The Blue Jays are fortunate that the majority of their current players are under team control through the next two years and beyond
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It is a fact of baseball life that teams change over time. Players retire, or become free agents, or are traded. Teams rarely have the luxury of knowing what their opening rosters will be next year, much less multiple years in the future. Take the current Jays: Marcus Semien, Robbie Ray, Steven Matz, and Corey Dickerson are all free agents after this year, and it is far from certain that any of them will return to the Jays in 2022.
Which begs a thought exercise. Looking forward, not to 2022 but to 2023: how many of the current players will still be under team control in two years? Will the 2023 Jays bear any resemblance to the 2021 variety?
For purposes of this (simplified) exercise, I have assumed that the Jays do no trades and sign no new players between now and the 2023 season. This is obviously an artificial assumption, but it is designed to show how many major “holes” the Jays have to fill over those two years.
The Jays must be the envy of baseball, having four young, controllable, mlb-calibre catchers
First base – Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (free agent 2026)
Even without an extension, Vladdy will be wearing powder blue for another 4 years
Second base – Cavan Biggio (free agent 2026)
Yes, I do see Cavan as an above-average second baseman for the World Series contending Jays of the next few years. Over 695 PAs in 2019 and 2020 (just over a full year) he had a 118 wRC+ and a 3.8 fWAR. Not Vladdy level, but more than acceptable. But just leave him at second base, please?
Shortstop – Bo Bichette (free agent 2026)
See “Guerrero Jr., Vladimir” above!
It is possible that, by 2023, Bo could be playing second or third base. But in any event, he will almost certainly be a starting infielder for Toronto
This is the first of the “holes” in the 2023 team. Will Jo-Gro have developed to the point where he is ready for the big time? Is Santiago’s 2021 103 wRC+ (and crazy-good +18 DRS/1200 at 3B) sustainable – making him a 3-4 fWAR player over a full season? Or could Kevin Smith’s 2021 hitting epiphany in Buffalo translate to the bigs? (The more likely answer, in my view, is that the Jays will either sign a 3B this off-season (Javy Baez?) or sign a shortstop and move Bo to third)
Bench infielders – Santiago Espinal (free agent 2027), Kevin Smith (2028+)
Left field – Lourdes Gurriel Jr. (free agent 2025)
Lourdes has struggled defensively in left, and has been inconsistent at the plate, but the talent is unquestionably there. Assume for this exercise that – like Teo Hernandez did – he manages to become at least average in the field by 2023.
Centre field – George Springer (free agent 2027)
George will eventually move off centre field to right, but assume that he is still the primary centre fielder in 2023
Right field – Teoscar Hernandez (free agent 2024)
If Teo has not been extended, 2023 will be his last year of Jays team control.
Fourth (bench) outfielder – Randall Grichuk (free agent 2024)
Like Teo, 2023 will be the last year of team control over Randall. In my scenario, he will be the bench outfielder and the centre fielder when George needs a rest
Starting rotation – Hyun-Jin Ryu (free agent 2024), Alek Manoah (2027+), Nate Pearson (2027). Then Thomas Hatch (2026), Trent Thornton (2025), Anthony Kay (2026) – or perhaps Gunnar Hoglund (2027+) or Adam Kloffenstein (2027+) or CJ Van Eyk (2027+)?
Robbie Ray and Steven Matz become free agents at the end of 2021, and Jose Berrios and Ross Stripling become free agents at the end of 2022. So the 2023 Jays will need either a couple of their young arms to step up (as Manoah did in 2021) or to extend or find new arms for the rotation. It is possible that Julian Merryweather could be pitching as a starter by this time, but for purposes of this exercise I am assuming he stays in the bullpen.
Bullpen – Jordan Romano (free agent 2026), Julian Merryweather (2027), Tim Mayza (2026), Adam Cimber (2025), Trevor Richards (2025), Ryan Borucki (2025). Possibly Anthony Castro (2027), Jackson Rees (2027+), Adrian Hernandez (2027+)
The Jays have the makings of a more-than-solid bullpen, all with extended team control. And whichever of the young starters does not make the rotation (Thornton, Kay, Hatch) could add to the bullpen as a long/swingman.
The bottom line
The Jays are in the unusual (and fortunate!) situation of having players under long-term control in most of the major positions. Obviously, the above is not what 2023 will actually look like – there will be signings, and trades, and some players will disappoint while others “come out of nowhere”. But having this solid a foundation is a good place to be – it gives the Jays the luxury of filling the remaining needs opportunistically and without panic, and to evaluate upgrades from a position of relative strength.
*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.