TORONTO -- As the sting of the Blue Jays' last-minute elimination slowly wears off, the focus in the coming weeks will quickly shift to what should be a busy offseason for Toronto.
Looking ahead, here are five major questions this organization needs to answer over the winter:
1) Can the Blue Jays re-sign Robbie Ray?
Robbie Ray was expected to be a No. 3 or No. 4 starter in 2021. Instead, he pitched like an AL Cy Young Award winner. Without Ray, the Blue Jays wouldn’t have made their late run at a postseason spot, so bringing him back -- or finding a top-end replacement -- has to be Toronto's top priority this winter.
Hitting the market at 30 and coming off a 2.83 ERA with a league-best 248 strikeouts over 193 1/3 innings, Ray will have no shortage of suitors in free agency.
2) Can the Blue Jays re-sign Marcus Semien?
Just like Ray, Semien signed a one-year deal to re-establish his value, then did something far greater. Semien set a new MLB record for home runs hit by a second baseman with 45, and he could earn enough AL MVP consideration for a third-place finish in the voting behind the Angels' Shohei Ohtani and teammate Vladimir Guerrero Jr. The 31-year-old still views himself as a shortstop, but proved in 2021 that he can play second base just as well.
Semien’s market will be massive, and there’s some urgency here for the Blue Jays given that they have uncertainty at both second base and third base entering 2022. Prospects Jordan Groshans and Orelvis Martinez will eventually be part of that solution, but what Semien added to the roster in ’21 is extremely rare, both on and off the field.
“That dialogue will be constant where we’re talking about their interests, our interests and hoping that they’re aligned,” said executive vice president of baseball operations and general manager Ross Atkins.
3) How will the Blue Jays approach bullpen needs?
In the past, the Blue Jays have tried to find value on low-level or one-year deals in the $2 million to $4 million range, and they’ve done so with success. But this offseason, Toronto could flex some of its financial muscle in the market and aim higher. There’s a need for back-end talent, but Atkins loves the pieces he has in Jordan Romano and Tim Mayza to build from.
“At some points in the year, they really put some guys on their back and did some exceptional things,” Atkins said. "And they’re so early in their careers to have done that, which bodes exceptionally well for their futures. Then, complementing them with [Adam] Cimber and [Trevor] Richards really seemed to help stabilize things for us and put others guys in more suitable positions for them to be successful.”
4) Who will catch the most games in 2022?
Danny Jansen finished strong and has the trust of his staff and the organization, while Alejandro Kirk should benefit from a full healthy season and has the offensive potential to show much more than he did in 2021. It’s No. 1 prospect Gabriel Moreno, though, who makes this interesting.
It’s difficult to overstate just how high many within Toronto's organization and around the game are on Moreno. He’ll turn 22 as camp opens in February, and while a fractured thumb cost him a chunk of this season, Moreno hit .373 with eight home runs and a 1.092 OPS over 32 games in Double-A New Hampshire. The Blue Jays will need to see that his defense and game calling are big league-ready, but the position is his to run with, and that time could come sooner than you expect.
5) Is it extension time for the young core?
Now that Guerrero and Bo Bichette have three seasons under their belts, there could be a greater comfort level for Toronto when it comes to exploring early contract extensions. The balance of risk versus immediate reward needs to work for both sides, which makes the timing of those extensions difficult to project. But both Guerrero and Bichette have proven to be cornerstone pieces of the organization.
Another name to keep in mind is Teoscar Hernández. On many other rosters, Hernández is the star, but his 2020 and '21 performances have understandably been overshadowed in Toronto. Hernández has two years of team control remaining in ’22 and ’23, but as he enters his age-29 season still very much in his prime, there are more huge offensive seasons ahead.