Blue Jays: Expecting more tweaks than a major overhaul
The Blue Jays 2022 season ended in bitter disappointment on Saturday, and while I expect to see some tweaks to the organization, I don’t anticipate a major overhaul.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think the Blue Jays can return the exact same outfit when they break camp in 2023, and I’m pretty confident that they know that as well. We’re going to see some changes with the roster whether we like it or not, and I’ll get to that in more detail in a minute, but for now I’d like to focus on the front office and the coaching staff.
I know some of you aren’t going to like hearing this, but I don’t think Ross Atkins is going anywhere over the offseason. Perusing social media on Saturday evening, I saw many fans calling for the head of the General Manager in Toronto these days, with most pointing to the Mariners’ trade deadline acquisitions making a huge difference in this series. While it’s a fair enough point given the way that guys like Luis Castillo and Carlos Santana impacted the last two games, I don’t think it’s enough to get the GM fired over the winter.
First and foremost, Atkins has a very strong relationship with Mark Shapiro, and I believe it would have taken a massive disappointment in order to break up their partnership this year. While the Blue Jays certainly disappointed relative to the expectations they had in 2022, you could still argue that progress was made. They returned to the playoffs by finishing as the top Wild Card seed, and they won 92 games. While we were all hoping for 100 wins and a division title, what they accomplished this year wasn’t nothing. That said, if the Blue Jays lose in the first round again a year from now, then I think we’re talking about a different situation.
In addition to the front office, there are plenty of questions about the Blue Jays coaching staff and how it will look in the future. For what it’s worth, I think John Schneider has more than earned the opportunity to be the bench boss for this team going forward, even if he made a few questionable decisions on Saturday. When he took over for Charlie Montoyo in June the Jays were just 46-42, and they went 46-28 the rest of the way on route to climbing up the standings and finishing with the #4 seed in the American League.
I can’t say that I’m as confident in the futures of some of the support staff these days though. It’s possible that guys like Pete Walker and Guillermo Martinez will be linked to Schneider at this point, especially as coaches that have worked their way through the organization, but I think they may take a closer look at some of the issues that plagued them this year.
For example, while they finished the year as the top offence in the AL according to several metrics, I think you could argue it was an underwhelming offensive season for several of their regulars including Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Teoscar Hernandez, and Bo Bichette, other than the last six weeks or so when he reminded everyone what he’s capable of. Despite how the offence looks according to the numbers, watching them over the course of an entire season always left me feeling like there was a turbo button on the dash that had been forgotten about, and I know many of you felt the same way. With that in mind, I think it’s worth considering a new voice or two for hitting coaches.
As for Pete Walker and the pitching coach staff, I feel like there may be a little more security there whether it’s warranted or not. Walker has long been credited with turning careers around in Toronto, such as what we saw from Robbie Ray and Steven Matz in 2021, however, that same magic didn’t work with Jose Berrios or Yusei Kikuchi in 2022, and the list of pitchers who have underwhelmed in the system is starting to grow. I don’t think Walker is an obvious candidate to be dismissed, but I don’t think it’s out of the question like it has been in year’s past.
Finally, I’ll just briefly gloss over the roster, which is something we’ll no doubt look at a whole lot throughout the offseason. For the most part the Blue Jays could return a very similar group of players next season if they choose. Ross Stripling is a pending free agent, and if they can’t bring him back then they’ll likely need to find a replacement of some kind, and David Phelps will need a new contract if they want to keep him around. Otherwise they have contract control over just about everyone, including deadline acquisitions such as Whit Merrifield, Anthony Bass, and Zach Pop.
That said, I think the majority of us can agree that the Blue Jays need to make some changes, and that they most likely will. They’ll enter the 2023 campaign with several pending free agents on the books including Merrifield, Matt Chapman, Teoscar Hernandez, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Raimel Tapia, and more. Not only are they going to want to tweak their roster ahead of next season, but Atkins and company will likely be looking ahead a bit as well and knowing well full that they can’t re-sign everyone, especially if they hope to eventually get Guerrero Jr. and/or Bichette to sign long-term deals. As an example, they could trade someone like Hernandez before he becomes a free agent, which could open up a corner outfield spot for, say, a high-end left-handed hitter.
I believe that the offseason shopping list will be pretty similar to what it was at this year’s deadline. Ideally they’ll bring in another starter if they can’t retain Stripling, and maybe even a second arm to battle the likes of Kikuchi, Mitch White, and others for the fifth spot in the rotation behind Alek Manoah, Kevin Gausman, Stripling (or a replacement), and Jose Berrios. They could really use that aforementioned left-handed bat in a big way, and hopefully they finally address that need over the winter. That could mean that one or more of their veterans on expiring deals could be out the door, such as the Hernandez example above, and that’s something else we’ll talk about throughout the winter. Finally, I’m sure the discussion about late-inning relievers isn’t going away any time soon, especially after the implosion that knocked them out of the playoffs.
I do think we’re going to see some notable changes with the Blue Jays over the winter, but it may not be as drastic as some folks are expecting after such a disappointing end to the season. The roster is mostly in tact for another year, and I think ownership will have enough trust in Shapiro/Atkins, and that line of faith is likely extended to Schneider and his coaching staff. Change is coming to be sure, but I think it’ll be more tweaks than a major overhaul.