Several questions about the Toronto Blue Jays' off-season have been answered. The arrival of the Major League Baseball lockout early Thursday means it'll take some time before the rest of the team's 2022 picture comes into focus.
The work stoppage, MLB's first due to labour issues in over a quarter century, threatens plans for spring training and opening day on March 31. It also stifled what has been an intriguing off-season so far with big-ticket free-agent signings in Toronto and elsewhere.
The Blue Jays opened their wallet in recent weeks to shore up their starting rotation. The team also learned that two star players — Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray and MVP candidate Marcus Semien — won't be returning.
The club will consider free agency and trade options to improve but future moves will have to wait until there is labour peace. Here's a look at where the Blue Jays stand now and where things may go from here:
There will be a new ace next year after the departure of Ray, who signed a long-term deal with the Seattle Mariners after a 13-7 season with an American League-best 2.84 earned-run average and MLB-best 248 strikeouts.
Kevin Gausman appears to be the front-runner for the top starter job in a rotation that includes Jose Berrios, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Alek Manoah.
Gausman signed a US$110-million, five-year deal a couple weeks after Berrios inked a lucrative long-term extension of his own.
There is room to add at least one more starter after reliable southpaw Steven Matz signed with the St. Louis Cardinals. Toronto could look within by tapping Ross Stripling for the fifth spot or giving oft-injured fireballer Nate Pearson another chance in the rotation.
The Blue Jays have been creative with their infield approach in recent seasons and that technique may be needed again.
Semien's departure via free agency leaves a big hole at second base. However, several quality free agents remain in play and the infield may be an area where general manager Ross Atkins looks to add via trade.
If Cavan Biggio can bounce back after an injury-plagued campaign, his versatility — and ability to play either second or third base — would give the Blue Jays some flexibility.
The Blue Jays have not been afraid to swing for the fences since completing a rebuilding process a couple years ago.
Ryu was a big-ticket signing in December 2019 and Toronto made a major splash in the last off-season by landing George Springer.
The team is also not afraid to use its prospect capital as needed. Berrios was acquired at the last trade deadline for top-shelf youngsters Austin Martin and Simeon Woods-Richardson.
Several prospects are progressing nicely in the system and could give Atkins options before or during the '22 campaign.
The Blue Jays made a late push in the 2021 campaign but were eliminated from playoff contention on the final day of the regular season.
With Springer, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Teoscar Hernandez serving as anchors for an offence with plenty of pop, Toronto should have no trouble putting up runs next season.
Free-agent signing Yimi Garcia provides depth for a bullpen that looks solid with Tim Mayza and closer Jordan Romano at the back end.
There are still many needs to address, but the future looks bright for a squad looking to take the next step after a 91-win campaign.
Just don't look to MLB.com for up-to-the-minute news and analysis.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 2, 2021.
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