TORONTO -- Any day now, the Blue Jays will take their first steps in a different direction.
That might be back toward the middle, trying to recapture some of the offense they thought they could survive without, but it will be a new direction nonetheless. Toronto’s front office is already aggressively exploring the trade market, positioning itself to move quickly if the thin free-agent market doesn’t provide every answer.
Much of 2024’s success or failure will depend on what happens internally, though.
Here are three reasons to believe it could get better … and three things to worry about:
THREE THINGS TO BELIEVE IN
1) A full season -- hopefully -- of Danny Jansen
So many of Jansen’s injuries boil down to bad luck. If these were repeated soft-tissue injuries or a bum shoulder, then you could slap the “injury-prone” tag on Jansen, but his ailments have come on foul tips and bounces that could go the other way in 2024. If that happens, you’re looking at one of the best offensive catchers in baseball with the greatest motivator in baseball: a contract year.
Let’s combine Jansen’s last two seasons -- a useful sample to capture who he’s been since fully embracing his identity as a pull-side power hitter. Over 158 games, he hit .242 with 32 home runs and an .817 OPS. Adjust that to roughly 120 games for a healthy Jansen, and you would still be looking at 25 home runs -- a valuable secondary power bat in a lineup desperately in need of one (or three).
2) A prospect who pops
This year, it was Davis Schneider, and it could be his show to steal again in 2024. Schneider should have a semi-regular role with this club already and will compete for more, but the sweet spot with prospects is to have five or six land at the same time. The Blue Jays are finally getting closer to that.
Between Schneider, Orelvis Martinez (No. 2 prospect, per MLB Pipeline), Leo Jimenez (No. 6), Alan Roden (No. 7), Spencer Horwitz (No. 16), Damiano Palmegiani (No. 18) and others, the Blue Jays are positioned well to have another prospect surprise in 2024. Why is that so important? Money. If the Blue Jays can bank on one or two of these names in legitimate roles next year, it frees up millions (and millions) of dollars to address another spot.
3) Vladdy …?
The new reality of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is far from 2021, an MVP-caliber season. He owns an .804 OPS since and looks more like a 30-homer bat than one who will blow past 40 each season. But entering his age-25 season, there’s still so much time for Guerrero to find a middle ground.
Frankly, this is one you’ve already read 50 times in 2023. Guerrero’s underlying numbers point to far better production, but that needs to show up on the field. If that ever happens, there is still no player on this roster as capable of changing this team’s future.
THREE THINGS TO WORRY ABOUT
1) The ceiling of the rotation
The quartet of Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt, José Berríos and Yusei Kikuchi was brilliant in 2023. Their combined 742 1/3 innings were the most for any MLB club from their top four starters, and all four enjoyed one of the best seasons of their careers. It couldn’t have gone much better.
In a game of preparing for what might go wrong, though, this is the first place to look. Berríos’ 2022 season is an example of how quickly and unexpectedly things can go wrong, and Kikuchi will be tasked with sustaining his breakthrough as well. This isn’t a knock on any of the four veterans, but a bet on the realities of Major League Baseball. Can it go that well again?
2) The floor of the rotation
This one’s easier to quantify. Alek Manoah enters camp as the ultimate unknown, coming off a terrible 2023 season, and Toronto’s depth beyond the starting five has been too thin for at least the past two seasons.
Ross Stripling’s 2022 season and Hyun Jin Ryu’s return a year ago saved this organization from being that exposed, but what if the Blue Jays need to go nine or 10 starters deep this summer?
3) Bullpens … they’re unpredictable
This is me taking the easy way out -- the “free square on the bingo card,” if you will. Toronto’s bullpen looks fantastic on paper, and it could get better, but think of this similarly to the top four in the rotation. Will the bullpen be that good again or regress a bit?
This group could regress and still be very good, of course. A year ago, this bullpen ranked eighth in MLB with a 3.68 ERA, fifth in K/9 (9.79) and fourth in BB/9 (3.15). This group is too good to go off a cliff, but relievers are so difficult to predict year to year.