Though they are starting their season in Dunedin, the Toronto Blue Jays are back for the 2021 Major League Baseball season.
With the new rules set in place in 2020, the Blue Jays finished with a winning record and made the postseason. They were eliminated in the Wild Card round by their American League East Rivals, the Tampa Bay Rays.
There are multiple questions surrounding the Blue Jays this year. Will the team make the next step in their almost-complete rebuild? Will they put up a competition with the Rays and New York Yankees?
A Season In Buffalo
Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Toronto Blue Jays were not able to travel across the border to their native Canada. After a while of looking for a temporary home, the Blue Jays stayed within the confines of their own minor league system. The Blue Jays played their home games at Sahlen Field, which was the regular home of their Triple-A squad, the Buffalo Bisons. In addition to finding a temporary home, New York State prohibited any sports team from having fans.
The Blue Jays came into the 2020 season with Charlie Montoyo as the manager for the second season. The Jays finished with a 67-95 record in 2019. 2019 saw a small sample size of the younger cats in the Blue Jays system. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Cavan Biggio, and Bo Bichette all made their debuts at different points in the season. Though a shortened season with less time, the Blue Jays were determined to take the next step and try for an extra playoff spot. They did just that.
Teoscar Hernandez led the team in home runs with 16. He won the Silver Slugger Award for that reason.
Lourdes Gurriel finished 3rd on the Blue Jays with 11 home runs but recorded a team-best .308 batting average. Established veterans like Randal Grichuk and Travis Shaw also contributed to the Blue Jays’ consistent offense.
Moving to the rotation, Hyun Jin-Ryu was the best pitcher in the rotation, which caught nobody by surprise. Ryu recorded a 5-2 record in 12 starts with a 2.69 ERA and 70 Ks. Taijuan Walker, who the Seattle Mariners traded to the Blue Jays, stood out when he arrived in Buffalo as well. Walker recorded a 2-1 record in six games with a 1.37 ERA and 25 Ks.
A.J. Cole and Rafael Dolis pitched well in the bullpen for the Blue Jays in 2020. Cole appeared in 24 games, recording a 3-0 record with a 3.09 ERA and 20 Ks. Dolis appeared in 24 games as well, recording a 2-2 record with a 1.50 ERA and 31 Ks.
The collaboration of the young players and the established veterans helped the Toronto Blue Jays (or should I say Buffalo) clinch a playoff birth for the first time since 2016.
Starting In Dunedin
To upgrade their team this offseason, the Blue Jays went into free-agency and signed multiple contributors. The team signed former Oakland Athletics infielder Marcus Semien to a one-year/$18M contract. The Jays also boosted their outfield and signed former Houston Astros’ outfielder George Springer to a six-year/$150M contract.
To add to their pitching depth, they also signed former Colorado Rockies’ starter Tyler Chatwood. The Jays also signed former San Diego Padres’ closer Kirby Yates.
One of the biggest trades they made in the offseason was acquiring Steven Matz from the New York Mets in exchange for Sean Reid-Foley, Yennsy Diaz, and Josh Winckowski. The Blue Jays hope Matz can restabilize his career outside of the Big Apple.
Adding these established and talent veterans will only boost this young team’s growth. Now can the Blue Jays live up to expectations?
Competing In The AL East
In 2020, the Toronto Blue Jays joined the AL East fray along with the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays, meanwhile, the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox sat in the divisional basement.
The Yankees lost Masahiro Tanaka to Japan in the offseason but re-signed DJ LeMahieu. The team also got Corey Kluber and traded for Jameson Taillon. Both are coming off major injuries, so for the Yankees, it is a high-risk/high-reward type of result.
The Rays lost pieces this offseason, mainly in the starting rotation. Tampa Bay traded star reliever Blake Snell to the loaded Padres for Luis Patino, Francisco Mejia, Blake Hunt, and Cole Wilcox. The team also lost Charlie Morton to the Atlanta Braves. However, the Rays signed Chris Archer, who is back in Tampa for the first time since 2018.
With a rotation that lost two dominant pitchers, manager Kevin Cash has to hope the bullpen can do their job, even on bullpen days. The high-powered bats of Mike Brousseau and Ji-Man Choi will need to substitute for the rotation losses in order for the Rays not to fall.
My prediction for 2021 is that the Blue Jays compete with the Yankees for the top spot in the division, while Tampa Bay hopes they can get an extra spot in the expanded playoffs. When a manager likes using his bullpen a lot, that tells you something. Tyler Glasnow is the head of the rotation along with Archer. Both did not have great seasons in 2020.
Overall, the Blue Jays did a nice job upgrading the talent, while staying with the young core they have. The signings of Marcus Semien and George Springer will only result in a positive manner. Whether they actually live up to the hype, remains to be seen.