It wasn’t that long ago that Yankee fans were dreading having to face the likes of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Josh Donaldson 19 times a year. It’s remarkable how quickly rosters can change, and there’s now exactly zero Blue Jays on the 40-man roster who were on the team in their last playoff appearance, the 2016 ALCS.
Instead, that feared core lineup has been replaced by dynamic young hitters, who while still developing, should make the season pretty exciting in Toronto. Last year’s top prospect Vlad Guerrero Jr. was merely fine in his first taste of big-league action, with a 105 wRC+ dragged down by an inability to generate fly balls. Fans can’t label him a bust just yet, though, as Steamer still buys the hit tool, projecting him to have the second-biggest 2019 to 2020 wRC+ improvement:
The kid is still going to be a stud, and he should anchor the Jays’ lineup for the near future. Adding to his production, Bo Bichette proved he also belongs at the MLB level, with a sterling 142 wRC+ in just over a month of play. Perhaps more crucially, he showed he can stick at shortstop, at least for now.
That gruesome twosome is surrounded by other talented bats, like Cavan Biggio and Lourdes Gurriel, and the Jays should be able to score quite a bit. The question facing the team right now is on the mound, and whether they’ll be able to suppress scoring enough to take advantage of all the runs they’ll put up.
Hyun-Jin Ryu was the team’s big pitching acquisition, signing for four years and $80 million after winning the ERA title in 2019. Reception around the signing was cautiously optimistic; Ryu has been very good when healthy in the NL West, but his durability and ability to adjust to a higher run environment do give some fans pause.
After Ryu, the Jays don’t have a single pitcher projected for more than two wins, and could be relegated to waiting for top prospects Nate Pearson and Simeon Woods Richardson—MLB Pipeline’s #8 and #98 respectively—to advance to the big leagues.
The one edge the team does have is extensive payroll room, and a farm system still respectable enough to dabble in trade markets if they choose to. The team has almost a hundred million dollars in luxury-tax space, and there are always good pitchers available at the deadline. Should the Blue Jays arrive a year early, they have the room to make a splash and become even more competitive.
Every year in baseball, a team seems to advance their rebuild and be better a little earlier than we thought. Think about the Twins last year, or the Yankees in 2017. These weren’t bad teams to start the season, just projected to be a little far away from contention. If the Jays’ young hitters continue to develop, they dip their toes into the trade market to shore up the pitching, and take advantage of depleted Red Sox and Orioles rosters, Toronto could be 2020’s early arrival.