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Blue Jays selling optimism after off-season of disappointment


The winter was cold for the Blue Jays, very cold. Every time it seemed like there was a warm front on the horizon it disappeared, and the freeze returned. 

It started with the pursuit of Shohei Ohtani, which ended in disappointment when he chose the Dodgers. That poured ice-cold water on the spirits of Jays fans.

Then there was the pursuit of ace pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who turned out to be the highest-paid pitcher ever. He isn’t Ohtani, but he is a three-time Sawamura Award winner, which is Japanese pro baseball's version of the Cy Young Award. Yoshinobu rejected the Blue Jays as well, also signing with the Dodgers. More cold winds blew in Toronto.

This went on all winter. The Blue Jays were tied to good players in free agency and got none of them. Ohtani, Yamamoto, Cody Bellinger, Jung Hoo Lee, Blake Snell, Jeimer Candelario, Matt Chapman, and J.D. Martinez all ended up elsewhere.

The Jays didn’t strike out completely. They did sign Justin Turner, a 39-year-old infielder/DH, who is a solid, professional hitter who can share his wisdom and experience with the young core of the team. They re-signed outfielder Kevin Kiermaier when they were repulsed by Bellinger’s asking price. They added utility player Isaiah Kiner-Falefa after hearing unrealistic expectations from Chapman and his agent Scott Boras over the former Jays third baseman’s perceived free agent value.

Toronto lost out on the big-name international free agent pitchers in Yamamoto and Shota Imanaga, but did sign Yariel Rodriguez. A Cuban-born pitcher who had been playing in Japan, Rodriguez didn’t pitch in 2023, so he was free from his contract.

But it’s hard not to feel like it was a winter of the Jays settling for less than they wanted. Now the club is selling optimism, as it should. The front office believes the team will be better because of improved performance from the returning players.

The team expects starting pitcher Alek Manoah to be better than last season. It would be hard to be much worse. Health is going to be the most critical factor for him, as he is currently dealing with shoulder issues. Toronto’s pitching was among the best in baseball last season, even with Manoah’s struggles. But there are no guarantees that Toronto’s staff will be as healthy or as good as it was last year. Kevin Gausman, Jordan Romano and Erik Swanson have all been dealing with arm issues this spring. It would not be a surprise to see some regression from the group.

There is plenty of room for improvement on the  offensive side, as the Jays underachieved significantly last season. Vladimir Guerrero Jr., George Springer, Alejandro Kirk, and Daulton Varsho all underperformed at the plate in 2023. The Jays have lost impact offensive players over the past several years and not replaced them. Gone are Jose Bautista, Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, Marcus Semien and Teoscar Hernandez. As a lineup, the Jays are undermanned. They’re at least one big bat short, and even then, they’ll need significant improvement from those who struggled last year.

The Jays also lost some balance in the lineup over the off-season, as they replaced the left-handed hitting Brandon Belt with the right-handed hitting Turner. Now, they will primarily have three left-handed bats – Kiermaier, Varsho, and Cavan Biggio – in the lineup at most. Daniel Vogelbach will occasionally start, but mostly serve as a pinch hitter. The Jays say that it doesn’t matter because the right-handed hitters are good. But opposing teams said the Jays were easy to manage against in 2022 when they didn’t have enough balance in their lineup.

Jays face uphill battle in tough AL East

The Jays won 89 games last year and qualified for the playoffs as the third wild-card team. But I’m concerned about their ability to compete in the tough AL East this season.

The starting pitching will be good, as will the bullpen. The infield defence will likely take a step back because, even though Kiner-Falefa is a good defender, he is not Chapman. The offence wasn’t good enough last year, and it’s a less flexible lineup this year.

The Orioles (101-61) will be better this season with ace pitcher Corbin Burnes in the rotation. They will also be better just because their young players are a year more mature and experienced.

The Yankees (82-80) have added Marcus Stroman to their rotation and slugger Juan Soto, one of the best hitters in the game, to their lineup. They have also added Alex Verdugo and Trent Grisham into the mix. Of course, the health of AL Cy Young Award Winner Gerrit Cole is critical to their success, and he is dealing with elbow issues.

The Tampa Bay Rays (99-63) have retooled, as they always do, with a combination of young players from within the organization and a few additions from outside. The Red Sox (78-84) are about the same this season as they were last year – they will score runs but their pitching isn’t playoff worthy.

My prediction is that the Orioles will win the AL East with more than 100 wins again. The Yankees will come in second place with 90 wins, while the Rays will finish third with 88 wins. I predict the Jays will finish in fourth place in the division with 84 wins, while the Red Sox will only win 76 games this year. The Jays will compete for the third wild-card spot with the Mariners and Rangers but will finish just short of the playoffs.

Here are my 2024 season predictions:


AL East - Baltimore Orioles

AL Central - Minnesota Twins

AL West- Houston Astros

Wild Card 1 - New York Yankees

Wild Card 2 - Tampa Bay Rays

Wild Card 3 - Seattle Mariners


NL East - Atlanta Braves

NL Central - Chicago Cubs

NL West - Los Angeles Dodgers

NL Wild Card 1 - Philadelphia Phillies

NL Wild Card 2 - Arizona Diamondbacks

NL Wild Card 3 - St Louis Cardinals


World Series: Atlanta Braves vs. Baltimore Orioles


 AL MLVP: Juan Soto (NYY)

AL Cy Young: Corbin Burnes (BAL)

AL Rookie of the Year: Jackson Holliday (BAL)


NL MVP: Mookie Betts (LAD)

NL Cy Young: Spencer Strider (ATL)

NL Rookie of the Year: Yoshinobu Yamamoto (LAD)