The Toronto Blue Jays have undergone quite the offseason transformation over the past several months.
They have strengthened their bullpen with the addition of Erik Swanson, who should slot in as a high-leverage arm. The outfield defense should be much-improved with Kevin Kiermaier and Daulton Varsho and the lineup added experience, power, and flexibility by having Brandon Belt join it.
All these changes will certainly have some affect on the current roster. Swanson will likely get the ball for some important outs late in games, which could push a guy like Trevor Richards to assume more of a middle-relief role.
With Kiermaier and Varsho now in the fold, George Springer will likely see more time in right field and as a designated hitter. Although it’s believed that the Jays are still on the hunt for a fourth outfielder, Whit Merrifield and Cavan Biggio are penciled into that role for now.
With all the moving parts and with the increased roster flexibility, some players are bound to receive less playing time than last season, while others will surely benefit from the shakeup and log more innings.
Increased role No.1 : Danny Jansen
By the simple law of averages, Danny Jansen should see more of the field in 2023. He had two lengthy periods on the IL last season. First, with a left oblique injury that caused him to miss more than a month, then he suffered a fractured left pinky finger after being hit by a pitch in early June.
Once he returned to the lineup for good, D.J. looked better than he has at any other point in his career an he hit .270 with eight homers and a .833 OPS over the last 53 games. Even more impressive is the Blue Jays record in those games, 37-16.
Overall, Jansen's numbers were also the best he’s ever put up with a .260 average, 15 home runs, and a 141 OPS+ over 72 games. It’s fair to wonder what he can produce with a full season of good health. Obviously, he’ll have to share the catching duties with Alejandro Kirk, who was the starting catcher at the All-Star Game in 2022, but they should combine to be one of the best, if not the best, backstop duos in baseball.
How the playing time is divided is still to be determined but as good as Kirk was in the first half (.315, 11 HR, .882 OPS), he regressed considerably post-break (.246, 3 HR, .661 OPS) and fatigue may have played a part in that. The coaching staff will hope both players can stay upright for most of the season because the depth at that spot is weakened with Gabriel Moreno being traded away.
Increased role No. 2: Whit Merrifield
Of all the moves the Jays made at the trade deadline last year, bringing in Whit Merrifield was the most surprising. There was some speculation that the long-time Royal may be on his way out, but Toronto was not one of the places he was expected to go.
The change in scenery from an also-ran to a true playoff contender seemed to energize Merrifield and his numbers showed that. After hitting .240 with six homers and a .643 OPS in 95 games in Kansas City, Whit jumped up to a .281 mark with five home runs and a .769 OPS over 44 games with the Blue Jays.
He really heated up during the last two weeks of the season, hitting a scorching .417 (20-for-51) with four homers, 11 RBI and a 1.181 OPS.
That kind of production isn’t sustainable, but Merrifield should get plenty of time at second base and, as things stand now, should get some playing time in the outfield too.
He was one of the most sought-after players between 2017 and 2021, had a down year and the Jays got him when his value was lower. He’s entering his final season before hitting free agency, so the motivation to perform will be stronger than ever.
Santiago Espinal figures to be part of a platoon at second base and showed he belonged in his first full season as a regular player but, like Kirk, declined as the year wore on and may be better suited as a part-time player.
Decreased role: Cavan Biggio
With all the moves made over the offseason, some players are sure to be affected in a way that sees their time on the field decrease.
Cavan Biggio has carved out a nice little utility role for himself over the last couple of seasons despite being a below-average hitter during that timeframe.
He played a career-high 33 games at first base last year and that has seemingly been cut into with the arrival of Brandon Belt. He’s in the mix to get some games at second base, but he’s competing for playing time with Merrifield and Espinal.
Biggio could get some the outfield, but at this point he’s the fifth option out there and is the least experienced with most of his outfield time coming in right.
He still brings value to this team, and they know it, evidenced by the $2.8M contract that was awarded to him to avoid arbitration. When they want to give someone a rest, they’ve got a league-average player who can come in and play a few different positions, give them good at-bats and not hurt them defensively. Also, injuries are bound to happen, as they always do.
So, while Biggio’s playing time seems certain to lessen, he’s still an asset to the team and manager John Schneider will be compelled to give him at least somewhat regular at-bats. He’s one of four left-handed players so mixing him in is vital for lineup flexibility and there’s still hope he can regain his 2019 season when he was one of the team’s best players, with a .793 OPS 16 home runs, and a 3.0 WAR.