After a disappointing conclusion to the 2021 campaign, the Blue Jays have a lot of reasons that they should run this group back in 2022 if they can.
Obviously there are going to be little tweaks here and there in any given offseason, and the Jays will be no different. However, this summer the front office is facing two very important decisions when it comes to their pending free agents, and plenty of incentive to open up the chequebook to try and bring back both Marcus Semien and Robbie Ray. You could arguably throw Steven Matz in there too, but personally I view him as more of a back-up plan should Ray sign elsewhere.
It’s not going to be easy to retain either player after the performances we just witnessed in 2021. It was a career year for Ray, who is the favourite to end up with the American League Cy Young award. The new 30 year old finished the season 13-7 with with a 2.84 ERA and a 1.04 WHIP across 32 starts and 193.1 innings, striking out 248 batters in the process. He ended up leading the American League in ERA, WHIP, innings pitched, strikeouts, and bWAR.
As for Semien, the former Oakland A’s star turned out to be an amazing gamble on a one year deal. He ended up slashing .265/.334/.538 with 45 doubles, 39 doubles, 102 RBI, 15 stolen bases, and finished with a team lead in bWAR with 7.1, 2nd in the AL behind Carlos Correa with 7.2, and just ahead of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. with 6.8.
After reviewing the numbers, why wouldn’t the Blue Jays bring out a full court press to re-sign both the veterans? Simply put, they’re going to be expensive, and it’s always a gamble signing a player over 30 years old to a multi-year deal. They also have plenty of other big contract decisions to make over the next four years, including with Jose Berrios, Teoscar Hernandez, and eventually Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette.
Having said that, the Blue Jays are very much in a win-now mode, and they have to look at this season’s disappointing finish as an important learning opportunity. Yes, this team got a taste of the playoffs in 2020 with the expanded postseason picture, but this year was different. This time they had to go through the full grind of a 162 game season, something that guys like Vlad Jr. and Bichette had never done. Coming up just short is only going to motivate them more as they enter the offseason, and I fully expect this core group to be ready to take another step in 2022.
In order to be the best version of themselves, GM Ross Atkins should very much consider a big swing by bringing his two free agent stars back to Toronto. More than anything, it felt like the Blue Jays ran out of time to make up for lost ground earlier in the season. As the team gelled and got better (and healthier) throughout the year, I agree with Marcus Semien that the Jays may very well be the scariest team in baseball these days, and that things came together just a little too late.
With that in mind, it’s really difficult to consider a step back for the Jays this offseason. One could argue that a full season of experience for Vlad Jr., Bichette, and others like Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Alejandro Kirk, Alek Manoah and more could make up the difference as they continue to grow next year, but as we learned in 2021, the American League and specifically the AL East are not exactly forgiving. One win can literally make the difference between postseason baseball and going home at the end of the regular season. Combined, Semien and Ray earned almost 14 bWAR just between the pair, and it will make a huge impact if they should lose one or worse, both.
It might take a pair of five-year deals at more than 100 million each, but I’m actually at the point where I think the Blue Jays should strongly consider it. I’ve always been considerate of the realities of spending toward roster building, but I think the Blue Jays have to evaluate where they are, and just how close they were to being a true threat in the playoffs. If they can keep this group together while the young stars continue to blossom, I truly believe that another kick at the can would produce a pretty special result.