AL EastAnalysis

Toronto Blue Jays Season Preview

The youth movement begins in earnest this year in Toronto! The Blue Jays entered last season missing the bulk of their previous opening day lineup; this includes former MVP Josh Donaldson and former all-star catcher Russell Martin, as well as key rotation pieces Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ. The overall expectation of the Jays was another year of rebuilding, and the win total to stay about the same as 2018’s; 76. However, around midseason the Jays pulled off a complete overhaul, letting go of young talent such as Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, as well as starters Freddy Galvis and Eric Sogard. These moves were a motion to create some playing time for the top prospects in the Jays’ system towards the end of the season. First, the top prospect in all of MLB, Vlad Guerrero Jr., made his much anticipated debut. While he wasn’t the best player in baseball (yet), when healthy he posted a solid .272/.339/.433 slash line with 15 home runs, 26 doubles, 52 runs, and 69 RBIs, good for 2.1 bWar. Also making their MLB debuts were Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette, who became the first MLB player to notch ten extra base hits in his first nine games and 13 in his first 10. This led to the Jays leading baseball in rookie hits, doubles, home runs, RBIs, and walks. As the young core grows, expect there to be some bumps along the road. The Blue Jays are probably not looking at playoff contention this year, but they will be fun to watch as the kiddies grow up. 

Coming into this season, the Blue Jays project to finish fourth in the daunting AL East. As long as the Baltimore Orioles exist, however, the Jays won’t come all that close to last place. Then again, anything is possible with the 60 game format for this season. Heck, the Jays don’t even know where they’ll be playing their home games! First, the Canadian government refused to permit the Jays to play home games in Toronto. The Jays quickly pivoted to and got permission from the MLB to play their home games at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, a seemingly great plan. However, the Pennsylvania Department of Health quashed that plan as well. Currently, nobody knows where the Blue Jays will call home this year. The best guess is the Triple-A affiliate Buffalo Bisons home stadium, Sahlen Field, however the Jays hope to secure an MLB park as Sahlen Field’s lighting does not meet MLB standards. They’ve also recently looked into sharing Oriole Park at Camden Yards with the Orioles, so who knows?!

*Update* The Blue Jays have reportedly agreed to spend their 2020 home games in Buffalo as of the morning of 7/24.

With all this in mind, the Jays will play the 2020 season out in a weird situation, playing home games far from home and with a whole new cast of faces, significantly different from last opening day. 

Projections:

Pecota: 

  • Projected record: 28-32
  • Fourth in AL East
  • Projected runs scored: 289
  • Projected runs allowed: 300
  • Chance of making playoffs: 8.6%
  • Chance of winning division: 3.0%

Fangraphs:

  • Projected record: 27-33
  • Fourth in AL East
  • Projected runs scored: 284
  • Projected runs allowed: 313
  • Chance of making playoffs: 8.8%
  • Chance of winning division: 2.8%

Offseason changes:

Additions: 

  • Hyun-Jin Ryu, SP: Four years, $80MM
  • Tanner Roark, SP: Two years, $24MM
  • Travis Shaw, IF: One year, $4MM
  • Rafael Dolis, RP: One year, $1MM ($1.5MM club option for 2021)
  • Shun Yamaguchi, SP/RP: Two years, $6.35MM
  • Traded for SP Chase Anderson
  • Joe Panik, 2B: One year, $2.85MM
  • Claimed RP Anthony Bass off waivers

Departures:

  • Justin Smoak
  • Ryan Tepera
  • Luke Maile
  • Richard Urena
  • Derek Law

Predicted Starting Lineup:

  1. Bo Bichette (SS)
  2. Cavan Biggio (2B)
  3. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (LF)
  4. Vlad Guerrero Jr. (1B)
  5. Travis Shaw (3B)
  6. Randal Grichuk (CF)
  7. Rowdy Tellez (DH)
  8. Teoscar Hernandez (RF)
  9. Danny Jansen (C)

Projected Rotation:

  1. Hyun-Jin Ryu
  2. Matt Shoemaker
  3. Tanner Roark
  4. Trent Thornton
  5. Anthony Kay

Projected Bullpen:

  1. Anthony Bass
  2. A.J. Cole
  3. Rafael Dolis
  4. Sam Gaviglio
  5. Ken Giles
  6. Tom Hatch
  7. Brian Moran
  8. Jordan Romano
  9. Jacob Waguespack
  10. Shun Yamaguchi

Further Analysis:

This Jays team will be significantly different from years past. The lineup looks similar to the end of last season, but Vlad Guerrero Jr. has shifted from third base to first and Justin Smoak and Luke Maile are no longer on the team. On the pitching side, Hyun-Jin Ryu will be replacing Marcus Stroman (traded midseason last year to NYM) as the staff ace, with the Blue Jays hoping he’ll bring with him his 2019 NL leading 2.32 ERA. Chances are he’ll regress a bit, as the AL typically proves to be a more difficult environment for pitchers than the NL. Behind him will be Matt Shoemaker, returning from a torn ACL which ended his season after only 5 starts last year. He hopes to return to his 2019 form, where even though it was only 5 games he pitched to a 1.57 ERA and 292 ERA+. After them, none of their back three starters stand out, though Kay was acquired in the Stroman deal and the Jays hope he will make them look good this season and beyond. The most intriguing starter for sure is actually not on the 30-man roster. Nate Pearson, MLB’s number 8 prospect, is currently on the taxi squad, with the assumption being he will soon earn the call. The Jays are probably pulling the usual MLB service time shenanigans here. After all, he is their top prospect and main pitcher of the future. In 2019 he pitched to a 2.30 ERA over 25 starts. As for the bullpen, not too much has changed. Ken Giles will still be closing games for the foreseeable future, and he was brilliant last year with a 1.87 ERA over 53 innings. They did bring Shun Yamaguchi over from Japan, as well as Rafael Dolis from free agency and Anthony Bass from waivers. Yamaguchi was a long reliever in Japan, a role he will probably fill in Toronto (or wherever the Jays call home this season) alongside Jacob Waguespack and MLB 2019 relief innings pitched leader Sam Gaviglio. Bass and Dolis will probably be Giles’ setup men, along with Jordan Romano. 

Closing Thoughts:

This season will be an adjustment for every team, but the Blue Jays probably face the biggest adjustment of all, especially with the new 60 game, regional games only format. They still don’t know where they’ll be calling home this season, as Toronto and Pittsburgh have both been crossed off the list of potential homes. Currently the team has looked into playing home games at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, but they have not yet received approval from the state of Maryland. Beyond that, the team is looking at a host of newer, younger faces as the rebuild really kicks into high gear. Regardless, this will be a fun team to watch this year and for years to come.

|Featured Photo:  Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Josh Winick

Hi! I'm Josh! I'm a huge Cubs fan from the North Side who will write here about the Cubs and Sox. I'm going to be entering Carnegie Mellon in the class of 2025 and majoring in stats. Add me on twitter @JoshWinick for a random assortment of fun.

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