After gutting near-miss, Blue Jays turn focus to augmenting roster for 2022

Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro joins Blair & Barker to discuss why he doesn't expect Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien to make quick FA decisions, and the organization needs to be patient with them, and also examine alternatives while they decide.

TORONTO – One thing for the Toronto Blue Jays to take from a post-season that ended with Atlanta celebrating a World Series championship is just how mad they should be about falling one measly game short of the playoffs.

We’ll obviously never know how it would have played out, but their stacked lineup and rotation as deep or deeper than any in October would have made them a nightmare matchup. During the last week of the regular season, three rival scouts doing advance work for the playoffs described the Blue Jays as “scary,” “dangerous,” and “a team no one wants to play.”

Whether they would have had enough leverage relief to nail down series wins, especially considering how aggressively bullpens were used throughout the post-season, is an interesting question, one that’s no doubt central to their winter planning.

But that the Blue Jays didn’t even give themselves a chance to find out is among the franchise’s most disappointing missed opportunities, right there with collapse of 1987, the late slide of 1990, the too-little, too-late charges in 1988 and 2008 and a what-might-have-been 2017 club.

There’s no making any of that better, so with the off-season underway and the roster sure to be altered by the pivotal free agencies of Marcus Semien, Robbie Ray and Steven Matz, all GM Ross Atkins and Co. can do is work to ensure there’s no repeat in 2022.

Obviously that’s easier said than done, and how the Blue Jays go about augmenting a 91-71 club may not be known for months if the collective bargaining agreement expires Dec. 1 without a new deal and a lockout follows.

Still, it’s worth parsing the handful of breadcrumbs left by Atkins during his season-wrap media availability for clues as to where this is going.


Perhaps the clearest hint was the way Atkins spoke of evening out a roster that had a major-league low 1,102 plate appearances from left-handed batters in 2021, 518 fewer than the nearest club, the St. Louis Cardinals. Even with an OPS of .653 from their lefties that ranked 28th, the Blue Jays felt that when Cavan Biggio and Corey Dickerson were in the lineup, “how we are attacked and potentially the pitchers used is different,” said Atkins.

“We feel it's important to have balance and not just the same type of hitters up and down your lineup, so some players that are more batting average driven and some players that are more on-base driven with plate discipline,” he added. “Having both is exceptionally powerful and having a combination of all of those things is ultimately what we're striving to do.”

Speculate away on names – switch-hitting Cleveland third baseman Jose Ramirez will be a regular in the grist, especially since the Blue Jays made a run at him at the deadline – but the clearest ways for them to get more left-handed is at second and third base and in the outfield.

Biggio could be part of that solution, but barring some sort of transformative trade, this is probably where the bulk of the work happens.


Not only did Semien, Ray and Matz combine to give the Blue Jays 13.3 WAR, as calculated by FanGraphs, but they also did it for $31 million. So, what they’re trying to replace is not just their production, but also their financial efficiency.

That’s why it’s highly unlikely all three are back. Both Semien and Ray are in line for nine-figure contracts, while Matz will be coveted in the mid-tier starter market. To re-sign all three, the Blue Jays will likely need to burn through most of their available payroll, and that on its own isn’t making them better.

To that end, a comment from president and CEO Mark Shapiro is instructive about the team’s thinking: “I'm not a believer that you have to sign anyone back. I'm a believer that you have to get better. And as I sit down with Ross and sit in on our meetings or preparation, there are multiple ways for that to happen. We'll have the resources to do it, both in young talent that we could trade and in payroll. So ... it may not be the exact same shape and form, but we're going to get better and find a way to do it.”

In other words, no blank cheques for anyone. And, reading between the lines, the Blue Jays could be looking at replacing lost production by potentially upgrading multiple spots and taking a collective gain, rather than a concentrated one.


So, does that mean no major signing like a Hyun Jin Ryu or a George Springer? Not necessarily, although it’s worth noting that Atkins hinted at a Springer type of move after the 2020 season when he said the Blue Jays could seek “impact condensed in one player,” which translates into English as a star-calibre talent.

This time around, there were no similar clues, although that could also be the Blue Jays simply trying to be opaque. They should be getting ownership approval of their final payroll number in the next couple of weeks and they’re expecting a bump on their estimated 2021 total of $140 million, so they’ll have some money to work with.

But it’s worth noting that both Shapiro and Atkins raised the possibility of making trades, the former mentioning prospects and the latter adding that, “sometimes it may take an addition by subtraction.”

“We haven't done much of that,” Atkins continued. “We haven't subtracted from our major league teams. We have to be open to all avenues.”

That’s as definitive a line in the water to other clubs as Atkins could drop and surplus in the outfield and behind the plate offer obvious opportunities for the Blue Jays. Lourdes Gurriel Jr.’s name has floated around the past couple of off-seasons and he’d have more industry value than Randal Grichuk, although there was some interest in him around the trade deadline.

Behind the plate, Danny Jansen closed out the season looking more like the hitter he was throughout his minor-league career and perhaps that opens a pathway to trading Alejandro Kirk, whom the Pittsburgh Pirates targeted ahead of the 2020 deadline. The rapid progress of top prospect Gabriel Moreno, who is demolishing the Arizona Fall League right now, protects against a subtraction there.

The trade of Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson for Jose Berrios showed that the Blue Jays, for the right player, are also willing to surrender upper tier minor-league talent, and they still have plenty of that.


Alek Manoah’s sooner-than-expected emergence really saved the Blue Jays’ heinies last summer and they’ll need more candidates from within to again supplement the program.

The top candidate in that regard is Nate Pearson, who’s spun his wheels the past two seasons due to both health and performance reasons, and could potentially be used akin to the way the Tampa Bay Rays handled Luis Patino, who logged 77.1 innings over 19 games, 15 of them starts in the majors, with 29.1 more in the minors.

Beyond Pearson is an interesting group of triple-A starters that includes Thomas Hatch, Anthony Kay and three arms that must be added to the 40-man roster to protect them from the Rule 5 draft – Zach Logue, Bowden Francis and Joey Murray. The club will be counting on someone to emerge from that group into a rotation piece.

On the position-player side, Moreno’s timeline is speeding up and notable is that as he recovered from a fractured thumb, “he did a lot of work at third base at the Player Development Complex,” said farm director Gil Kim. “While that's not his primary position, it is an option that maybe down the road will be in play. Right now we're focused on catching but as we've seen, maximalizing versatility is huge.”

The plan was for him to continue working out at third in the AFL and perhaps get a game or two in on the hot corner. That the Blue Jays are trying to create more pathways to the majors for him is an indicator of how advanced his bat is, and perhaps he becomes a mid-season spark.

When submitting content, please abide by our  submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.
We use cookies to improve your experience. Learn More or change your cookie preferences. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the use of cookies.