Where Toronto has improved the most since '22

January 14th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Keegan Matheson's Blue Jays Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletterclick here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

When Drew Carey was still hosting the show, he’d open by saying:

“Welcome to ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’, the show where everything is made up and the points don’t matter.”

The same can be said about the offseason.

Trophies are neither won nor lost in December and January, despite the great weight put on these months of roster building. Just ask the 2013 Blue Jays, who became overnight betting favorites by striking a megadeal with the Marlins for Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, José Reyes and Emilio Bonifácio.

A month later, they traded a star-studded prospect package for reigning National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey. None of it mattered.

Toronto went 74-88 that season, finishing last in the AL East. It was one of the most disappointing seasons in the club’s history.

This offseason hasn’t been nearly as flashy. It’s difficult to look at this roster and say that the Blue Jays are significantly better than they were in 2022, especially when you compare them to the giants of the league like the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers and Astros. Besides, when you’re trying to win a World Series, those are the only comparisons that matter.

This isn’t a worse roster, though. It’s simply “different,” and that’s exactly what Toronto needed after just missing out on the postseason in 2021 and flaming out early against the Mariners in ’22. The roster is undeniably talented, so a rebrand might be exactly what this club needed. As the Blue Jays try to solve the postseason puzzle, they’re now approaching it from a fresh angle with fresh eyes … and a vastly improved defense.

With bigger names already added in Daulton Varsho, Chris Bassitt, Kevin Kiermaier and Erik Swanson, the club is in its tinkering phase, which is where Brandon Belt comes in. A veteran with two World Series rings is a fine way to tinker, too, especially if his surgically-repaired knee allows Belt to get back to his 2020 and ’21 forms, like he expects. During those seasons, over a combined 148 games, Belt hit .285 with 38 home runs and a .988 OPS. 

Even an .800-plus OPS would be a welcome addition, but Belt’s presence is about more than his stat line. Even as a strict designated hitter who will dust off his glove every once in a while to back up Vladimir Guerrero Jr. at first base, Belt’s roster spot should take some pressure off one of the most important bats in this lineup. 

Alejandro Kirk started 74 games at catcher last season and 49 as the DH. The catching situation ebbed and flowed, as Danny Jansen was on and off the IL and No. 1 prospect Gabriel Moreno -- sent to the D-backs in the Varsho trade -- made his grand debut. Generally speaking, though, if Kirk wasn’t behind the plate, he was the club’s top DH option.

Now, as long as Belt produces, he’ll represent a strong enough option to keep Kirk on the bench when Jansen catches, allowing the young star to sustain his production through the season better than he did in 2022.

Alejandro Kirk’s 2022 season:
April to June:
.319 average/.925 OPS
July to October: .258 average/.674 OPS

Toronto eased off on Kirk at times, rarely using him behind the plate on back-to-back days as his power numbers steadily dipped down the stretch. Kirk’s offensive profile is as unique as anyone’s in baseball, and fits this lineup particularly well, but it’s the first-half version of Kirk that made him an All-Star. The second half was, for a catcher, average.

If Jansen stays healthy alongside him, don’t expect Kirk to be pushing 140 games again. The Blue Jays need their best contact hitter to be at his best when it matters most, which is down the stretch and into October. With Belt on the roster, manager John Schneider can finally do that without suffering as great a drop-off in production.