TORONTO -- The Blue Jays are coming off a 32-28 season that they hope is the start of something bigger, including deeper postseason runs. This offseason lines up well for Toronto to be aggressive in that pursuit.
The talent of the Blue Jays' young core is this club’s identity, which also gives the club a great deal of financial flexibility, with few veteran players on large, multiyear deals.
The good news for the Blue Jays in this offseason is that their needs are clear. This won’t be a guessing game. Strike-throwing and team defense have been identified as the top priorities after Toronto allowed the second-most walks in baseball last season (250) and routinely made fundamental errors in the field.
Further developing the young core and next wave of top prospects will take care of some of that, but there’s no doubt the Blue Jays need to add. Here are the areas they are targeting:
Most teams will be targeting starting pitching, so let’s get more specific. The Blue Jays made a big splash in signing Hyun Jin Ryu last offseason, but otherwise targeted depth, which showed in the additions of Chase Anderson and Tanner Roark. Regardless of how those latter two deals worked out in 2020, they were made with an eye on stabilizing the back end of the rotation. This offseason, the Blue Jays would like to swing a deal for some upside to support Ryu and Nate Pearson, ranked by MLB Pipeline as the organization’s No. 1 prospect.
Bringing back Robbie Ray on a one-year, $8 million deal early in free agency filled one rotation spot with an eye on upside, and the acquisition of lefty Steven Matz from the Mets gives Toronto another intriguing depth piece. Finding one more starter to pitch near the top of the rotation, though, is likely to remain a priority, especially with the postseason in mind.
Depth jobs can be handed to a crowded group of young arms led by Anthony Kay, Thomas Hatch, Julian Merryweather and Trent Thornton. The versatile Ross Stripling will be part of that conversation as well, so while the Blue Jays crave high-end upside with their next moves, there should be no shortage of options at the bottom of the rotation when injuries inevitably hit.
Travis Shaw was the primary option at third base in 2020, but he hit .239 with a .717 OPS and was non-tendered. This is a spot where the Blue Jays have the potential find a serious upgrade. While the idea of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. seeing some time back at third may be tempting, it’s simply not the answer. Top prospects Jordan Groshans and Austin Martin could eventually be that answer, but a one- or two-year veteran solution could fit the Blue Jays’ roster perfectly. Third base might also be the club's biggest opportunity to upgrade the offense.
Jan. 30: Semien signs one-year deal
Semien, who finished third in American League MVP voting in 2019 with the A's, joins the Blue Jays on a one-year deal worth $18 million that makes plenty of sense for both sides. Semien will have a shot at re-establishing himself after taking a step back in 2020, while the Blue Jays add even more upside to their improved lineup. Semien is expected to start at second base, but can spell off Bo Bichette at shortstop and play some third, if needed.
Jan. 27: Blue Jays trade for Matz
Acquired for young right-handers Sean Reid-Foley, Yennsy Diaz and Josh Winckowski, Matz gives the Blue Jays another rotation option who has pitched well in the past. There's some upside, too, with the former top prospect, which will be an interesting project for pitching coach Pete Walker and director of pitcher development Matt Buschmann.
Jan. 23: Blue Jays land star outfielder Springer
The Blue Jays agreed to terms with their No. 1 offseason target in George Springer on a six-year deal for a club record $150 million. This was the big move that Toronto had been building toward for several seasons, and along with its young roster, it had the payroll flexibility to do so. The addition of Springer not only takes this lineup from good to great, but also announces to the rest of baseball that the Blue Jays are entering win-now mode.
Jan. 22: Chatwood joins bullpen on one-year deal
The Blue Jays landed Chatwood on a one-year, $3 million deal, and the right-hander brings plenty of upside with his high spin rates and velocity. Chatwood has the potential to earn a high-leverage role toward the back end of Toronto’s bullpen, but he could also be valuable across multiple innings.
Jan. 20: Yates signs one-year deal
The Blue Jays landed a high-upside arm in reliever Kirby Yates, who missed much of 2020 undergoing a procedure to remove bone chips in his right elbow but was one of baseball’s most dominant back-end arms in '18 and '19. Yates should have every opportunity to win the closer’s role and will earn $5.5 million with incentives.
Jan. 8: Cole returns on Minor League deal
Cole was non-tendered by the Blue Jays in December, but the sides remained in touch and he’ll have an opportunity to win a job in Spring Training. Cole pitched well for the Blue Jays in 2020, earning the trust of manager Charlie Montoyo in high-leverage roles.
Dec. 18: Ureña, Wall, White signed to MiLB deals
The three are expected to provide positional depth from the Triple-A level, but there's some familiarity here, too. Ureña spent seven years in the organization before spending one with the Orioles in 2020, and Wall has been with the club for three seasons. All three players received invitations to Spring Training.
Dec. 7: Right-handers Castro, Lockett claimed off waivers
The Blue Jays grabbed the hard-throwing Anthony Castro, 25, off waivers from the Tigers. Castro was ranked as Detroit's No. 17 prospect at the time by MLB Pipeline. With high strikeout potential thanks to a mid-90s fastball and strong slider, Castro has also struggled with control in the Minor Leagues, making him a potential bullpen candidate long term.
Walker Lockett, 26, was claimed from the Mariners and has pitched parts of the past three seasons at the Major League level as a starter and reliever. In the Minor Leagues, Lockett has primarily pitched as a starter, posting a 4.40 ERA over parts of four seasons in Triple-A.
Dec. 2: Shaw, Cole non-tendered
The Blue Jays chose not to tender contracts to Shaw and Cole, making them free agents. Moving on from Shaw gives the Blue Jays an opportunity to pursue an upgrade at third, while Cole ultimately returned on a Minor League deal.
Nov. 7: Ray signs one-year deal
Liking what they saw after acquiring Robbie Ray from the D-backs at the 2020 Trade Deadline, the Blue Jays brought him back on a one-year, $8 million deal. Ray is expected to pitch in the No. 4 or No. 5 spot of the rotation, offering plenty of upside.
Oct. 30: Anderson’s option declined
Starting pitcher Chase Anderson had a $9.5 million club option for 2021, but the Blue Jays paid the $500,000 buyout and will use the remaining money elsewhere.