2020 was a heck of a run, and we should all be proud of our “kids”. But the offseason is now upon us, and 2021 is just around the corner. What moves should the Jays’ Front Office be looking to make?
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The upcoming off-season promises to be one of the most (ahem) “interesting” in modern history. The pandemic has severely impacted on team profitability, and the uncertainties surrounding the coronavirus in 2021 (and the upcoming CBA negotiations at the end of that year) will impact both on teams and players.
That said, the Blue Jays still need to use the off-season to improve the team for another (!) playoff run in 2021. Which begs the question – where should the Jays’ attention (and cash!) be focused?
Start with the usual caveat. A team should focus its spending on areas of need … but be open to opportunities anywhere. Case in point – in 2014, the Jays had a highly rated young third baseman in Brett Lawrie. Third was not a position of need, at least not until Oakland said that Josh Donaldson was available. The Jays could have (foolishly!) just said “we are good at third. No thanks” but thankfully they did not. The same principle holds true this offseason. if the Jays had the opportunity to acquire an elite talent, the question of “where is the greatest need” becomes secondary. So for a Lindor, or Bryant, or Chapman at the right price, all of the analysis below flies out the window.
That said, let’s talk 2021.
Catcher is a position of relative strength, with 2019 Gold Glove finalist Danny Jansen, capable #2 Reese McGuire, and wild card Alejandro Kirk. Not to mention Gabriel Moreno and Riley Adams, both close to mlb-ready. The only possible move I could see the Jays making at catcher would be to pursue J.T. Realmuto when/if he becomes a free agent (see my comment above about “elite talents”). Sign J.T. and trade Dan-Jan? Maybe only slightly crazy?
First base/DH – Vladdy should have one of these positions locked up for the foreseeable future, and Rowdy’s performance in 2020 (a 136 wRC+ – and without any “this is a fluke” red flags) should earn him the first shot at the other.
Second base – Cavan. Need I say more?
Shortstop – Bo. Need I say more?
Third base – Travis Shaw had a poor start to 2020, but much of it was due to bad luck. His advanced stats predicted improvement, and sure enough, in the last 30 days of the season Travis’ 125 wRC+ was second on the team only to Lourdes’ crazy-good 185 (min 50 PAs). Plus, Travis’ 0.8 defense rating in those 30 days was second only to Danny Jansen. And of course, Shaw is under team control for 2021 at what should be an inexpensive arb rate. So while T’Shaw may not get MVP votes, he is a solid option at third in 2021.
Left field – Lourdes Gurriel Jr. is something of an enigma. When he is good, he is scary good. When he isn’t, well, he isn’t. But his 2020 left little to be desired. A 138 wRC+ (with a fish-like 185 in the last 30 days) combined with a +3.5 UZR/150 led to a 3+ fWAR pace. And Lourdes is still improving, both as an outfielder and at the plate. So hardly a position of weakness.
Centre field – Randall Grichuk finished the year with a 112 wRC+. His fWAR was only 0.6, due in part to career lows in fielding. But his -11.8 UZR/150 and -8 DRS – both career lows – were belied by his Statcast -1 outs above average, which would make him a near-average centre fielder. I wonder if The Grinch’s poor defense could result from his back injury in the first week of the season? Grichuk was said to be playing with a sore back in August, but he didn’t want to go on the DL as the Jays had just lost Teo Hernandez. I could see the Jays chasing a player like George Springer as a CF upgrade this offseason, but failing that I would take a 112 wRC+ CF with average CF defense any day.
Right field – What can I say about Teoscar? His 2020 wRC+ of 146 was 24th in baseball. His 16 HR was tied for 7th, despite his missing 20% of the season. True, his defense still needs work. But his 1.6 fWAR not only led the Jays, but extrapolates to over 5 fWAR in a complete season. To me, that sounds like a keeper.
Starting pitching – see my article “An Early Look At The Jays’ 2021 Rotation”
Bullpen – The Jays will likely be without Ken Giles and Anthony Bass in 2021. But they should have the makings of a solid bullpen anyway. Jordan Romano should be healthy, and exercising their $1.5 million option on Rafael Dolis for 2021 should be close to a no-brainer. In addition, A.J. Cole is under team control through 2023, and Tim Mayza is expected to be fully recovered from his September 2019 Tommy John surgery by Spring Training 2021. The competition for starting spots in Buffalo in 2021 – with players like Ryan Borucki, Anthony Kay, Thomas Hatch, Julian Merryweather, Sean Reid-Foley, Patrick Murphy, T.J. Zeuch, and Jacob Waguespack all fighting for innings (add Simeon Woods Richardson as a wild card?)- could (should?) mean that at least a couple of those players start the season in the mlb bullpen. And I find it hard to believe that Shun Yamaguchi is not better than his 4.97 xFIP in 2020 would suggest. So the Jays might want to make a couple of veteran pickups – like Bass last offseason, or David Phelps and Daniel Hudson the year before that – but their bullpen already has a strong foundation.
Bench – the Jays should be fine with their second catcher, and I still believe that Derek Fisher deserves a longer look as the 4th outfielder. In an ideal world, Vladdy would show up in spring training in better shape and able to backup third base. But even if not, Santiago Espinal could back up third as well as short, leaving the Jays only needing a second backup infielder. Might the Jays bring back Joe Panik, or perhaps gamble on a return to form from a Brock Holt if the Nats do not exercise their $5m team option for 2021?
The bottom line
No team is so good that there is no room for improvement, and the Jays are no exception. But they enter the 2020-21 offseason in a stronger position than they have seen in many years. They could definitely use a #2 starter, and an upgrade at third or centre would not be out of the question. And, of course, the usual few veteran bullpen arms on short-term contracts and a utility player or two are never amiss. But the real source of growth for the 2021 Jays should be from the further development of the players they already have, rather than from a wholesale off-season makeover.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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A Jays fan since pre-Series, Jim’s biggest baseball regret is that he did not play hooky with his buddies on 7 Apr 77. But hearing “Fanfare For The Common Man” played from a rooftop on 24 Oct 92 helped him atone.