Patience has been a key to the Blue Jays rebuild in a lot of ways, and while there are roster needs this off-season, patience may again be an important factor.
Most baseball fans, myself included, love to play armchair General Manager and think about what their favourite teams should do to improve the roster. We all have ideas about what the team should do, and how much of someone else’s money should be spent, and it’s easy to do when you’re not the actually having to make the decisions.
As much as it would be one of my ultimate dream jobs, I’ll admit that there are parts of that gig that I wouldn’t want to touch with a ten foot pole. One of the facets of the job that I would agonize over would be when to move on from a player, or how long to believe in them and give them opportunity. Fortunately for the Blue Jays, their patience over the past couple of years for players like Teoscar Hernandez and Rowdy Tellez really started to pay off in 2020, and they’ll both now make up a big part of the team’s plans for 2021 and beyond.
There was a time when it looked like it was possible that neither Hernandez or Tellez would fit in the long-term picture, as both struggled at the beginning of their MLB careers. Even as recently as last year, Hernandez finished with a .230/.306/.472 slash line, and was even demoted to Triple-A when he was struggling. That feels like a long time ago after he hit .289/.340/.579 in 2020, and was among the AL leaders in home runs despite missing time because of an oblique injury. As for Tellez, he went from a player who may or may not make the Opening Day roster, to be being a central figure in the middle of the lineup, slashing .283/.346/.540 this year.
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Does what happened with Tellez and Hernandez mean that the Blue Jays should painstakingly wait for every player to find their groove? Of course not. However, there are a few cases that we can look at for this off-season where they may be better off standing pat and allowing their young players to develop rather than making a change.
For instance, one of the areas that the Blue Jays do need to address ahead of next season is their defence. I won’t deny this fact at all, but I’m not sure that I would do anything hasty if I’m Ross Atkins. One name that is bound to be linked to the Blue Jays this winter is Andrelton Simmons, a defensive wizard who has won the AL Gold Glove at shortstop four times in his nine-season career. If they did sign the gloveman, it would undoubtedly improve their infield in the immediate future. However, is it really time to write off Bo Bichette as a shortstop? I’m not so sure.
I’ll concede that there are improvements that need to be made with Bichette’s defence, and I also think he’d be the first to agree with you. That said, he’s been a more than serviceable defender at a premium position so far, and he’s just getting started. The 22-year-old barely has any MLB experience under his belt, but he’s already earned a reputation as a hard worker and a player dedicated to his craft. It wasn’t more than a year or two ago that there were questions about whether Bichette could be a full-time shortstop in the big leagues, but through countless hours and significant focus, that’s not a question anymore. With that in mind, I wouldn’t bet against that improvement continuing for the next several years.
The same could be said for Vladimir Guerrero Jr., although it’s a much different situation. Without getting too long-winded, you can just summarize Vlad Jr’s first efforts at first base as a “work in progress”. It was a late move across the diamond necessitated by his own poor conditioning when summer camp resumed, and it wasn’t a smooth transition. However, with some important lessons learned and some valuable time to make adjustments, I have a lot of confidence that he can be an excellent first baseman. The same goes for Lourdes Gurriel’s steadily improving outfield defence, and even for Hernandez to a lesser extent as well.
There may not be as many folks that agree with me on this one, but I’m still confident in Danny Jansen‘s future too. As far as patience is concerned, if I’m the Blue Jays then I’m feeling pretty good about the future with Alejandro Kirk and even Gabriel Moreno coming behind him as well, and I’d be more than fine with Jansen as a placeholder in a worst case scenario. With that in mind, I wouldn’t be lining up to overpay someone like J.T. Realmuto this off-season.
None of this is to suggest that I think the Blue Jays should completely sit back this winter. There are clear needs in the rotation and the bullpen, and likely at third base as well. However, I truly believe that the biggest need for the bulk of this group is simply time. Time for Bichette to blossom into the star 5-tool player he’ll become, and time for Vlad Jr. to figure out what it takes to thrive at the highest level like he has everywhere else throughout his life. Time for flame-throwers like Nate Pearson and Jordan Romano to harness their stuff and dominate like they inevitably will someday.
Just like in the case of Teoscar Hernandez and Rowdy Tellez, sometimes the answer is right in front of your nose, as long as you’re willing to have the patience to wait for it. I believe that’s the case for several of the Blue Jays questions this off-season.