The Toronto Blue Jays said they would make a big splash in this year’s free agent market and the front office made good on its promise by attracting a couple of big names to the ballclub.
Toronto was one of the big spenders this off-season, highlighted by the six-year, $150-million contract that enticed former World Series MVP George Springer to fly north from Houston, and the one-year contract worth $18 million the club gave to new second baseman Marcus Semien.
They join an already loaded batting order that includes shortstop Bo Bichette, designated hitter Teoscar Hernandez and first/third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Junior.
George Springer, CF
Marcus Semien, 2B
Bo Bichette, SS
Teoscar Hernandez, RF
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B
Cavan Biggio, 3B
Lourdes Gurriel Jr., LF
Rowdy Tellez, DH
Danny Jansen, C
Randal Grichuk, OF
Jonathan Davis, OF
Santiago Espinal, IF
Reese McGuire, C
But while the Blue Jays should be able to light up the scoreboard, one of the burning questions entering the 2021 Major League Baseball season will be whether or not Toronto’s pitching staff will be able to keep opposing batters from doing the same.
Toronto’s starting rotation is headlined by 2020 Cy Young Award finalist Hyun-jin Ryu who sported a record of 5-2 in 12 starts during last year’s shortened season, along with a sparking 2.69 earned run average and 72 strikeouts and 67 innings.
Ryu is clearly the anchor of the rotation, but there is a big drop-off after Toronto’s ace.
Hyun-jin Ryu, LHP
Robbie Ray, LHP
Nate Pearson, RHP
Tanner Roark, RHP
Ross Stripling, RHP
Robbie Ray was an all-star in 2017 when he went 15-5 with a 2.89 ERA with Arizona, but despite having an electric arm the 29-year-old lefthander has been inconsistent over the last few years.
Nate Pearson has all the tools to be the next star pitcher in the majors and Toronto hopes its No. 1 prospect has kicked the injury bug after the 24-year-old fireballer was sidelined for part of last year with right elbow tightness.
Tanner Roark enjoyed a couple of really good seasons (2014 and 2016) with Washington in which he went a combined 31-20, however, the 34-year-old will more often than not be counted on to eat some innings every fifth start.
Ross Stripling is another versatile veteran hurler who darted between the rotation and bullpen while he was with the L.A. Dodgers between 2016 and 2020 before being dealt to Toronto last August.
At first glance, the Jays’ bullpen looks like it could be one of the better ones in the majors, especially if closer Kirby Yates can duplicate his all-star form of 2019.
The 33-year-old from Lihue, Hawaii, led the big leagues with 41 saves two seasons ago and posted a 1.19 ERA while with San Diego.
Kirby Yates, RHP (closer)
Jordan Romano, RHP
Rafael Dolis, RHP
Ryan Borucki, LHP
Shun Yamaguchi, RHP
Julian Merryweather, RHP
Tyler Chatwood, RHP
Steven Matz, LHP
Jordan Romano and Rafael Dolis have proven to be decent setup guys in Toronto’s pen, which is comprised of a mix of young talent like Ryan Borucki and MLB veterans like newcomers Steven Matz and Tyler Chatwood.
Most baseball experts are slotting the Blue Jays as the third-place team in the competitive American League East, behind the New York Yankees and the defending AL champion Tampa Bay Rays.
Numerous projections peg Toronto as an 85-win ballclub in 2021 which would put them on the playoff bubble.
If Ryu repeats his 2020 performance and Ray and/or Pearson are able to exceed expectations, perhaps the Jays can encroach on the 90-win plateau this season.
Then again, if the Jays’ front office spent a little more energy, and money, on the mound as opposed to beefing up its already bulging batting order, fans would feel more confident about the team’s playoff chances this year.
Rick Zamperin is the assistant program, news and senior sports director at Global News Radio 900 CHML.