Can Blue Jays Reach New Level in 2020?
Another MLB season, another fourth-place finish for the Toronto Blue Jays in the AL West.
Their efforts in recent seasons have that Groundhog Day feeling about them, and so far the off-season recruitment has done little to suggest that the Canadians will do anything else other than finish streets ahead of the Baltimore Orioles but way behind the Yankees, the Rays and the Red Sox in the final shake-up.
That is, unless their selection of young guns and free agents can perform greater than the sum of their parts.
Ross Atkins and his recruitment team have already raised a few eyebrows with the signing of Hyun-Jin Ryu, and if he has a few more aces up his sleeve like that prior to the start of the campaign - the likes of Nolan Arenado have been linked with a move north - then who knows: maybe the Blue Jays can usurp the trouble-hit Red Sox in the quest for third place.
It's no secret that the Dodgers wanted to keep Ryu, but his decision to head to Toronto suggests that he wants to be part of a ‘project’, rather than picking up an easy paycheck in LA. That said, the $80 million, four-year deal offered to him by the Canadian outfit also helps to focus the mind.
The Blue Jays are signing Hyun-Jin Ryu to a four-year, $80 million contract, sources tell ESPN.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 23, 2019
Ryu’s 2.21 ERA over the past 2 seasons is the 2nd-lowest in MLB (min. 200 IP), behind only Jacob deGrom, who won the NL Cy Young Award in both seasons (Ryu finished 2nd in 2019). pic.twitter.com/ZrB9nbuQTC
It’s a real statement of intent from the Blue Jays, who rarely have All-Star standard players passing through their doors. Ryu led the MLB in ERA last season, and remains at the forefront of first-class pitching.
However, he turns 33 this year, and the injuries are starting to mount up for the South Korean. It’s likely that he will be used as a high impact player in 2020, with plenty of spells on the sidelines quite probable.
And so part of Ryu’s job in Toronto will be to bring on the next generation of talents, of which the Blue Jays possess plenty.
Giving Youth a Chance
In the 2019 season, the Blue Jays’ youthful roster served up a disappointing 67-95 record.
It was their worst return in quite some time, but another year older and wiser – and with Ryu and the likes of Tanner Roark on board – there is no reason why Toronto can’t kick on in 2020.
Indeed, the sportsbooks have released their ‘regular season wins’ lines ahead of the new term, and in the MLB betting at William Hill sportsbook for Canadians, the experts believe that 76 wins is a possibility – they make that a -110 chance in their odds.
But how will the Blue Jays get back to that kind of standard?
Clearly, they will need their new signings – Ryu, Roark, Travis Shaw and Chase Anderson – to thrive, but they will also need their young starlets to mature quickly and produce ‘next level’ performances.
There’s no reason why they can’t. Bo Bichette, for instance, became the first player in MLB history to make ten extra base hits in his first nine major league games, and recorded nine consecutive doubles in an exceptional 2019 campaign.
The 21-year-old’s batting stats were outstanding, and assuming he will improve exponentially once more now he has a full MLB campaign under his belt, Bichette will surely be a sight to behold on the plate this season.
And then, of course, there’s Cavan Biggio. He ended his debut season with .234 in 100 games and 16 home runs – not shabby at all for a rookie, and became only the third Blue Jays in history to hit the cycle.
There are still question marks that need to be answered – the outfield positions being just one, but with solid recruitment and the development of their next generation of stars, the Toronto Blue Jays could really shake-up the AL West this season.