For the last two years, the AL East has really been a two-team fight, with the Yankees and Rays trading first place and second. A funny thing happened in 2020 though, with the Toronto Blue Jays emerging from a rebuild early to make the playoffs — albeit in an expanded season — and targeting 2021 as the year they truly arrive as a retooled franchise.
The team already boasts a solid offense, posting a teamwide 108 wRC+ despite star shortstop Bo Bichette missing more than half the season, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. continuing to struggle with elevating his batted balls. Should Vlad improve on that, or Bo be healthy for a full campaign, expect the lineup to get even better.
The Blue Jays aren’t just counting on internal improvements, though. The trick to building a successful MLB club is to pair young, controllable talent with a few finishing touches brought in through trades or free agency. The team did that last year, inking Hyun-Jin Ryu and riding him to a Cy Young finalist season. This winter, they’ve been involved in some of the most active rumor cycles in the game.
The Blue Jays need outfield help and have been discussed as potential destinations for both Jackie Bradley Jr. and George Springer. They’re one of the few clubs that has the prospect capital and onfield fit to swing a Francisco Lindor trade, are expected to improve the bullpen, and almost as soon as the World Series ended, they were pitched as a potential landing spot for DJ LeMahieu.
Now, rumors are just rumors, and we don’t know how much truth is in any one story. However, the cumulative affect of all these rumors at least makes it clear that the Jays will likely be aggressive this offseason. They have obvious places for improvement, and a number of logical paths to acquire the players needed to improve.
Since the implementation of the modern competitive balance tax, the Blue Jays have also shown a willingness to spend. Part of the rebuild over the past two or three seasons has been shedding onerous contracts, like Russell Martin and Jose Bautista, while giving space for young talent to come up from the minors.
However, 2020 was the first season the Jays didn’t have a payroll over $100 million, and the team’s ownership, Rogers Communications, has done exceedingly well for itself in the COVID-19 pandemic. So we have a team with a track record of spending, an ownership group that has some excess cash, and an offseason where the price of talent should be somewhat depressed.
Again, we won’t know which of these rumors will come true until a player is actually signed or traded. But all indicators we have are pointing to an aggressive offseason for the Jays, one that they’re hoping will turn the AL East into a true three-team fight. The Yankees can’t afford to be complacent this winter, lest they find themselves contending with a surprise superteam in 2021 and beyond.