The Toronto Blue Jays went into the winter solstice with fans disgruntled over the lack of significant moves to improve the baseball club for 2020, but as we headed towards Christmas, sources revealed that the Blue Jays had indeed made a big addition, coming out on top of the competition to land free agent starter Hyun-Jin Ryu, getting him to agree to a four-year, $80-million deal.
But this begs the question: Will the 2020 Blue Jays be better? Certainly on paper, the Jays stand to improve, particularly in the pitching category. The Blue Jays have added Ryu, Tanner Roark and Japanese pitcher Shun Yamaguchi via free agency while also trading for Chase Anderson for minor leaguer Chad Spanberger. On the offensive side, the Blue Jays have also added free agent Travis Shaw who should be able to replace the at bats that Justin Smoak took at first base.
How does this help the Blue Jays line up their team for 2020? On the pitching side is where the difference is. With good health (knock on wood), the Blue Jays won’t have to have a rookie lead their team in starts and innings the way they did last year (Trent Thornton led the way). The Jays landed their ace in Ryu (at least until Nate Pearson joins the club at some point this year) but still have a collection of #4 and #5 starters to follow with Roark, Anderson, Shoemaker, and one of Yamaguchi, Ryan Borucki or Trent Thornton to fill in. I think Shoemaker showed last year that he has the potential to rise above his role but the others are going to be innings-eaters for this club.
In the bullpen, the Jays have a few additions with Anthony Bass picked up, the possibility of Yamaguchi in the pen while Ken Giles remains with the team, as do Wilmer Font and Sam Gaviglio. The club could also put Thomas Pannone there as the primary lefty (with Tim Mayza on the shelf) while Julian Merryweather could break camp with the team. With one more spots, I’m sure the Jays will do more in the offseason to bolster the pen but A.J. Cole, Phillippe Aumont and Justin Miller will all compete for a job at the big league level. Jordan Romano, Sean-Reid Foley and even Jacob Waguespack could also be in the mix for a bullpen spot.
On the diamond, however is where the Jays haven’t really made any upgrades. Bo Bichette will anchor the infield at shortstop (although he was apparently willing to play anywhere if the Jays acquired someone else, Didi Gregorious, for example), with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at third. With the left side of the infield set, the right side is still in some flux. Cavan Biggio showed himself capable at second base last year but there is talk of moving him to the outfield or playing him at first base. Travis Shaw was acquired to bolster the first base position and if he returns to his 2017-18 production, he’ll be a great addition, but if he does what he did last year (.157/.281/.270), he’ll be a giant sinkhole of at bats. Rowdy Tellez is also in the mix as are Brandon Drury, Breyvic Valera, Richard Urena and Santiago Espinal while Andy Burns and Patrick Kivlehan both re-signed on minor league deals and could get some time in spring training.
While the infield positions are generally spoken for with a lot of potential for offensive production, the outfield positions are still on the iffy side. With Randal Grichuk under a long-term contract, he’ll play every day he’s able to but the Jays still want to upgrade if possible in center field. With Teoscar Hernandez and Anthony Alford the prime internal candidates (with mention of Cavan Biggio as a possibility), I think that the Jays are looking for more. Billy McKinney and Derek Fisher are also available for corner positions but neither have really shown the ability to be above-average producers at the major league level. Lourdes Gurriel is probably going to get a lot of time in left field and if he produces the way he did last year, we’re going to be very happy and the Jays would likely have to pay a lot more to upgrade.
So will the Blue Jays be better in 2020 than in 2019? At this point, I think health is going to be the “X” factor. If the starting rotation remains healthy then they’re going to be very solid and even if one or two of the guys towards the back of the rotation go down, the Blue Jays have four or five guys (Anthony Kay/Thornton/Borucki/T.J. Zeuch/Pearson) ready to go at some point in the season who will probably not offer much of a let down in terms of production. If Ryu gets hurt (as he’s been inclined to), the Jays still have the depth to eat up innings until Pearson arrives.
I think the bullpen could stand for some upgrade but there will likely be players available. I also think the Blue Jays will go out and get another utility/backup infielder a la Eric Sogard at some point, perhaps as late as during spring training.
So will the Jays be better? Yes, I think they will. But the question is going to be how much better. That will depend on how many of the Jays’ young players step up and produce at the major league level.
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