Following the 2020 Covid-shortened season, the Toronto Blue Jays offense looked poised to take the American League East by storm. Cavan Biggio’s second season saw the second baseman made noticeable improvements from his rookie season. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. showed he belonged in the major leagues and Bo Bichette looked ready to take over the full time shortstop gig for Toronto.
Now, following the 2023 season, the Blue Jays offense looks lost and the team finds themselves home once again early in October. Following a disappointing end, some are calling for the blowup of the Blue Jays offense.
While Bo Bichette appears to be a legitimate MVP candidate, the supporting cast has looked lost.
MVP Candidate No More
Perhaps the biggest issue impacting the Blue Jays offense is the stunning decline of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. In 2021, Guerrero Jr. put together an incredible season, and if it wasn’t for the unicorn Shohei Ohtani, would have likely won the AL MVP award. With a slash line of .311/.401/.601 and an AL leading 48 home runs, Guerrero Jr. looked like he would be the key cog in the Blue Jays offense for the next decade.
Instead, he took a step backwards in 2022, while still putting together a strong year, slashing .274/.339/.480 with 32 home runs. Sadly for the Blue Jays offense, Guerrero Jr. took another step backwards this year, .264/.345/.444 and only 26 home runs.
Adding to the decline, Guerrero’s fielding metrics also took a step backwards, going from 0 defensive runs saved in 2021, up to 3 last year but down to -6 this season. With Guerrero’s bat taking a step backwards, the Blue Jays offense lost a key piece in the middle of their order.
Furthermore, a disastrous base running blunder all but ended the Blue Jays’ 2023 season.
The Other Junior
Sadly for the Blue Jays offense, Vlad Guerrero Jr. wasn’t the only son of a former ball player to struggle in Toronto.
When Cavan Biggio hit .250/.375/.432 in 2020, it looked like he would be a main piece in the Toronto roster. Instead, it’s looking more and more like that season will be the high water mark for Biggio. In the three seasons since, Biggio has failed to bat above .235 while stealing fewer and fewer bases.
His issues at the plate have forced Biggio into more of a utility role where he has struggled defensively. Now, following his age 29 season, it’s hard to see Biggio playing a big role on a team with World Series aspirations.
The “Big” Trades
With Biggio failing to hold down both second base and the utility role, the Blue Jays made a splash at the 2022 trade deadline, acquiring Royals Swiss Army Knife Whit Merrifield. After years of trade speculation, Kansas City finally made Merrifield available and the Blue Jays pounced.
Unfortunately for the Toronto offense, Merrifield no longer looks like the player he once was in Kansas City. His batting average in his first full season north of the border was lower than in any full season in KC and his defensive metrics have regressed across the board, resulting in a .8 bWar. With Merrifield set to turn 35 this offseason, it’s hard to see Toronto picking up his $18 million option.
Revamping the Outfield
Merrifield wasn’t the only big trade the Blue Jays did with hopes of boosting their team. The team also shipped fan favorite Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and top prospect Gabriel Moreno to Arizona for defensive superstar Daulton Varshro.
While Varsho was once again incredible in the outfield, his decline at the plate certainly hurt the Blue Jays offense. His .285 on-base percentage is the lowest of his career while his .220 average and .389 slugging percentage only edge out his rookie season.
For the Diamondbacks, Gurriel Jr. and Moreno appear to be main features of their team moving forward. While Gurriel’s defense isn’t as highly rated as Varsho, his slash line of .261/.309/.463 helped to make up the bWar difference, where Varsho has a slight edge of 3.9 to 3.
However, Moreno was fantastic in his rookie season, grading highly behind the plate while slashing .284/.339/.408, good for a bWar of 4.3 (compared to 1.9 for current Blue Jays catcher Alejandro Kirk).
Blue Jays Offense: Looking Forward
The first question the Blue Jays offense will need to address is the future of third baseman Matt Chapman, who is a free agent this offseason. Chapman started the year on fire and was batting .289 on June 1st, but a miserable second half at the plate so his average drop all the way to .240, continuing the woes of the Blue Jays offense.
Additionally, the team will also see Brandon Belt, Kevin Kiermaier and the previously mentioned Whit Merrifield hit the open mark.
Next, the team needs to figure out a solution with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. With two years left of arbitration on Guerrero’s contract, sooner than later the team will need to decide on an extension. Depending on if Guerrero is the MVP candidate he was in 2021 or if his numbers from 2023 are more in line with his abilities will significantly impact the length and money on any contract extension.
MLB’s Mike Petriello speculated on Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s struggles this summer and it will be interesting to watch for any signs of improvement.
Finally, while Biggio struggled over the course of the season, he was actually significantly better in the second half, slashing .262/.388/.348 over his final 60 games. While it is a small sample size, Biggio’s production and cheap contract (2 years of arbitration remaining) should allow him to replace Whit Merrifield.
With Toronto suddenly looking up at a new potential AL East superpower in the Baltimore Orioles and with ground to make up to catch the Tampa Bay Rays, the once promising future for the Blue Jays is suddenly very murky. The Blue Jays offense will likely have one season left to figure it out or drastic changes might be coming.
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