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5 questions facing Blue Jays this offseason

October 31, 2019

TORONTO -- Coming off a 67-95 season filled with threads of optimism for the future, the Blue Jays now fully shift their focus to 2020 and beyond. With a young core of position players that Toronto hasn’t seen in many years, the Blue Jays have a foundation to build upon

TORONTO -- Coming off a 67-95 season filled with threads of optimism for the future, the Blue Jays now fully shift their focus to 2020 and beyond.

With a young core of position players that Toronto hasn’t seen in many years, the Blue Jays have a foundation to build upon while the supporting cast comes together. This offseason’s moves will hint at just how quickly the rebuild will transition to legitimate contention.

Here are five questions facing the Blue Jays as their offseason begins:

1. Can rotation depth turn into rotation talent?
The Blue Jays used 21 starting pitchers in 2019, the second most in MLB history behind only the 1915 Philadelphia Athletics. Some of those were openers or full bullpen games, of course, but it’s still far from ideal and presents too many roster challenges.

Some of this will naturally correct itself in 2020. The injuries to Matt Shoemaker, Ryan Borucki, Clayton Richard and Clay Buchholz were beyond what could have been reasonably expected, and the trades of Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez further complicated things. The Blue Jays enter 2020 with plenty of young depth, and they are expected to address the position via free agency or trade, but some of that focus should be shifting from depth to the middle and upper tiers of the rotation.

Nate Pearson, Toronto's No. 1 prospect and MLB's No. 10 per MLB Pipeline, possesses ace potential and should debut next season. One of the current depth arms could make a jump in his second or third season, too, but that’s never a certainty. A 30-game starter with a 3.50 ERA would do wonders for a Blue Jays team that will still be developing.

2. Which outfielder will make “the jump”?
Similar to the rotation, the Blue Jays have plenty of outfield options but are waiting for one to truly step forward across a full season. Randal Grichuk is locked up long term and belted 31 home runs in 2019, but he described it himself as a down year. Teoscar Hernández has shown plenty of encouraging signs since returning from Triple-A Buffalo earlier in the year, which the Blue Jays hope he can carry into 2020.

Beyond that, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. showed some great flashes in left field, but over a relatively small sample size before hitting the IL again. Derek Fisher, Billy McKinney, Anthony Alford and Jonathan Davis are also in that picture. If even one member of this crowded group can make the jump in 2020, the Blue Jays will be much better off.

If the Blue Jays do choose to go out and address their outfield via trade or free agency this offseason, a natural center fielder would be their likeliest target.

3. What’s the plan at first base and DH?
With Justin Smoak a free agent, Rowdy Tellez is the lone holdover at this position group. Tellez has power, and the Blue Jays are impressed with how he has adjusted since his last stint in Triple-A Buffalo, but they’d also like to see a better on-base tool between those home runs to round out his value, like Smoak has done across his five years in Toronto.

Smoak hit just .208 with a .748 OPS in his fifth season with the Blue Jays, but his defensive value cannot be understated. The 32-year-old was recently nominated for a Gold Glove Award, and in an infield made up mostly of rookies, he often acted as the safety net at first base.

The DH spot can be used to cycle hitters through, especially from that outfield group. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. could be destined for first base, too, but that isn’t expected to happen in early 2020, at the very least. This could be a position that the Blue Jays address with a minor move, or it could be a place where they choose to get creative.

4. Who is the next bullpen success story?
Over the past few seasons, the Blue Jays have done well when it comes to finding veteran, free-agent relievers. From Joe Smith in 2017 to Seunghwan Oh in 2018 and Daniel Hudson and David Phelps this season, they’ve hit far more often than they’ve missed. All four of those names have eventually turned into prospect capital on the trade market, which has fit with the Blue Jays’ rebuild.

Next year, the Blue Jays might need one to stick around. There will be multiple jobs at least open for competition come Spring Training, so expect the Blue Jays to make some value plays over the course of the offseason.

5. Where do the rookies go from here?
The big three of Guerrero, Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio will remain in the spotlight.

Guerrero, in some ways, fell below expectations, even as a 20-year-old. He hit .272 with 15 home runs and a .772 OPS, but he struggled at times for the first time as a professional after soaring through the Minor Leagues as the top prospect in all of baseball. An improved workout plan and a fresh start should benefit him significantly.

“I’m not satisfied with the way I did,” Guerrero said, breaking down his own rookie season recently. “I’m not satisfied, because I know I can do better, and I’m going to get better. Defensively, since the beginning [of the season] to now, I got a lot better, but I don’t want to stay like that. I need to get better. I want to get better.”

Bichette, on the other hand, blew past any reasonable expectations, while Biggio met his square on. Young players remain one of the hardest commodities to predict in all of sports, but the Blue Jays need this core group to be great, not just good.

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