These Toronto Blue Jays are suddenly… old!

With the activation of lefty Hyun Jin Ryu from the 60-day IL after his rehab from Tommy John surgery, the Toronto Blue Jays are now the 4th oldest team in MLB. The teams they are chasing in the AL East are far younger.
Baltimore Orioles v Toronto Blue Jays
Baltimore Orioles v Toronto Blue Jays / Cole Burston/GettyImages

Descriptions of the Blue Jays’ roster often refer to their young and talented core. While that’s true of Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Alejandro Kirk and Alek Manoah, the rest of the roster is, well… old!

The fact that the Toronto Blue Jays have enjoyed such good health this season is made even more remarkable by the fact that the average roster age has risen to 29.7 years with the return of 36-year old Hyun Jin Ryu. That’s the 4th oldest roster in Major League Baseball; it will get older with the arrival of newly acquired shortstop Paul DeJong, who turned 30 Wednesday (happy birthday!), and the return of Chad Green, who is 32.

The over-30 crowd on the 26-man roster also includes Brandon Belt and Jay Jackson (both 35), Whit Merrifield and Chris Bassitt (both 34), George Springer (who turns 34 in September), Kevin Kiermaier (33), Yimi García (who turns 33 this month), Yusei Kikuchi and Kevin Gausman (32), Tim Mayza (31); and, Jordan Romano, Matt Chapman and Trevor Richards, who are all 30. Erik Swanson turns 30 next month.

Much has been made of how team president Mark Shapiro and general manager Ross Atkins inherited an old team from Paul Beeston and Alex Anthopoulos after the 2015 season. However, if you exclude then 41-year old R.A. Dickey given knuckleballers often pitch into their 40s, as well as then 39-year old Jason Grilli and 38-year-old Joaquin Benoit, who were both acquired by Atkins and not his predecessor, the current 2023 roster is actually older than that 2016 team!

How does that compare with the AL East teams Toronto is chasing?

The Blue Jays trail both Tampa Bay and Baltimore in the AL East. The Rays have the 13th youngest roster in MLB at 28.5 years, while the division leading Orioles have the 8th youngest roster at an average age of 27.8, nearly two years younger than Toronto.

Baltimore’s exciting young 3B Gunnar Henderson, who leads the team with an OPS+ of 127, only just turned 22. Big, young righty starter Grayson Rodriguez is 23. All-Star catcher Adley Rutschman is 25. Blue Jays killer Ryan Mountcastle and Tuesday night’s winning pitcher Kyle Bradish are 26, and All-Star LF Austin Hays, CF Cedric Mullins and RF Anthony Santander are all 28.

They also have payroll flexibility with the second lowest competitive balance tax (CBT) payroll in baseball at $93 million. Tampa has the 8th lowest CBT payroll at $130 million. Toronto has the 6th highest estimated CBT payroll for 2023, at $251.5 million, and will likely trigger a $4 million luxury tax.

Organizational Depth?

Another glaring issue here is Baltimore’s loaded farm system versus a poorly rated Blue Jays’ farm system. Based on the latest in-season Baseball America top 100 prospects ranking (subscription required), the Orioles have seven top 100 prospects, including the current top prospect overall, 19-year old Jackson Holliday, who is tearing up Double-A. They didn’t have to give up any of them to acquire either Shintaro Fujinami from Oakland or Jack Flaherty from St. Louis at the trade deadline.

Two of those top prospects are already in the bigs and playing in Toronto this week: 23-year old OF Colton Cowser and 24-year old infielder Jordan Westburg.

Toronto has only two BA top 100 prospects in 20-year old LHP Ricky Tiedemann and 21-year old 3B/SS Orelvis Martinez, neither of whom appears MLB-ready just yet.

Tampa Bay also has a loaded farm system, with four prospects in BA’s top 100, all ranked 67th or higher. They also just traded the 69th ranked prospect, 23-year old 1B Kyle Manzardo, to Cleveland for 28-year old starter Aaron Civale, who is under team control through 2025.

They’ll provide depth to an already solid young core in Tampa that includes 22-year old All-Star SS Wander Franco, 24-year old 3B Isaac Paredes, 25-year old RF Josh Lowe and their 26-year old ace and two-time All-Star Shane McClanahan, not to mention 28-year old LF Randy Arozarena who was the 2021 AL Rookie of the Year and an All-Star this year.

The Blue Jays should get younger in 2024, with Ryu, Belt, Merrifield, Kiermaier and Chapman all on expiring contracts this year. Promoting Tiedemann, who turns 21 later this month, to take Ryu’s slot in the rotation would help, as would adding a platoon of RHH Orelvis Martinez (who’ll be 22 next season) and LHH Addison Barger (who’ll be 24 next season) to replace Matt Chapman at the hot corner.

Exercising the 2024 club option on DeJong might be a solution to get younger than Merrifield at 2B; and, 27-year old Daulton Varsho can take over for Kiermaier in CF, which would leave the Blue Jays offseason shopping list focused on a left-fielder and a hitter with pop to replace Belt’s at-bats. LHH Spencer Horwitz, who will be 26 next year, could also be an internal solution to replace Belt.

The AL East continues to be a tough division, with all five teams above .500. But the Blue Jays are no longer the young guns of the East, as that mantle now belongs to Baltimore and Tampa. In the meantime, let’s hope Toronto’s run of good health continues in 2023, and that the front office can smoothly manage the transition to a younger roster in 2024.