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Blue Jays have their ace; what's next?

@KeeganMatheson
January 6, 2020

TORONTO -- With pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training in just over a month, the offseason is quickly ticking down. The Blue Jays have taken care of their most glaring need, adding starter Hyun-Jin Ryu on a four-year, $80 million deal that gives them an ace while they wait

TORONTO -- With pitchers and catchers reporting to Spring Training in just over a month, the offseason is quickly ticking down.

The Blue Jays have taken care of their most glaring need, adding starter Hyun-Jin Ryu on a four-year, $80 million deal that gives them an ace while they wait on their No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, Nate Pearson, to chase a similarly great ceiling. They also added Chase Anderson via trade and Tanner Roark on a two-year, $24 million deal, which the club hopes will add some reliability to the middle of its rotation after an assembly-line 2019 season.

Projecting Blue Jays' 2020 Opening Day roster

Travis Shaw remains Toronto’s lone positional signing as the heir to Justin Smoak at first base on a one-year, $4 million deal, while Shun Yamaguchi -- who could still be considered for the rotation -- looks like the club’s only Major League-level bullpen addition of the offseason so far. That should soon change.

Work remains for the Blue Jays, and what that will entail depends on just how aggressive they’d like to be in this latter phase of the offseason. Here are three questions facing the team as it puts the finishing touches on the roster over the next month.

1. Is there still a way to change the outfield identity?
The starting outfield still looks like some combination of Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Teoscar Hernández and Randal Grichuk, with a competition for the fourth and potentially fifth spots. There’s some upside there, particularly with Gurriel, who looked excellent when healthy in 2019, and Hernández, who hit 23 home runs after he returned from Triple-A in June.

This is still a group of high-strikeout, low-OBP outfielders, though. That can still work when they’re hitting the ball out of the yard, but the quiet nights can get awfully quiet. The Blue Jays have explored options for center field, where they’re open to finding a more natural fit long-term. At such a premium position, though, those options are running thin, and Toronto doesn't have a top outfield prospect knocking on the door.

The idea of Cavan Biggio seeing some time in center field has been kicked around internally, which would add some much-needed on-base percentage to the outfield, but that’s certainly not being prioritized as Plan A.

2. Who will keep Ken Giles company in the bullpen?
Trade chatter involving Giles hasn’t been nearly as prevalent as many expected entering the offseason. Then 29-year-old is coming off a 1.87 ERA with 23 saves in 2019, and he could still very likely be a top trade chip come July. But for now, he’s the bullpen’s steadying force and one of the club’s top players.

Giles needs some friends down there, though. Holdovers like Wilmer Font, Anthony Bass and Sam Gaviglio all have shots at roles, but so much of this will depend on the Blue Jays’ pitching strategy. If all goes according to plan and the rotation features five true starters, will there be a need for multiple “bulk” pitchers, like those who followed the openers in last season?

The Blue Jays have made a handful of Minor League signings so far, but expect several more veterans to be brought in. From Joe Smith to Seunghwan Oh, Tyler Clippard, David Phelps and Daniel Hudson, Toronto has a strong recent track record of finding good bullpen value on smaller deals.

3. Where are depth and insurance signings needed?
A veteran catcher for Triple-A Buffalo is a near certainty, while a veteran utility infielder is expected at some point for Toronto, too. This will be about insuring against injuries to their young starters, of course, but it will also give the Blue Jays an opportunity to surround players like Danny Jansen, Reese McGuire, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Biggio with experienced voices, whether it be for Spring Training or longer.

Beyond those, the first base and DH position could still be further addressed if the right fit comes along at the right price. Shaw, who bats left, has typically hit right-handed pitching very well but has been below average against left-handers. Is there a lefty-masher available who could spell off Shaw, offer a partial upgrade over Rowdy Tellez and not limit the roster’s flexibility? Even two out of those three boxes being checked off might make for a nice supplemental addition.

Keegan Matheson is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter @KeeganMatheson.