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Team Roundup: Toronto Blue Jays

Alek Manoah

Alek Manoah

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

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Toronto Blue Jays

2022 Record: 92-70

Second Place, AL East

Team ERA: 3.87 (15th in MLB)

Team OPS: .760 (3rd in MLB)

What Went Right

Coming into the 2022 season, the Blue Jays were fully expected to make the playoffs and compete for the title in the American League East. Their win total according to Vegas was 92.5 coming into the year and lo and behold – they won 92 games. So what went right to get them there? Alek Manoah ascended to become the true ace atop their rotation – going 16-7 with a 2.24 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 180/51 K/BB ratio over 196 2/3 innings. Kevin Gausman pitched as expected in his first season with the club – replacing the level of production that Robbie Ray provided during the 2021 campaign. Ross Stripling was extremely valuable over 32 appearances (24 starts), helping to pick up the slack of other rotation members that struggled. Jordan Romano performed as one of the top closers in all of baseball – locking down 36 saves with stellar ratios and ample strikeouts. While their offense had the third highest OPS in the league – many of the stars in the lineup actually underperformed relative to expectations and their stratospheric levels from 2021. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. led the club in home runs (32) and RBI (97), but both of those marks represented a major decline from this 2021 output. The club had plenty of power, as Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Matt Chapman, George Springer and Teoscar Hernández each blasted 24 or more home runs. Alejandro Kirk developed into a valuable everyday contributor – splitting his time between catcher and designated hitter – while slashing .285/.372/.415 with 14 homers and 63 RBI in 541 plate appearances.

What Went Wrong

It’s not always about how you start, it’s how you finish. Regardless of how their regular season turned out, the Blue Jays have to be disappointed after getting swept by the Mariners in their Wild Card Series. Manager Charlie Montoyo got the ax 88 games into the season (46-42), turning over the reins to interim skipper John Schneider. Their offense fell completely flat as they were shut out in the opener and then they dropped an absolutely heartbreaking 10-9 decision in Game 2 after blowing an 8-1 lead. A lot of things went right at the top of the Jays rotation during the regular season, but that wasn’t the case for José Berríos. The right-hander posted a miserable 5.23 ERA and 1.42 WHIP over 172 depressing innings. Yusei Kikuchi was even worse – carrying a 5.19 ERA and 1.50 WHIP through 100 2/3 frames. Hyun-Jin Ryu made just six unimpressive starts before undergoing Tommy John surgery. Matt Chapman provided some nice punch to the offense at third base, but did so while hitting just .229/.324/.433. Cavan Biggio continued to be baffled by big league pitching, slashing a woeful .202/.318/.350 with an 85/38 K/BB ratio over 303 plate appearances. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. hit an impressive .291 on the season, but he saw his power production completely fall off a cliff with just five long balls after blasting 21 homers the previous season.

Fantasy Slants

** What are fantasy managers to expect from Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in 2023? Vladito fulfilled his long-expected promise and was a fantasy superstar during the 2021 season – slashing .311/.401/.601 with a league-leading 123 runs scored and 48 homers while driving in 111 runs. That propelled him into the first half of the first round in many fantasy drafts. That production fell off considerably in 2022 though – and while he was still very good – it wasn’t worthy of a first round selection, even with the eight stolen bases that he chipped in. To this point in early fantasy drafts for 2023, the 23-year-old slugger holds an average draft position of pick 14 overall – making him a fringe first-rounder in most formats. If buying in at that price, you’re hoping for something much closer to his 2021 form.

** Like Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette had a good season overall – but still wound up being a disappointment relative to expectations. Still, he slashed a healthy .290/.333/.469 with 24 homers, 93 RBI, 91 runs scored and 13 stolen bases. He struggled much for the first half of the season before hitting a robust .337/.378/.543 with 10 homers, 43 RBI and six swipes over 67 games after the All-Star break. He’s going at a bit of a discount – relative to the top half of the first round where he sat heading into the 2022 season – currently sitting at pick 13 overall.

** Jordan Romano had another unbelievable season for the Jays. He has now established himself as a truly elite closer option – and will certainly be drafted as such heading into 2023. In early drafts, he’s currently going as the fifth closer off the board (behind only Edwin Diaz, Emmanuel Clase, Liam Hendriks and Josh Hader) – just inside the top 50 players overall.

** George Springer had another solid all-around season in 2022 – hitting .267/.342/.472 with 25 homers, 76 RBI and 14 stolen bases over 133 games in his second season with the Blue Jays. Injuries are always a part of the equation with the dynamic center fielder, but if he manages to stay healthy for the duration of the 2023 season, he looks like a tremendous discount going just inside the top 90 players overall in early 2023 drafts.

** Alek Manoah broke out in a big way during the 2022 season – making the leap to become the ace of the Blue Jays staff. Is he an ace in the fantasy game though? The 24-year-old hurler won 16 ballgames and posted elite ratios, but the strikeouts were a bit light for a front-end fantasy starter at just 8.2 K/9. He also saw a big innings jump, going from 129 2/3 innings during the 2021 season up to 196 2/3 in 2022. He’s being drafted as a top-20 starting pitcher in early 2023 drafts – going just outside the top 60 players overall. That price seems more than fair and still leaves plenty of room for profit in 2023.

** One of the most interesting names to watch on the Jays heading into 2023 fantasy drafts is Whit Merrifield. A consensus top-40 pick overall heading into the 2022 season, the 33-year-old speedster disappointed – hitting.250/.298/.375 with 11 homers, 58 RBI and just 16 stolen bases. In 44 games after joining the Jays he hit .281/.323/.446 with five homers and 16 RBI – but did so while stealing just one base in three attempts. He has seen his draft stock fall off considerably – all the way down to pick 175 on average. He still has eligibility at both second base and in the outfield and he could be an intriguing bounce-back candidate.

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Key Free Agents

Ross Stripling, David Phelps, Jackie Bradley Jr.

Team Needs

The team’s primary focus this winter should absolutely be upgrading their starting rotation. They possess a terrific top two in Manoah and Gausman – but after that things get dicey quick. José Berríos is already locked up – so they’ll need to hope that he rebounds in a big way – but there are still two other spots to fill out. One helpful solution could be to bring back Ross Stripling who was an unsung hero for the Jays throughout the 2022 campaign. The Jays could also look for pitching help on the trade market. They have a surplus of talent behind the dish with Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk and Gabriel Moreno all ready for regular big league action. There have already been rumblings that the Jays have been shopping their catchers around and it would be shocking if they began the 2023 campaign with all three of them still on the roster. While their offense appears to be set for the most part, the Jays could look to upgrade at second base. Given the strength of the overall free agent market at the shortstop position, they could possibly consider shifting Bo Bichette over to second if they wanted to make a major splash with one of the top shortstops on the open market. Another option would be to let Whit Merrifield see everyday action at second base while the Jays look to add offense either in the outfield or with a full-time designated hitter.