Realizing the Potential of the Blue Jays: Setting Foundations on Truth, Not Fiction

Feverishly watching the flight route of a plane that wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be is a nice metaphor for the Toronto Blue Jays’ offseason and outlook. The Jays knew Shohei Ohtani wasn’t on that flight, but their fans certainly didn’t. That doesn’t mean that the Jays themselves have acted in any less of a deluded manner this winter, or are less fuzzy on who they are as spring training is a month away.

There are a lot of frustrated fanbases all around MLB. Giants fans might turn Oracle Park into the new Jamestown at this point. Mariners fans are just confused. Cubs fans wait for something to show that the team is serious about acting like the biggest market in the NL Central. Yankees fans are wondering where their signings are, however placated they were by the trade for Juan Soto. Mets fans are Mets fans. Blue Jays fans are near the top of the “What the hell are we doing?” brigade.

A winter that promised a run at Ohtani or a trade for Soto, or perhaps the capture of Cody Bellinger, whatever it was, everyone was pretty sure the Jays weren’t satisfied being a third-place team with 89 wins. That after years of promise and a “just you wait and see” sneer with the assurance that it will all come together, well, it hasn’t come together. No playoff wins, no division titles, no sniff of a third World Series banner hanging over the redone Rogers Centre.

And maybe it’s time for the Jays to admit where they are, which would hopefully give them the proper impetus to try and become something more.

This era of Toronto baseball is built on the premise that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are cornerstones. Even before they’d hit the majors, most fans had heard the excitement that three kids of former players–Bichette, Vladito, and Cavan Biggio at the time – were coming to pull the Jays out of their late 2010s malaise. But how good are they really? Guerrero has gotten a fair amount of mileage out of being Vlad’s kid and one MVP-worthy season. That was in 2021, when he slashed .311/.401/.601 for a 167 OPS+.

But Guerrero Jr.’s other OPS+ marks in every other full season he’s played are 106, 133, 117. Hardly bad, but also not really the bedrock of a contender. Which one is he? There is more evidence to suggest that Vlad Jr. is really good, but not great. He’s still only 25 and was undone by some rotten luck last year (.374 xwOBA vs. a .340 actual). Rogers Centre may be a pitcher’s park now after all the construction, and are the Jays going to bank their entire fortunes on something they’ve seen once out of four tries?

As for Bichette, he was always going to be the rhythm guitarist to Vlad’s lead, and that’s pretty much what he’s been. Bichette had a brilliant half of a rookie season in 2019, and has settled into the 120-130 OPS+ range ever since with adequate fielding at short. He’ll turn 26 in March, and while all of that racks up to a very good player, the Jays have to be honest with themselves about what he might be and what that means for them going forward. Is he really going to be the best player on a team in a World Series?

Hanging over both Bichette and Guerrero Jr. is that they’re two seasons from free agency, for a team that just hasn’t quite been it for the past couple seasons.

What’s staring at the Jays now is they were one of the league’s best offensive teams two and three years ago. But that was built on the back of either players who aren’t there anymore (Marcus Semien, Teoscar Hernandez), players who have gotten older since (George Springer) or on the two faces of the franchise that haven’t gotten back to those levels.

Similarly, the rotation behind Kevin Gausman is on rocky ground. Jose Berrios was able to get out of his home-run hell of 2022 last season, but is he really the No. 2 on a team with bigger aspirations? Chris Bassit is 35 and just crossed the 200-inning plateau for the first time. Are they counting on Alek Manoah again, after his arm turned into a tentacle last year?

That doesn’t mean the Jays should be chasing after Blake Snell, who comes with some serious red flags. Jordan Montgomery makes a ton of sense here, but Montgomery makes a ton of sense for just about every MLB team and is still without a home.

Do the Jays see themselves as a third-place team? Or do they see themselves as a star-laden squad just waiting for it all to come together, even though Bichette and Guerrero haven’t lived in that state for long, and Springer has aged out of it?

The Jays were miles behind the Orioles last season, and while the Os haven’t done all that much to improve, neither have the Jays. The Yankees have Soto in tow now and still might add. And the Yankees have two genuine stars in Aaron Judge and Gerrit Cole, even if the former might be made of taped together sponges. The Rays will just figure it out because it’s what they do.

There’s a decent chance that Bichette and Guerrero Jr. can be better than they were or have been. But there’s an element of wish-casting in that. The Jays haven’t insured themselves against that and banners aren’t hung on wish-casting.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate and on Bluesky