The Toronto Blue Jays returned to the playoffs in 2022 but were quickly brushed aside by the Seattle Mariners in two games in the American League Wild Card Series.
There were several positives to take from the season but the campaign was ultimately a disappointment given the expectations heaped upon the club in spring training.
With that in mind, Toronto’s roster has undergone a significant overhaul in recent months, with the likes of Teoscar Hernandez, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Gabriel Moreno and Ross Stripling no longer with the team. Chris Bassitt, Daulton Varsho, Brandon Belt, Kevin Kiermaier and Erik Swanson are among the new players added.
Even though the Blue Jays’ heavy lifting is done, there is still fine-tuning to do before the 2023 campaign begins. We’ll keep you up to speed with all the latest news, rumours and analysis as the offseason unfolds.
Blue Jays bring in another depth starter, DFA two players
The Blue Jays acquired pitcher Zach Thompson from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for minor-league outfielder Chavez Young. Thompson played 29 games (22 starts) with the Pirates last season, posting a 3-10 record with a 5.18 ERA. The 29-year-old owns a 4.44 ERA in 56 career games.
Ideally he’s not forced into action much at the MLB level in 2023, but he’s capable of filling in for a brief spell if injuries strike.
Toronto designated pitcher Junior Fernandez for assignment to clear room for Thompson on the 40-man roster. The team also announced reliever Julian Merryweather was DFA’d to open a roster spot for Brandon Belt.
Jays add more World Series pedigree
The Blue Jays added another notable name to their roster in a bit of a surprise move, signing veteran first baseman Brandon Belt to a one-year deal worth $9.3 million. Belt had spent his entire 12-year career with the San Francisco Giants, winning two World Series titles along the way.
Now 34 years old and possessing a lengthy injury history, Belt figures to spend the bulk of his time at designated hitter but can mix in at first base when Vladimir Guerrero Jr. needs a day off his feet. Belt can also serve as a legitimate pinch-hit weapon on days he doesn’t start. His left-handed bat gives Toronto more lineup balance and his playoff experience should be a valuable intangible.
Toronto still open to adding position players?
Even after trading for Daulton Varsho, the Blue Jays aren’t necessarily done adding position players, according to Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith. Toronto’s current projected lineup looks something like this:
C: Danny Jansen
1B: Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
2B: Santiago Espinal
SS: Bo Bichette
3B: Matt Chapman
LF: Daulton Varsho
CF: Kevin Kiermaier
RF: George Springer
DH: Alejandro Kirk
Bench: Whit Merrifield, Cavan Biggio, Otto Lopez, Nathan Lukes
The regulars appear set if everyone is healthy, but the Blue Jays certainly have room to add to their bench between now and spring training.
Blue Jays land Varsho but give up a lot
The Blue Jays made a major splash two days before Christmas, acquiring Daulton Varsho from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Varsho gives Toronto the impact left-handed bat it was looking for and also provides excellent outfield defence. The cost was high, as the Blue Jays sent top prospect Gabriel Moreno and veteran outfielder Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to Arizona in return.
Blue Jays linked to Conforto
Michael Conforto is one of the biggest-name outfielders remaining on the free-agent market and the Blue Jays have expressed interest in him, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. Conforto missed the entire 2022 season due to a shoulder injury and was merely average in 2021, but enjoyed extremely productive campaigns from 2017-20. It makes sense Toronto has him on its radar considering the offensive upside he would bring as a left-handed hitter.
Bassitt not the final rotation add?
The Blue Jays could easily arrive in spring training with a starting rotation of Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios, Chris Bassitt and Yusei Kikuchi/Mitch White, but they might not be done trying to improve that group. Veteran right-hander Johnny Cueto is on the team’s radar, according to Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith.
Cueto made 25 starts for the Chicago White Sox in 2022, posting a 3.35 ERA. The 36-year-old was able to register impressive numbers despite only striking out 5.8 batters per nine innings. The two-time All-Star would bring plenty of experience and an extremely entertaining pitch delivery to the mound at Rogers Centre.
Toronto catchers drawing “significant interest”
The Blue Jays have been rumoured to be shopping one of their three MLB-calibre catchers all offseason, and teams are still showing “significant interest” in the trio of Alejandro Kirk, Danny Jansen and Gabriel Moreno, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan.
Sean Murphy’s trade from the Oakland Athletics to the Atlanta Braves took another backstop off the market for catcher-needy teams, so the Blue Jays’ phones should start ringing a little more now that other options are unavailable. Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi pegged the Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Guardians as potential fits.
Blue Jays add Bassitt
The Blue Jays added some much-needed stability to their starting rotation by agreeing to a three-year, $63 million deal with Chris Bassitt. Bassitt pitched for the New York Mets in 2022, registering a 3.42 ERA over 30 starts. He has been one of the most consistent starters in the majors since 2015 with a career 3.45 ERA.
The 33-year-old will slide into the middle of the Blue Jays’ rotation behind co-aces Alek Manoah and Kevin Gausman. Toronto’s staff also includes Jose Berrios, who will be looking for a bounce-back season after a rocky 2022 campaign. Yusei Kikuchi and Mitch White remain options for the fifth-starter role.
