.91 (10th in MLB)
Team OPS: .797 (1st in MLB)
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Despite playing in the absolutely loaded AL East, the Blue Jays were able to finish 20 games above .500 while showing off a core that suggests even bigger things are on the way. After two seasons that flashed potential but didn’t overwhelm in terms of results, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. broke out and then some with a .311/.401/.601 slash, 48 homers and 111 RBI as a 22-year-old. Marcus Semien was signed to a one-year deal in the offseason and played at an MVP-level with 45 homers, 15 steals and an OPS of .873. His double-play partner -- Bo Bichette -- hit .298 while driving in 102 runs with 29 homers and 15 thefts. Add in an impressive full season from Teoscar Hernandez and half of a year (more on that later) of George Springer, and this was one of the best lineups in baseball. And the pitching wasn’t too shabby, either. Robbie Ray may win a Cy Young after fanning 246 hitters with a 2.84 ERA. Alek Manoah was one of the better rookie hurlers with a 3.22 mark after coming up from Triple-A. Jose Berrios impressed after a deadline deal with the Twins, Jordan Romano was a strong late-inning stopper as well with a 2.14 ERA, 23 saves and 85 strikeouts in 63 frames
WHAT WENT WRONG
The main thing that went wrong for the Blue Jays was geography; if they played in any other division outside of the NL West it’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t have made the postseason. They didn’t, however, so they didn’t. That being said, there were some issues for Toronto that kept them from playing deep into October despite their unfortunate divisional placement. Hyun-Jin Ryu won 14 games, but also posted a 4.37 ERA and was nowhere near the top-of-the-rotation starter he was expected to be. Romano was excellent, but the bridges to get to Romano weren’t as good, and more than a few late leads were blown. But arguably the biggest issue was something that couldn’t be controlled; the lack of a healthy season from Springer. He was limited to just 79 games, and while you cannot guarantee that he’d post a .907 over a full campaign, this was a team that finished just a game out of a playoff spot. Not hard to imagine he would have gotten them there if not for the quad and oblique injuries.
** Cavan Biggio was also limited by injuries, but wasn’t nearly as good as Springer in his half season with a .224/.322/.356 slash in 250 at-bats. The 26-year-old was always unlikely to hit for a high average because of his swing-and-miss, but he didn’t provide the steals or power that made him an intriguing fantasy option coming into the year. It’s still possible Biggio is a 20/20 player, but it’s hard to imagine he’ll be more than a (very) late-round pick to start 2022.
** Nate Pearson dealt with injuries -- again -- and saw his stock drop after a so-so season when he was healthy on the bump for Triple-A Buffalo. He got a chance to be a part of the Toronto bullpen in September, and he struck out 19 hitters in 11 2/3 innings with a 3.09 ERA while showing off the swing-and-miss stuff that made him among the best pitching prospects in baseball. The question going forward is what Pearson’s role will be, but he’s a very intriguing arm to keep an eye on for 2022 and beyond.
** There were three catchers that played in 70 games for the Blue Jays in 2021: Reese McGuire, Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen. None were particularly great, but Kirk, 22, showed some flashes with the bat and finished the year with an OPS+ of 107. He likely will begin the season as the starting backstop, but keep in mind that Toronto has one of the best catching prospects in baseball with Gabriel Moreno. If/when Moreno gets his shot, he’ll be worth adding.
** Romano was very good in 2021, but it’s worth pointing out that he didn’t begin the year in the closing role -- at least not an everyday one. Julian Merryweather was getting save chances to start the season, but then missed around five months with an oblique strain. It seems likely that Romano begins the season as the stopper, but Merryweather is a name to keep an eye on; he really impressed before the injury.
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** Hernandez was very good in 2020 (.919 OPS, 16 homers in the truncated campaign), but fantasy managers didn’t seem to believe in what they saw, as his average draft selection in Yahoo Leagues was 86.4. He rewarded those who did draft early -- and those who didn’t, of course -- with a .296/.346/.524 slash along with 32 homers, 116 RBI and 12 steals. In our recent Slow Mock Draft, Hernandez was drafted near the bottom of the fourth round, and that seems about right. Don’t make the same mistake managers made to begin last draft season.
** Both Vladdy Jr. and Semien played at a first-round level last year. Can managers expect that kind of production again in 2022? It’s a lot easier to believe in Guerrero because of his prospect pedigree and because he made hard contact at a spectacular level for any age. Semien, however, is a tougher call. I drafted him a couple picks above Hernandez in that fourth round, and while that seems low, it’s justifiable because he’s no lock to hit for average, and we don’t know where he’ll play in 2022. Guerrero is a lock to go in the first round in all eligible formats. Semien will be one of the most volatile-drafted players next spring, it looks like.
Team Needs: The needs for this team will depend on if they can bring back either/both Semien and Ray. Even if both are back, Toronto is likely going to want to add a starting pitcher and either a third or second baseman, and a reliever or two will likely be brought in. Even if Ray and Semien depart and they bring in decent replacements, this looks like one of the best rosters in baseball on paper; one that could compete not just for the AL East, but for a World Series title.