After missing out on Shohei Ohtani, it's no surprise Blue Jays fans are feeling collectively despondent. An offseason which promised so much hope, will now arguably be anti-climatic, regardless of who the team brings in to help the roster.
In this respect -- and at the risk of sounding almost too optimistic -- the projected lineup for next season doesn't look that bad. Yes, certain individuals need to play up to their potential more consistently, but it could be a lot worse.
At the same time however, there is one position in the lineup which does stand out as needing to be upgraded urgently. With due respect and apologies to him, we're talking about Nathan Lukes.
As things stand, Lukes is projected to play in left field and hit ninth in the lineup. This cannot remain the case come Opening Day in Tampa.
The 29-year-old finally made his Major League debut this past season and went on to play in 29 games. His opportunities were limited at the plate with just 31 appearances, with him producing a .192/.290/.308 slash line, .598 OPS and OPS+ of 67.
Undoubtedly the highlight of Lukes' first season in the Majors, was hitting the winning RBI double during extra innings in Detroit during July. Overall though his offensive impact was limited, with just two RBI and four walks.
You can make a case for the 2015 seventh-round draft pick's best attribute being his versatility. He was used in all three outfield positions by the Blue Jays, as well as some playing time as the DH.
However, even this again alludes to Lukes being better utilized as a depth player on the roster. The Blue Jays need to look elsewhere to fill their significant gap in the ninth spot and left field.
Of course, this leads to the question of who the Blue Jays can turn to, to fill said gap? Undoubtedly Juan Soto would have been the ideal solution, but he's ended up in New York with their divisional rivals, the Yankees.
Ironically, one of the best options could be Lourdes Gurriel Jr. That would be the same Lourdes Gurriel Jr. the Blue Jays traded to Arizona during the last offseason -- along with Gabriel Moreno -- in exchange for Daulton Varsho.
Gurriel would go on to have his best overall year yet in the Majors, as he helped the Diamondbacks advance all the way to the World Series. He had a single-season best 24 home runs to go along with 82 RBI, also earning the first All-Star selection of his big league career.
Of the free agent options remaining who play in left field, the 30-year-old has the best WAR, at 3.2. You could imagine fans would be happy to see him return to Toronto, especially if the response he got during his regular season return tells you anything.
In addition, there is the question of if the Blue Jays would go back down that road, whether it be because they prefer other options, or maybe even just purely because of ego (i.e. acceptance that they made a mistake in getting rid of him). From this perspective, though, Ross Atkins have to at least give him serious consideration.
One left field target the Blue Jays have been linked to, is Joc Pederson. However, left field could be considered tenuous, given he spent the majority of his games this past season playing DH for the Giants.
This is not the first time the Blue Jays have shown an interest in Pederson. However, whether they make a concerted effort to pursue him or not, it has to be considered what position he will mostly be used in.
Actually, you can make an argument that the Blue Jays should pursue both Gurriel and Pederson. They would both help strengthen the team, plus we know for a fact the team has the money following their pursuit of Ohtani.
Another factor the Blue Jays should consider -- if they're not already -- is Varsho's current position in centre field on the projected depth chart. This is in part due to Kevin Kiermaier (most likely) moving on to pastures new.
The point is, Varsho spent most of his 2023 campaign manning left field, a position he could easily move back over to. This of course leaves the door open for the Blue Jays to look at what quality centre field options are out there.
Chief among these is Cody Bellinger, who is on the radar of many teams including the Blue Jays. While not of the same quality of Ohtani or Soto, bring Bellinger in, and suddenly you might actually have a genuine reason to be encouraged again.
As for Varsho, while we know he is a superior defensive player, there are justified concerns about his offensive production. Which again brings up back to why the Blue Jays need to seriously consider a reunion with Gurriel.
Overall, the point in all this is that there are plenty of quality options for the Blue Jays to pursue between now and the start of the regular season. Pure and simple, there is really no excuse for Lukes to be in the Opening Day lineup versus the Rays.