Throughout the 2020 MLB season, the Toronto Blue Jays took advantage of a shortened campaign to reach the postseason for the first time since 2016. However, the club didn’t stop there, remaining active during the current offseason period and acquiring some of the best pieces on this year’s market. Therefore, the 2021 Blue Jays expectations are set to be even more enormous than they already promised to be.
Last winter, Toronto made a lot of improvements ahead of Charlie Montoyo‘s second season as the team’s manager. Despite the danger of missing a whole year out of the team’s newly-arriving players, the season ended up starting in July in a 60-game format. The Blue Jays were able to become one of the pleasant surprises of the 2020 campaign. By winning 32 of their 60 matchups, the Jays finished third in the AL East and secured the eighth spot in the AL.
Although Toronto’s season ended in a losing series to Tampa Bay, the team sent a message that a new contender was to emerge in the American League. Furthermore, because the 2020 season could be deceiving, the Jays did not stop at their 2020 roster. Just the opposite – no team has been more active on the market this offseason than the two-time World Series champions.
Now, heading into a full 162-game campaign, the 2021 Blue Jays expectations are higher than ever. Are their expensive moves good enough to justify the hype?
2021 Blue Jays Expectations: Offseason Work
The club entered the offseason with more than one component of need and much work to do. Not all of General Manager Ross Atkins’s moves were great or efficient at first sight. However, what he accomplished undoubtedly was to address most of the Blue Jays’ weaknesses. Now, the roster is much more balanced, which we will get to in more detail in the next part of the article.
It is easy to identify Toronto’s biggest move this offseason. The Blue Jays were very productive at the plate last year. However, one piece of the puzzle was missing and that was the outfield. Specifically, the centerfield, where Randal Grichuk struggled last summer, was a liability.
Atkins went for the biggest of fish, with no hesitation. He managed to sign the most high-profile CF on the market, George Springer, who was one of the best outfielders in the majors in his seven years with the Astros. Per his brand-new deal, the Blue Jays will owe him an average of $25 million per year over the next six campaigns.
While this is an overpay for the current market, the Blue Jays will not regret spending top-of-the-pack sum for Springer. The UConn product has posted an on-base percentage north of .340 in each of his last six seasons. For comparison, the league-average OBP for the 2020 season was .322, a hundredth lower than a year before.
Between 2018 and 2019, George Springer ranked 27th in Major League Baseball with a .363 OBP. Moreover, the New Britain native was 24th in slugging percentage with a figure of .507. Of the players who were cheaper on the free-agent market, or were available on the trade block, only Nelson Cruz performed better in both departments. Since the 40-year-old Dominican re-signed with the Twins about three weeks ago, the Jays could have chosen Cruz and moved him to the DH spot, with Teoscar Hernandez remaining in the outfield.
However, Cruz, at the age of forty, nine years older than Springer, could be close to leaving his prime. Subsequently, that would mean a downward trend sooner than Springer.
Although Cruz would have been much cheaper in the short-term, having joined the Twins for $13 million, he would have been an effective answer for only a limited time. Perhaps getting Cruz for a lower price and looking for an expensive deal of the Springer type in one or two years would have been better. Nonetheless, this would not be a problem if the team managed its other finances efficiently.
Still, the 2021 Blue Jays expectations are extremely high for Springer, as well as going forward, and he will have to be even better than before to make the $25 million a “fair deal”.
Although the former Athletics shortstop has shown promise, this move does not fit the label “financial efficiency”.
Toronto spent $18 million this January to get Semien in a one-year deal. While the team cannot get stuck in a bad contract, this doesn’t mean they couldn’t have spent it better elsewhere.
Put the $18 million in perspective. In 2019, just six players signed deals worth more than $18 million per year. Two of them were infielders – Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson. As of that moment, they had on-base figures of .335 and .367, respectively.
On the one hand, the $30 million for Macho were a lot, albeit that much by the then-bullish market standards for top players. On the other hand, the $23 million for Donaldson seemed very realistic for the market, the one-year length, and a player who had the 22nd-best OBP between 2017 and 2018 (min. 700 PA).
Not to mention, DJ LeMahieu, who was the same age as Semien and had a .353 OBP in a five-year span, signed for just $12 million. Since then, he has only justified the Yankees’ faith in him.
Now, compare that to a one-year, $18-million deal for a shortstop who possesses a career on-base figure of .322, roughly the league average, and a slugging number of .425. At his best, Semien had a strong 2019 campaign, with a .369 OBP and .522 slugging percentage. However, he has reached a base at a rate of .325 or worse every other year.
