It’s easy to fixate on shiny things. That’s what the offseason is all about.
Step back to look at the broader view of the Blue Jays’ offseason, though, and you’ll see plenty of work to be done on a half-dozen fronts, not all of which will be flashy.
This team is returning nearly its entire roster, with Ross Stripling and David Phelps the biggest names to hit free agency, but it’s a roster that needs to be improved upon. The sting of that cruel, crippling collapse to the Mariners in Game 2 of the American League Wild Card Series is still fresh, and with each passing game of postseason baseball beyond it, it became clear that the Blue Jays just weren’t at the level of the clubs that were advancing.
They’re close, though, and these are the five needs that remain:
1. A mid-rotation starter
Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman offer a fine starting point, and José Berríos should bounce back to some extent. To be a great team, though, the Blue Jays need to add at least one legitimate starter. The trade market could be appealing here, especially given Toronto’s wealth of catching depth.
The simple version is: The Blue Jays need at least one starter who they know will be solid, not a depth starter they’ll need to hope on.
2. An outfielder, ideally a lefty bat
Nimmo fits this lineup beautifully, but how would another large contract impact the club’s ability to extend Vladimir Guerrero Jr. or Bo Bichette? Then, there’s Bellinger, the 2019 NL MVP who came crashing back down to earth. Do the Blue Jays believe in his upside, or is that another level of “hope” they can’t afford to whiff on? Michael Brantley is another who makes sense, and one who both general manager Ross Atkins and president and CEO Mark Shapiro know well from their Cleveland days. Entering his age-36 season, he’s a lefty bat and safe bet for a .360 on-base percentage, both of which fill a need.
3. Depth starter(s)
In a perfect world, the Blue Jays would make one notable addition to their rotation … then build out their depth with some names that aren’t as flashy. Entering the season with Yusei Kikuchi as the No. 5 is not a safe play, so how can Toronto address that spot? Furthermore, what about Nos. 6 and 7? Stripling saved this club from digging deeper into a thin pool of starting depth last season, and the Blue Jays can’t afford to leave themselves exposed to that again. This could be another spot where the trade market comes into play.
4. Bullpen extras?
Adding Erik Swanson in the Teoscar Hernández trade gives the Blue Jays a legitimate reliever with elite potential alongside Jordan Romano. Count in Yimi García and the other returning arms, and that’s a nice, deep group. As the playoffs showed, teams don’t get by with just two great relievers, though. The bullpen market is incredibly expensive these days, but expect to see the Blue Jays add again, ideally targeting some upside and swing-and-miss stuff, which this group has long needed more of.
5. Veteran organizational depth
Is this the most exciting one? No. But think back to past years, when the Blue Jays would find a Freddy Galvis, Eric Sogard or Joe Panik type to shore up the fringes of their roster. The versatility of Santiago Espinal and Cavan Biggio limits the true “need” for this, but there will surely be a veteran or two brought into camp as security. A good front office thinks about the worst-case scenario, then 10 scenarios beyond that, which is where these waves of Minor League signings come in.