Four teams in the American League East are shaping up to be serious playoff contenders: the New York Yankees, the Tampa Bay Rays, the Boston Red Sox, and the Toronto Blue Jays. The first three made the postseason last year, but the Jays finished just one game behind the Yanks and Sox and were left out. They are legitimate contenders, made the playoffs in 2020 as well, and they want to make an even more definitive statement in 2022.
The 2022 Yankees are a good baseball club, and there is a chance that they make at least one major move once the lockout is lifted. But the Blue Jays are just as good, and the odds are also high that they will make one additional high-profile acquisition.
The Blue Jays had one of the best offensive cores in MLB. They were the second-ranked offense in both fWAR (30.5) and wRC+ (113) behind the Houston Astros, and their lineup will be quite scary once again. They will have George Springer from day one, and young stars such as Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernández, Randal Grichuk, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and of course 2021 AL MVP runner-up Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (48 homers, 166 wRC+).
They also have several solid young catchers: Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk, Reese McGuire, and prospect Gabriel Moreno, one of the best in the game.
Their infield could use an improvement, because Santiago Espinal (.311/.376/.405, two homers and a 115 wRC+ in 246 plate appearances), profiles more like a reserve despite his good showing in 2021, and Cavan Biggio slumped badly last year (84 wRC+). That’s where Toronto’s potential upgrade could come: on the infield.
Since they lost Marcus Semien to the Rangers in free agency, they have been linked with Kris Bryant during the whole offseason, and while a deal is unlikely (he will have plenty of other suitors), they would be AL East favorites if they can pull that off. If they can’t, they have Biggio’s upside and Espinal’s underrated bat.
They have a solid pitching rotation, but can always bring an arm or two for depth. AL Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray departed for the Mariners, but his replacement is just as good. Former Orioles starter Kevin Gausman flourished in San Francisco and can now lead an MLB rotation after posting a 2.81 ERA and 5.2 WAR in 192 frames in 2021. They also lost Steven Matz to St. Louis, but extended a great number two in José Berríos and will have a healthy Nate Pearson, rookie sensation Alek Manoah, and two reliable veterans in Hyun Jin Ryu and Ross Stripling.
Another area where Toronto should look for improvements is the bullpen. One could almost argue that the Blue Jays’ relievers cost them a playoff berth last year, as they squandered plenty of winnable games. Julian Merryweather and Jordan Romano, if healthy, are a good one-two punch, while Adam Cimber, Tim Mayza, and newcomer Yimi García will serve as middle relievers. They need a bit more, though, both in quality and quantity.
Despite their obvious MLB talent, Toronto has some really interesting prospects near the big leagues even after trading Austin Martin and Simeon Woods-Richardson to acquire Berrios from Minnesota at the 2021 trade deadline. Moreno is seen as a game-changing talent at a premium position, and Jordan Groshans is expected to be a solid contributor. Orelvis Martínez, Gunnar Hoglund, and Leo Jiménez are future plays.
Don’t sleep on the Blue Jays, as 2022 could definitely be the year in which they break through and make a deep postseason run. They are a dangerous team, and ZiPS, one of FanGraphs’ projection systems, has them finishing second in the East, one game behind the Yankees. The same tool projects Toronto to have several stars in Guerrero (5.9 fWAR forecast), Bichette (4.7), Gausman (3.7), Berrios (3.5). Ryu (3.1), and Springer (3.0).
Toronto is well-equipped to contend as things stand, and they could improve their roster whenever the lockout freeze on transactions comes to a close. They represent a dangerous obstacle not only for the Yankees, but also for the rest of the American League.