Jays land a left-handed bat for the outfield
The Blue Jays addressed one of the holes in their outfield on Saturday by agreeing to a deal with veteran Kevin Kiermaier, according to Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi.
Kiermaier had spent his entire career with the Tampa Bay Rays and made a name for himself as one of the best defensive outfielders in the majors. He has three Gold Gloves to his name and also won the American League Platinum Glove in 2015, awarded annually to the best overall defender in each league.
The 32-year-old has never offered much in the way of offence, as evidenced by his career .248/.308/.407 batting line. He hit .228 with a .649 OPS in 2022 but was limited to 63 games due to a hip injury.
Toronto targeting Arizona outfielder?
With the Cardinals no longer a realistic trade partner in a catcher-for-outfielder swap, the Blue Jays are one of roughly 10 teams calling the Arizona Diamondbacks for outfield help, according to Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic. The three Arizona players reportedly drawing interest are Daulton Varsho, Jake McCarthy and Alek Thomas.
Long-rumoured trade partner goes in a different direction
The St. Louis Cardinals were linked to the Blue Jays for several weeks given their need at catcher following the retirement of franchise icon Yadier Molina. The Cardinals have several young outfielders that would potentially have been of interest to the Blue Jays, including Dylan Carlson and Lars Nootbaar. Swapping one of Toronto’s three catchers for an outfielder would have been a logical match but St. Louis opted instead to sign star backstop Willson Contreras to a five-year, $87.5 million deal.
Jays were a finalist for Jansen?
Kenley Jansen ultimately inked a two-year deal with the Boston Red Sox, but the Blue Jays were reportedly a finalist for the veteran closer, per David Vassegh of SportsNet LA.
Toronto’s reported interest in Jansen is intriguing given the right-hander has spent the past decade as a ninth-inning weapon. The Blue Jays already appear set at closer after Jordan Romano’s All-Star season, but perhaps they were willing to move the Canadian into a role where he could appear in high-leverage spots, regardless of the inning.
Boras weighs in on Blue Jays
Baseball super agent Scott Boras met with Sportsnet’s Hazel Mae and Ben Nicholson-Smith and said the team is more focused on offensive players than pitchers at the moment. Boras also confirmed the Jays have shown interest in outfielders Brandon Nimmo, and Joey Gallo. Cody Bellinger was on their radar before he landed with the Chicago Cubs.
Trying again with Brantley?
The Blue Jays came extremely close to signing veteran outfielder Michael Brantley in 2021, with some reports even calling it a done deal at the time. Brantley ended up returning to the Houston Astros on a two-year deal but finds himself on the free-agent market again this year and the Blue Jays are once again pursuing him, per Nicholson-Smith.
Brantley turns 36 next season and was limited to 64 games in 2022 due to a shoulder injury. He doesn’t hit for much power but always flirts with a .300 batting average and can work walks as a left-handed hitter. It’s unclear how much outfield he can realistically play at this point of his career but he can slot in as a designated hitter if necessary. Given his age and injury history, Brantley shouldn’t require a long-term commitment.
Blue Jays interested in Japanese outfield star Masataka Yoshida
The Jays are one of a number of teams reportedly monitoring the status of star Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida, after the MLB announced that the 29-year-old will be posted on Wednesday. The lefty registered 21 home runs and 89 RBIs while slashing .335/.447/.551 with the Orix Buffaloes of the NPB last season.
Yoshida will have until Jan. 20 to agree to a deal with an MLB club, and is expected to command over $20-million in salary.
Blue Jays involved in Reynolds sweepstakes
Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynolds shook up the offseason last week when he requested a trade, and the Blue Jays have been pegged as a “team to watch” in those sweepstakes, according to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi. Reynolds, a switch-hitter who would improve the Blue Jays’ offensive balance, is one of the most coveted players available through trade, so Toronto will be bidding against numerous other teams. Morosi believes the Jays would need to include one of highly touted prospects Ricky Tiedemann or Orelvis Martinez to have a chance to land Reynolds.
The 27-year-old hit .262 with an .807 OPS and 27 home runs in 145 games last season, which was a a down year for him. He is under team control through the 2025 campaign.
Jays have offer on table for lefty starter
Toronto has two holes to fill in its 2023 starting rotation with Ross Stripling currently a free agent and neither Yusei Kikuchi or Mitch White showing enough to deserve a locked-in spot for next season. The club has made an offer to southpaw Andrew Heaney to fill one of those roles, according to Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith. The Blue Jays are reportedly one of at least 10 teams to show interest in the 31-year-old.
Heaney enjoyed a terrific — albeit injury-shortened — 2022 campaign for the Los Angeles Dodgers, posting a 3.10 ERA and 13.6 K/9 rate in 16 games. He would be a risky signing for the Jays since his track record before last season is spotty to say the least, but he has a high ceiling if he can stay healthy.
Toronto was “engaged” with Verlander until the end
Justin Verlander ended up signing an enormous contract with the New York Mets on Monday, but it sounds like the Blue Jays were in the hunt until the final hours. Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi reports Toronto “remained engaged” with the ace right-hander as late as Sunday. Nicholson-Smith added he heard the Blue Jays were willing to give Verlander a multi-year contract.
