The Toronto Blue Jays enter the 2024 season looking to put their playoff demons behind them, as Canada’s only Major League franchise has not won a postseason game since 2016.
The Jays have made the playoffs three times in the past four seasons but have had zero success, being swept in the Wild Card rounds through those last three appearances in October – 2020 (Rays), 2022 (Mariners), and 2023 (Twins).
It’s not ‘Curse of the Bambino’ territory, but for a club with a core group poised to compete in an AL East division that continues to get tougher each season, the time to win could not be any higher. Factor in that Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are free agent eligible following the 2025 season with no long-term contract in sight, and the time to go for a World Series run is at its peak.
Last season, the Blue Jays pitching staff carried the club into October while the bats were pretty stagnant. The likes of Daulton Varsho, George Springer, and Alejandro Kirk were average to below average at best in the batter’s box and Guerrero Jr’s power took a slight step back as well, grinding out just 26 home runs on the year which still led the team.
For a club that competes in a division that features the likes of Gerrit Cole, Grayson Rodriguez, Marcus Stroman, and now Corbin Burnes, the cold bats can’t happen again in 2024 or the Blue Jays will be in a hole early in the standings.
The Blue Jays need to add another bat before Opening Day
To combat opposing pitchers, the Jays’ front office brought in one prominent bat this winter in veteran Justin Turner, who owns a career .288/.363/.465 slash line with 759 RBIs and a lifetime .829 OPS.
The 39-year-old still has some pop in the batter’s box, posting an OPS+ above the 100 mark each campaign dating back to the 2013 season, although three out of the past four seasons for the right-hander batter have seen his oWAR regress from the normal 4.0 – 5.0 range and sit now towards 1.5 – 2.5 instead (outside of 2021, where he posted a 3.8).
Turner is no stranger to the AL East after spending last campaign with the Boston Red Sox and even with his bat in the lineup, there is an argument to be made that the Jays still need to add one more to round out the lineup.
For comparison’s sake, the Jays will enter the upcoming season without Matt Chapman, Brandon Belt, and Whit Merrifield, all three of whom were prominent figures in the everyday lineup for the ball club last year.
As a group, they posted a 6.8 oWAR while Chapman alone was 3.1 of that figure. As well, Belt led the club in OPS (.858) while suiting up in just 339 at-bats while battling some injuries, the lowest at-bat mark on the squad outside of Cavan Biggio (289), Danny Jansen (268), and Santiago Espinal (230).
If you look at the current Jays lineup, the offseason additions of Turner, Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and Kevin Kiermaier are not projected to make up the difference via Steamer, with the group totalling 3.1 fWAR, which includes defensive ability mixed into the projection and both IKF and Kiermaier are considered glove-first type of players.
For comparison under Fangraphs fWAR, the trio of Chapman, Belt, and Merrifield put up a 7.3 value last year while both Chapman and Belt put up wRC+ above 110.
Not only is Turner the only bat slated to hit above the 100 wRC+ mark at 107 (via Steamer), but both IKF and Kiermaier are projected to be 10 to 15 points below the league average while historically speaking, the former Rays outfielder has floated around the average mark for his career while IKF has produced a 91 wRC+ just once in his career (2020, during the shortened campaign).
It is safe to say that the Jays did not get the production out of some of their top talent last season, including Guerrero Jr. who finished with a 117 OPS+ and a .444 SLG.
The club has improved their coaching at the top level heading into the campaign, giving Don Mattingly more control of the hitting side while also promoting Matt Hague from Buffalo. Hague did wonders with the likes of Spencer Horwitz and Davis Schneider in recent memory, so that improved coaching could help the lineup this season.
Schneider will likely split second base with Biggio, which should give the Jays some added pop in the lineup given the New Jersey product can hit for extra bases with ease and will be able to do so throughout a full campaign.
A healthy Danny Jansen for the 2024 season will also help the power numbers for the club as well as long as opposing pitchers stop pitching in on the right-handed batter.
