After a 2-0 loss to the Minnesota Twins last night, it’s time to talk about the continuing failure of this era of Toronto Blue Jays baseball. Can this team turn it around in the offseason?
Another Lost Season For The Blue Jays
Baseball is a cyclical sport for most teams, and that means capitalizing when you have developed a decent young core of players to work with. Most players get about six years with their team before hitting free agency, and for small market teams that is the window you try to win in.
The Kansas City Royals did this in 2015, the Washington Nationals did it in 2019, and even the Chicago Cubs did it in 2016. For the Toronto Blue Jays, this window was supposed to start a few years ago, when they made the expanded playoffs in 2020 and flashed promise.
Sons of former MLB players and supposed star prospects Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette came to the big leagues, and quickly dazzled, with Guerrero finishing 2nd in 2021 AL MVP voting and Bo Bichette posting a career 126 OPS+ for his career at shortstop. They also developed good prospects besides them such as pitcher Alek Manoah, catcher Alejandro Kirk, and infielder Cavan Biggio.
A decent core led to investments in the team made by Toronto, whether it be through free agency or trades. They signed pitchers Hyun-jin Ryu, Jose Berrios and Kevin Gausman, as well as outfielder George Springer. They also made trades for third baseman Matt Chapman and outfielder Daulton Varsho, with the latter of these moves including giving up top catching prospect Gabriel Moreno.
Long story short, these moves were made to win and to win now. But following 2023, the prospects, signings, and expectations have led to not a single playoff win since 2016. What is the explanation for this failure?
Underachieving due to Management/Philosophy
Above all else, MLB has become an organizational sport. Great organizations can elevate mediocre players and bad organizations hold back good players. There’s a reason Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani have never sniffed playoff success, while the Tampa Bay Rays find no-names to hit well above average every year.
The Blue Jay’s aren’t necessarily a bad organization, but there isn’t proof they are a good one. There have been questions about manager John Schneider, who only took over because Charlie Montoyo was fired for underachieving himself. In last night’s loss, Schneider pulled Jose Berrios after only 47 pitches for Yusei Kikuchi, who then went on to give up one of the runs that cost them the game. Berrios was playing well, and there seems to be no reason why this happened.
Poor bullpen management was also noted as a reason they blew a 7-1 lead to the Seattle Mariners in last year’s Wild Card series, and measures could have been taken to prevent that from happening. Even with a deeper bullpen, it was overused in Game 1 against the Twins to the point where it would be hampered even if Toronto advanced further.
Bad management could also be to blame for their poor hitting philosophy, where Blue Jays hitters had issues pulling the ball in 2023. Despite a loaded lineup, they struggled to put up runs in key games. Modern hitting coaches can have a lot of influence over this, and it is clear the Jays do not have them.
While management definitely takes some fault, it is also notable just how many players on the Blue Jays dropped their performance in 2023. Let’s start with Alek Manoah, who was their ace in 2022 and considered by many to be a top pitcher in the sport.
Manoah pitched to a disastrous 5.87 ERA in 2023, being sent down to the Buffalo Blue Jays by the end of the year and not starting any playoff games. For a guy who was supposed to be their best pitcher, that is a disastrous outcome. Vladimir Guerrero also went from an MVP candidate in 2021 to just a 117 OPS+ hitter in 2023, a good player but nowhere close to the leader of your franchise.
Bo Bichette hit well in 2023 but both him and Guerrero made key base running mistakes in the playoffs, flashing their inexperience.
The veterans also didn’t hold their weight for the 2023 Blue Jays. George Springer was one of the first vets they signed when trying to contend, and he had a 102 OPS+ in 2023, barely above league average.
Acquisitions Matt Chapman and Daulton Varsho both played like subpar bats, hitting all the way at the bottom of the playoff lineup. Most of the starters and bullpen played well, but it just wasn’t enough to overcome all of this regression.
What to do Next?
It’s tough to decide what to do with a team that has all of the talent in the world but can’t win playoff games. They just need to play better, but how? They should consider switching to a more home run based philosophy in the future, not focusing on purely hitting singles. It would also be helpful to understand the reasons top prospects Alek Manoah and Nate Pearson have been ineffective in the majors, as the key to a good team is developing cheap young players.
Focusing internally on their own players would be more helpful than any acquisitions, and there even players like Chapman and Kevin Kiermaier that they should let go. Making the jump from a middling to truly contending team is difficult, but necessary for the Blue Jays.