Blue Jays missed out on Gibson — again
Verlander wasn’t the only starter the Blue Jays missed out on, as they were “involved until the end” with new Baltimore Orioles pitcher Kyle Gibson, per Nicholson-Smith. Toronto previously expressed interest in Gibson in 2019 before he signed with the Texas Rangers.
The 35-year-old pitched to a 5.05 ERA over 31 starts for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2022.
Twins have called about Blue Jays catchers
The Blue Jays have three MLB-calibre catchers on their roster in Danny Jansen, Gabriel Moreno and Alejandro Kirk, and the Minnesota Twins have touched base to see if they could pry one of them loose, Darren Wolfson of SKOR North Radio and 5 Eyewitness News reports in his latest podcast. The Twins have allegedly also reached out to the Oakland Athletics and Atlanta Braves to inquire about their backstops.
Toronto and Minnesota would have familiarity with one another after linking up for the Jose Berrios trade in 2021.
Blue Jays in the mix for a former MVP?
According to MLB Network’s Jon Morosi, Toronto has expressed interest in Cody Bellinger after the 2019 National League MVP was non-tendered by the Los Angeles Dodgers last week. It’s unclear whether the Blue Jays are simply doing due diligence on the new free agent, or if there’s serious interest there.
Bellinger’s agent, Scott Boras, claims his client has already been offered multi-year contracts but would prefer to sign a one-year deal to rebuild his value before cashing in next winter.
Bellinger’s production has fallen off a cliff in recent years and he slashed .210/.265/.389 in 2022. He fills a need in the outfield and hits left-handed, but signing him would be a gamble for Toronto.
Teoscar Hernandez traded to Mariners
Toronto traded star outfielder Teoscar Hernandez to the Seattle Mariners for relief pitcher Erik Swanson and pitching prospect Adam Macko. Swanson owned a 3-2 record with a 1.68 ERA in 53.2 innings for Seattle in 2022, while Macko registered 38 strikeouts in High A.
Jays have their eye on Nimmo
The Jays are reportedly showing interest in free agent OF Brandon Nimmo, according to Morosi.
Nimmo, 29, hit 16 home runs and registered 64 RBIs, slashing .274/.367/.433 in 151 games with the New York Mets in 2022. Nimmo can fill in at center-field, allowing George Springer to move into the right-field spot vacated by Hernandez.
Jays tinker with 40-man roster
The Blue Jays added four prospects to their 40-man roster on Tuesday, electing to protect pitcher Yosver Zulueta and infielders Addison Barger, Spencer Horwitz and Orelvis Martinez from the Rule 5 draft. To make room on the roster, outfielders Raimel Tapia and Bradley Zimmer were designated for assignment, while pitcher Foster Griffin was released.
Jays circling back on Heaney
The Blue Jays were interested in left-hander Andrew Heaney last offseason before he eventually landed with the Los Angeles Dodgers. According to Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith, Toronto is one of his suitors again this year after he posted a 3.10 ERA over 14 starts in 2022. Heaney struck out better than 35 percent of the hitters he faced last season and would be a fit for the middle of the Blue Jays’ rotation.
Suarez on Blue Jays’ radar
One of the most intriguing names on the relief market is Robert Suarez, who opted out of his deal with the San Diego Padres. The hard-throwing right-hander is on Toronto’s radar, per Nicholson-Smith, and it’s easy to see the fit. The Blue Jays’ bullpen lacked late-inning swing-and-miss relievers behind closer Jordan Romano in 2022, and Suarez posted a 31.9 percent strikeout rate with a 2.27 ERA.
Reunion with Stripling in the works?
Ross Stripling enjoyed a phenomenal 2022 campaign and was instrumental in keeping the Blue Jays’ rotation afloat after Hyun Jin Ryu’s season-ending injury. This is likely the 32-year-old’s best chance to secure a longer-term contract, and it’s unclear if it makes sense for the Blue Jays to make that type of commitment. The two sides have at least been in touch as they explore their options, according to Nicholson-Smith, so this is still a situation to keep a close eye on.
Blue Jays looking to trade a catcher?
It’s no secret the Blue Jays have an embarrassment of riches behind the plate, with Alejandro Kirk, Danny Jansen and Gabriel Moreno all starting-calibre catchers at this point. Rival executives are expecting the Jays to use that depth to patch up other areas of the roster, according to Morosi.
Morosi also speculated that Toronto and the Detroit Tigers could line up as trade partners given the latter’s interest in star free agent backstop Willson Contreras. If the Tigers strike out on that signing perhaps they turn their attention north of the border and send a reliever to the Blue Jays in return.
Blue Jays in on Senga?
Speaking at the GM meetings, Atkins said the Blue Jays have a “strong relationship” with Japanese pitching star Kodai Senga’s agent. Atkins expects to be in touch with Senga’s camp once free agency opens and the right-hander would make sense for Toronto on paper. Senga dominated Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball in 2022, recording a 1.94 ERA over 144 innings.
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