It isn’t like this will have negative repercussions beyond the 2021 MLB season. However, even if it places higher 2021 Blue Jays expectations, Marcus Semien doesn’t promise to have a productive year, only leaving a hole at shortstop. Furthermore, he has also taken resources away from being better spent elsewhere on the roster.
Some fruitful moves transpired in that department. Firstly, the team found its new closer in former Padres star Kirby Yates. Yates has been one of the best closers in Major League Baseball for the past three seasons. With San Diego, he allowed less than a home run and just 2.4 walks per nine innings. That was accompanied by 12.4 strikeouts on average per nine. All in all, although this isn’t a component he is fully in control of, Yates has the best ERA in any qualified reliever in that span.
Despite his consistent success, Toronto signed Yates to a one-year, $5.5-million contract that might have turned out to be amongst the league’s biggest bargains.
Also, Ross Atkins brought back Robbie Ray and added Steven Matz to the rotation. Eight million dollars might be too much for Ray’s recent struggles, though. Also acquired to the relief staff were David Phelps and Tyler Chatwood for a combined $4.75 million through the 2021 season.
Finally a Balanced Roster
Last year, the Blue Jays’ lineup was one of the most productive in all of Major League Baseball. In contrast, the pitching staff failed to live up to that level by a landslide. That was probably the reason why Toronto didn’t finish higher than third place in the division and eighth seed in the AL.
However, much brighter times are coming to Canada, or wherever the team plays in 2021.
Firstly, the 2021 Blue Jays expectations as regards the run production will be massive. Through the completion of the regular season in 2020, Toronto finished seventh in MLB with 302 runs scored. Moreover, that number was the third-best in the American League.
With the team losing next to nothing in Jonathan Villar and Travis Shaw, there’s no reason for the downfall to occur. Not only that but the limited upgrade of Marcus Semien and the enormous of George Springer should amount to steady growth in the production of the Blue Jays lineup.
However, the significant turnaround comes from the bullpen. In 2020, the Blue Jays had the seventh-worst bullpen in the majors. The unit put on a combined ERA of 4.71. The team let go of key relievers such as Anthony Bass and A.J. Cole, who were the lone bright spots last summer. However, the arrivals more than outweighed the departures as one of the best closers in the game came up north. Also, the remainder of the group is now deeper than last year.
Overall, the 2021 Blue Jays expectation regarding the bullpen should be to post a noticeable improvement and lift itself from the bottom of the ranks.
Meanwhile, the starting rotation has had perhaps the most modest development. The only regular member of the unit to leave in free agency was Chase Anderson. His move to Philadelphia was met with a corresponding trade by the Jays. The club dealt three prospect right-handers to the Mets for Steven Matz.
Hyun-Jin Ryu was near his best and is likely to stay at that level while Tanner Roark, a major disappointment last year, could be up for a slight upswing. Ultimately, the only changes come as Matz replaces Anderson and Nate Pearson is introduced as the fifth member. Since Anderson’s best season with the Brewers in 2017, the two pitchers’ numbers have been identical. However, Steven Matz is four years younger, which means more of his potential is in front of him.
The Blue Jays had the 14th-worst starting pitching staff. At first, it looks like the only noticeable improvement could come from Roark and Matz. In the end, it’s difficult to imagine the Jays’ rotation touching the best staff in the business. In essence, the 2021 Blue Jays expectations spell a small improvement that will see them climb to the middle of the table in that department.
AL East Competition
The Red Sox seems to still be in a slight rebuild move, which is great news as far as the 2021 Blue Jays expectations go. With Boston’s pitching inconsistencies and shortcomings, the new-look Toronto team has a great chance to at least remain at the same level as last year.
Even if the postseason doesn’t feature the expanded format it had last season, the bar for the Blue Jays is set as high as playoff baseball, or even further. Toronto has prospered so quickly that the team looks at least very close to the Yankees and the Rays, if not on par with them.
However, if Toronto fails to stay in the race for the AL East crown, it will not be easy to guarantee a wildcard berth. The AL Central contains at least three postseason hopefuls, while the Athletics, the Astros, and the Angels could all play October baseball in 2021. However, Toronto seems to be amongst the better teams in that group. Since the 2021 Blue Jays expectation are for them to contend for a division title, not reaching the playoffs will be a notable disappointment.
Follow me on Twitter at @TeodorTsenov for more of my content! Don’t forget to join our OT Heroics MLB Facebook group, and feel free to join our new Instagram – @overtimeheroics_MLB. We’ll see ya there!
Come join the discussion made by the fans at the Overtime Heroics forums! A place for all sports!
main image credit Embed from Getty Images