Fresh off a 91-win season that put them in playoff contention until the final days of the season, the Toronto Blue Jays were set to take the American League East by storm in 2022. And yet, despite boasting one of the AL’s best lineups — their 116 OPS+ led the league, while their 4.78 runs/game ranked second only to the Yankees — they once again fell short in the division, finishing seven games behind the Yankees. Although they secured a playoff berth, their season ended there, as they lost their first two games to the Seattle Mariners in the Wild Card round.
Toronto Blue Jays
2022 record: 92-70 (2nd, AL East; lost in ALWCS)
2023 FanGraphs projection: 89-73 (2nd, AL East; 1st Wild Card)
Any conversation about the Toronto Blue Jays must begin with their starting lineup. Since the start of the 2020 season, their 113 wRC+ is tied with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best in baseball. That does not expect to change in 2023. Despite shipping out 2021 All-Star Teoscar Hernández and the versatile Lourdes Gurriel Jr., their projected 4.66 runs/game trails only the Atlanta Braves (4.74) and Houston Astros (4.68); for reference, the Yankees lineup projects to score 4.45 runs/game.
Sitting at the center of their continued success has been the development of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Now entering his age-24 season, Vlad showed that his 2021 was no fluke — even though he took a step back from the 48 home run, 166 wRC+ campaign that he posted back then, he still drilled 32 home runs and slashed .274/.339/.480 (good for a 132 wRC+). Although his defense at first base limits his value a bit — due to a -4.0 UZR/150 and -4 Outs Above Average at the position, he accrued only 2.8 fWAR last year — his presence in the Toronto lineup looms as large as Aaron Judge’s does in the Bronx.
The Blue Jays do not live and die by Guerrero’s bat, however. Surrounding him is as good a cast of characters as any team in the league. With Hernández now in Seattle, George Springer shifts over from center to right, a move that Toronto certainly hopes will keep their leadoff hitter healthier (he’s played only 211 games across the last two seasons). 2022 All-Star Alejandro Kirk (projected 125 wRC+ in 2023) and Danny Jansen (projected 116 wRC+) will split time behind the plate and share DH duties with free agent acquisition Brandon Belt (projected 132 wRC+).
Bo Bichette and Matt Chapman each project for 4-5 fWAR, and ZiPS is very high on new left fielder Daulton Varsho (projected 132 wRC+, 3.5 fWAR). All of this combines for a lineup that, so long as everybody is healthy, can more than carry the defense-first second baseman Whit Merrifield and center fielder Kevin Kiermaier at the bottom of the order without any sweat.
At the end of the day though, the Blue Jays will likely be carried as far as their pitching staff takes them. At the top of the rotation sits a pair of aces, Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman, that gives Toronto one of the best one-two punches in the league. But behind them lie multiple question marks. Chris Bassitt, signed to a three-year deal this past winter, would be more than serviceable as a No. 2 starter for most teams, but he is entering his age-34 season and threw more than 157 innings for the first time in his career last season. After signing a seven-year extension in November 2021, José Berríos allowed opposing batters to slash .288/.340/.465 against him last year, worst in the league among qualified starters. Yusei Kikuchi was incredibly inconsistent over the course of last season, eventually losing his spot in the starting rotation for the final six weeks of the season.
With a couple of minor changes — the retirement of David Phelps, the acquisition of Chad Green and Erik Swanson — the bullpen returns largely unaltered from 2022. Jordan Romano is expected to remain the closer, while Swanson, Yimi Garcia, and Adam Cimber should anchor the middle innings (remember, Green will start the year on the injured list after Tommy John surgery). While it’s impossible to know exactly what will happen, the bullpen is the early favorite for a midseason acquisition.
All in all, the Toronto Blue Jays once again project to be one of the Yankees’ biggest rivals in the AL East. FanGraphs and PECOTA each pin that at about 89 wins, a figure that seems fairly accurate, if slightly conservative, after a pair of 90+ win seasons. They have a 73.5-percent chance of making the postseason, and a 5.9-percent chance of winning the World Series.
Suffice it to say, the Blue Jays will be a capital-p Problem in the division this season.
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