Blue Jays fans can look forward to new faces this coming season
By Joseph Agosti, Contributor
The trade was widely considered a win for Toronto as none of the players heading Oakland’s way were considered top-tier talents. Matt Chapman, however, is considered by some to be the best defensive third baseman in the game.
As the old saying goes, hope springs eternal, and hope is plentiful at the Toronto Blue Jays spring training facility in Dunedin, Florida. The Blue Jays are poised to make significant noise this Major League Baseball season, and expectations are high around a young exciting team, coming off a strong 91-71 2021 season, as well as an active off-season. Both fans and media are well aware of the team’s potential with a strong young core of Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Bo Bichette and Teoscar Hernandez being joined by productive veterans like George Springer, Kevin Gausman and Hyun-Jin Ryu. As the lockout-induced truncated Spring Training starts, there are plenty of interesting storylines in the tune-up to the 2022 baseball season.
Additions and Subtractions:
The Blue Jays were one of the busiest MLB teams in the off-season both before and after the lockout. After losing star players Marcus Semien to the Texas Rangers (reported by the Daily Hive) and Robbie Ray to the Seattle Mariners (as CBC reports), the Jays acted quickly in signing pitcher Kevin Gausman from the San Francisco Giants to a five-year 110-million-dollar contract (from mlb.com). While Gausman effectively replaced Cy Young winner Ray, the hole left at second base by Semien—who had a historic season, hitting the most home runs in a season by a second baseman in history—is unfilled. So, there was some concern after the lockout was announced that the Jays would struggle to replace Semien’s production.
Mercifully the lockout ended, and free agency re-opened with the Blue Jays expected to be the main players for an upgrade on the infield. Sportsnet reports that the Jays also brought in relief pitcher Yimi Garcia on a two-year 11-million-dollar contract. An opportunity arose when the famously frugal Oakland A’s, looking to shed payroll, made star third baseman Matt Chapman available for trade. Third base was a major weakness for the Blue Jays, as glove-first Santiago Espinal and inconsistent Cavan Biggio were not considered viable options in a cutthroat AL East. So, the Blue Jays packaged former first-round pick pitcher Gunnar Hoglund, third base prospect Kevin Smith, and depth relievers Kirby Snead and Zach Logue to Oakland for Chapman (as reported by bluebirdbanter.com).
The trade was widely considered a win for Toronto as none of the players heading Oakland’s way were considered top-tier talents. Matt Chapman however, is considered by some to be the best defensive third baseman in the game, with major arm strength and range at the hot corner. Offensively he has his holes but moving from the cavernous Oakland Coliseum to the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre should do wonders for his bat. Another key addition was the left-handed starter, Yusei Kikuchi, for rotation depth, Sportsnet reports.
For the most part, the Blue Jays lineup is set, with very few position battles to speak of, although there are a few worth mentioning. The most interesting maybe second base with incumbent Marcus Semien out the door, it will be a competition between Santiago Espinal and Cavan Biggio. The initial edge seems to go to the versatile Biggio, who can play third, second, first and right field. Biggio played most of his innings at third base last year but struggled with poor fielding and injuries. Still, Biggio has solid power and plate discipline. Espinal is the superior fielder, being an above-average defender at second base, shortstop, and third base. Espinal played most of the year at third base last year, while his defence and batting average were excellent, he lacks the power required for the position.
The Outfield is mainly set with stars in all three positions, George Springer in Centre, Lourdes Gurriel Jr in Left, and Teoscar Hernandez in Right. All three of them had great seasons (although Springer dealt with injuries all year), newly acquired Raimel Tapia, a left-handed hitting outfielder will provide centre field insurance if Springer gets injured or has to split designated hitter duty, with portly hitting savant Alejandro Kirk.
The playoffs are a must-have this season, as ownership has made major payroll commitments to the current core. In a strong AL East, there will need to be no wasted games, a problem that caused the Jays to miss the playoffs by one game in 2021. With key additions like Gausman, Chapman, and Kikuchi along with stars like Guerrero and Bichette, the time to win is now.