Blue Jays: Three new AL East rivals who will be thorns in the Jays’ side

Graeme Wallace
New York Yankees Introduce Carlos Rodon
New York Yankees Introduce Carlos Rodon / New York Yankees/GettyImages

Over the years, there have been a few players that have specialized in terrorizing the Toronto Blue Jays and their fans.

Obviously, the ones who have played on teams in the American League East stand out more, as they face the Jays more than other teams. Brett Gardner, Ryan Mountcastle, and Kevin Plawecki (seriously!) are three who have absolutely killed Toronto in recent years.

The rush of free agency means a new collection of players will be doing their best to spoil the potential improvements Ross Atkins and co. feel they’ve made over the past few months. Here are some new rivals that could be thorns in the side of the Blue Jays in 2023.

Carlos Rodón, Yankees

Before the 2020 season, the Yankees wined, dined, and eventually signed Gerrit Cole, signaling their intentions to return to the World Series. That hasn’t happened, and while Cole has put together three seasons as a top-10 Cy Young candidate, he’s left Yankees fans disappointed, so the Bronx Bombers have doubled down on that investment by signing Carlos Rodón.

He’s only faced the Jays four times in his career, faring reasonably well, with a 1-0 record and a 2.70 ERA over 23.1 innings pitched. Blue Jays batters can expect to get some better results as they collectively have batted .247 against the big left-hander, although their .318 BABIP suggests that number should be a bit higher. In 2021, Toronto batters went 11-for-39 (.282) when facing Rodón, with four extra-base hits and a .777 OPS.

The Jays, as a team, didn’t fare better a year ago when facing lefties (.753 OPS vs. LHP, .762 vs. RHP) despite having a strong majority of right-handed hitters. Some players seem to do better when they put on the pinstripes, while others falter under the intense scrutiny of playing under the sports’ biggest microscope. Rodón strikes me as one who will fall into the first category.

Adam Frazier, Orioles

Adam Frazier enjoyed a breakout season in 2021 and even escaped virtual anonymity after being dealt from the Pittsburgh Pirates to the San Diego Padres.

Although he couldn’t save the sinking ship that was the Friars that year, Frazier got another chance with the Seattle Mainers in 2022. After suffering through his worst season, Frazier was able to redeem himself with a huge performance in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series against the Jays.

Frazier went 3-for-5 with two runs scored and an RBI, including a single that set up J.P Crawford’s bases-clearing double that tied the game at 9-9, and the go-ahead RBI double in the ninth. The latter hit alone increased the Mariners' chances of winning from 47% to 84%.

He’s just the type of hitter that will likely benefit from the anti-shifting, pitch clock, and bigger bases rules coming into play this season, and has gap power and above-average speed. The Orioles plan on using Frazier in a variety of ways this season, and given what he’s already accomplished against the Jays, his at-bats will be appointment-viewing.

Masataka Yoshida, Red Sox

In a strange offseason for Boston, they shelled out $90M for one of the most intriguing, but ultimately mysterious players, Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida.

It’s hard to predict how players coming from other leagues will do in the majors, but the available projections say that he’ll have a quick and successful adjustment to the big leagues.

According to the STEAMER projections, Yoshida will be knocking on the door of hitting .300 with an OPS of .867. Different sites have him hitting between 15-20 home runs and he’s also expected to be a frontline AL Rookie of the Year candidate.

Obviously, Yoshida is held in high regard in baseball circles, but how he adapts is anyone’s guess. Pitchers won’t have much of a book on the left-handed slugger, which could give him an edge initially. As the at-bats accumulate and the season heats up, it will be about the adjustments Yoshida makes, and the ones the Blue Jays staff counters with.

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