While there is still a blueprint to the Blue Jays finding their way to a solid offense next season, that is relying on a lot of things going right. If Toronto’s entire offseason is just replacing Chapman, Belt and Merrifield with Turner and IKF, then how much better have they gotten really?
Or instead, have they gotten a bit worse, coming off a year where they struggled with runners in scoring position and timely hitting. If the Blue Jays really want to make a push to win this year, adding another bat to complement this group would be massive.
Exploring the current free agent market for an impact bat
The field of potential options may be a bit limited considering Turner is likely slated to get most of the reps at the DH spot while platooning at either third, second, or first base this season. Still, there are some bats available depending on what the club is willing to spend.
If money is no object (which could be argued as a concern considering the Jays are flirting with the second level of the CBT), then Cody Bellinger fits the bill quite well. He would slot into the outfield while being able to take some reps at first base and provide an additional left-handed bat into the lineup that mostly consists of right-handers.
The team would be banking on his 2023 campaign being the norm moving forward (.307 AVG, .525 SLG, 26 home runs, and a .881 OPS) and hoping his last few seasons with the Dodgers are a thing of the past (76 OPS+ with a 25.0% strikeout rate).
A deal for Bellinger will likely be long-term and pushing $150 million given he is a Boras client but if anybody fits what the Jays need right now, it is the former NL MVP.
The club could also reunite with Matt Chapman, noting that the California product will continue to provide solid defense at the hot corner, while also possessing some sneaky pop at the plate albeit with some inconsistency.
Chapman was one of the best hitters in baseball to start last season, winning AL Player of the Month honors for his play at the plate, but fell off the map when the calendar turned to May, struggling to make consistent contact while also battling a finger injury late in the season.
Another Boras client, the Blue Jays are familiar territory for the third baseman but the jury is still out on whether the club is willing to spend more this winter, especially the $100+ million it will might take to land Chapman.
Should the Blue Jays be looking for a short-term option, the free-agent market is a bit more slim in terms of fit.
J.D. Martinez likely doesn’t fit the needs of the club with Turner already on the squad and slated to be the club’s main DH option. Jorge Soler is likely out as well unless the Jays are confident in his outfield ability on a platoon basis with Varsho/Kiermaier, although he is a career -55 DRS outfielder and likely not in line to improve in that aspect.
Canadian product Joey Votto could be a solid option if he is willing to take a bench role and can bounce back from injuries that limited him the past two campaigns, potentially working as a pinch-hitter late in games as he puts forward what will likely be his last season in the big leagues at 40 years old.
Other potential fits include Gio Urshela, Robbie Grossman, Tommy Pham, and a reunion with Brandon Belt, with each player possessing their pros and cons but likely could be brought in on short-term deals that won’t break the bank.
Blue Jays and one potential trade option
These are all free options to consider but the club could also go the trade route, with Willy Adames on the Milwaukee Brewers looking like a potential trade option.
The Dominican product was slightly below average last year (95 OPS+) but he has some thunder in his bat, churning out 20+ home run campaigns over the past three seasons and even had 20 knocks in 2019.
The one drawback is defensive positioning, as Adames has been a career shortstop and the club would likely look to employ him at third base to get him regular at-bats with Bichette entrenched on the left side of second base for the foreseeable future.
The Jays have some trade chips available such as Espinal or one of the numerous prospects knocking on the big league door such as Spencer Horwitz, Damiano Palmegiani, and Addison Barger, all with contract control and offensive upside for a Brewers squad that is looking to slash some payroll.
The need for one more bat to contend in the AL East
Looking ahead, the Blue Jays are currently projected to have a 45.3% chance of making the postseason with a win total of 83 and finishing fourth in the division. Unless they add another bat to complement this lineup, it is hard to argue if the Jays will be able to eclipse this win total even if the likes of Springer, Kirk, and Gurrero Jr. can bounce back this season.
With the team looking to win a postseason game for the first time in almost eight years, the Blue Jays may need to act sooner rather than later if they want to break the streak.