Four short months ago, I stood in front of a TV screen at Pearson Airport alongside a hundred of my closest friends. Passport checks and flight gates were put on hold as we watched our beloved Toronto Blue Jays earn—and subsequently lose—a seven-run lead against the Seattle Mariners in the deciding game of the American League Wild Card Series. The crowd was shocked by what turned out to be one of the worst playoff collapses in recent memory—and in this city, that’s truly saying something. After such a disappointing end to the 2022 season, what comes next for the Blue Jays?
As spring training opened on Saturday, February 25, 2023 at TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Florida, some familiar faces made their return to the baseball diamond. All-star slugger and first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. signed a one-year, $14.5 million contract extension this off-season. After a lengthy negotiation period, shortstop Bo Bichette also avoided arbitration by signing a three-year deal worth $11.2 million per season. Ace Alek Manoah and closer Jordan Romano will both be back for 2023. With management spending big to keep this young core together, it appears the time is now for the Blue Jays to take a serious run at the World Series.
Despite General Manager Ross Atkins’ commitment to his young stars, the 2023 iteration of the Blue Jays will look different from past years. Gone are fan-favourites Teoscar Hernández and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., whose absences will be felt both on the field and in the dugout. Their positions will be filled by new acquisitions Kevin Kiermaier and Daulton Varsho, who bring stellar defensive numbers and some much-needed lefty bats to the lineup. A Platinum Glove winner in centre field, Kiermaier looks to shift the oft-injured George Springer to right field, while Varsho takes over duties in left. Though the newcomers have less offensive upside than their predecessors, improved play in the outfield will surely propel the Blue Jays back to the playoffs and beyond.
This increased emphasis on defense comes at a time of significant question marks surrounding the team’s pitching staff. After Manoah and Kevin Gausman, the starting rotation quickly descends into uncertainty. Can José Berrìos regain his consistency after a season of volatile results? Will Yusei Kikuchi finally figure out his fastball command? And when will Hyun-Jin Ryu return from last year’s elbow surgery? The off-season departure of Ross Stripling places no small amount of pressure on these players to find their games. If the Blue Jays are to succeed in a tough American League East division, they’ll need to find quality starts on a regular basis.
In the bullpen, a couple of slight moves addressed what was formerly a weak spot for the Jays. Anthony Bass pitched well for the team at the end of last season, and recent addition Erik Swanson promises another high-leverage option with mid-range fastball velocity. By recording more strikeouts in the late innings, the team will lock down more games and hopefully avoid a repeat of last year’s epic collapse. Keep a particular eye on Romano, who exploded onto the scene in 2021 and is looking to bounce back from playoff disappointment with another career year. He already sits 7th all-time in team saves, and projects to finish the season as high as 5th if he remains healthy.
With a well-rounded lineup and plenty of intrigue to start the season, now is an exciting time to be a Blue Jays fan. Adding to the buzz is a new look for the Rogers Centre, which is in the midst of a $300 million overhaul. Renovations include improved social spaces, raised bullpens, and asymmetrical field dimensions, creating a unique experience for casual viewers and die-hard fans alike. As summer comes to Toronto, it will certainly be worth taking in a Blue Jays game live. The season begins on March 30, 2023, and Canadian baseball fans can only hope it will last well into October.