Blue Jays' Bo Bichette scare a reminder just how healthy this team has been

When Bo Bichette pulled up limp after matching John Olerud’s Blue Jays’ record last night, Jays fans let out a collective gasp. His right knee discomfort is a serious cause for concern, and should remind Blue Jays fans just how healthy this team has been so far in 2023.
Baltimore Orioles v Toronto Blue Jays
Baltimore Orioles v Toronto Blue Jays / Vaughn Ridley/GettyImages

Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins will likely be revisiting his previous calls on rental shortstops today after Toronto star Bo Bichette pulled up after jamming his right knee rounding first base last night. He left the game with right knee discomfort, and the team hasn’t said anything more because they don’t want to give anything away to opposing GMs with the trade deadline Tuesday at 6pm ET.

It should have been a joyous moment in a losing effort last night given Bichette had just tied John Olerud’s club record for the most hits before August at 144, which leads the American League. Instead you could hear a pin drop at Rogers Centre as the fan based held their collective breaths.

Losing Bichette to a serious knee injury would be catastrophic for the Blue Jays; he accounts for 15% of their total hits this season, has a bWAR of 4.0, and is the proverbial straw that stirs the drink. He’s slashing .321/.352/.494/.847 and leading Toronto with an OPS+ of 134, i.e. he’s 34% better than the average MLB hitter in terms of OPS. He’s also tied with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., for the team lead in home runs with 17, and has 222 total bases, well ahead of Guerrero Jr.’s 180.

The Bichette scare highlights a few things

Bo Bichette has enjoyed remarkably good health to date in his Blue Jays career, playing in 159 games in each the previous two seasons, while appearing in a team leading 106 games so far in 2023. The Jays are 57-48 in the games he’s started this year.

Recall that Bichette was placed on the IL with a Grade 1 sprain of the lateral collateral ligament in his right knee on August 17th in the pandemic shortened 2020 season, and did miss 27 games that year. Thankfully the team went 17-10 in his absence, and Santiago Espinal (who took over again on Monday) and Joe Panik were able to hold down shortstop until he returned that September.

The other obvious point is that the Blue Jays overall have enjoyed remarkably good health, losing only 442 man games to injury this season, which is the second least man games lost to injury in MLB after the Cleveland Guardians. Only four players are on the IL for Toronto at present, all pitchers: Hyun Jin Ryu, Chad Green, Adam Cimber and Jordan Romano, but Ryu will be activated Tuesday.

Whether Ross Atkins can swing a trade before the 6pm ET deadline Tuesday for a rental shortstop like Tim Anderson or Paul DeJong likely depends on the severity of the Bichette injury. Anderson has $14 million club option for 2024 with a $1 million buyout, while DeJong has a $12.5 million club option in 2024 ($2 million buyout) and a $15 million club option in 2025 ($1 million buyout).

There are also in-house SS prospects at Triple-A Buffalo, including Orelvis Martinez and Addison Barger who are both already on the 40-man roster, not to mention utilityman Otto Lopez. Leo Jimenez is at Double-A New Hampshire, but is also on the 40-man roster.

Whatever happens, Jays fans should be worried about a longer-term injury to any of their stars. Their extreme good luck in terms of man games lost to injury is a statistical outlier, and the farm system is generally considered bare of MLB-ready prospects to take over if anyone on the 26-man roster is injured. Jordan Hicks was acquired shortly after Romano went on the IL; could Bichette’s injury lead to a similar move?