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Posted on March 9 -- are subject to change.
Pinnacle NA BET365 o91½ -125 Sportsinteraction o91½ -125 888Sport
Season Win Total
Toronto Blue Jays over 91½ -125 (No bets for us)
The Jays have now run off back-to-back 90-win seasons—with a 2020 playoff appearance before that—and continue to build a well-balanced roster in pursuit of dethroning the Yankees on top of the AL East. They used their young catching surplus to bolster their outfield ranks, dealing Gabriel Moreno to Arizona for Daulton Varsho, plugging a hole on the grass they admittedly created by shipping off Teoscar Hernandez to Seattle for relief help. Chris Bassitt was signed to lengthen the rotation, and if José Berríos can find some of his Twin Cities form, Toronto will have four above-average or better starters across their five-day swing. The position player side has added some veteran presence in the form of Brandon Belt and Kevin Kiermaier, but the Jays’ season will rise and fall from on the backs of the same young lineup core and questionable relief corps they’ve featured in recent seasons.
Toronto traded one of the brightest young catching prospects—even if he wasn’t technically prospect-eligible—and still have a top-five situation behind the plate. Alejandro Kirk has developed into a plus defender, so while you’d still take his bat (projected 123 DRC+) in the DH spot when he’s not donning the tools of ignorance, he might end up catching more often than not. Meanwhile, Danny Jansen has a very average set of skills. His 2019 framing numbers look like the outlier now, but Jansen is perfectly adequate at all aspects of catcher defense, and has developed a fair bit of game pop, owing to a pull-happy flyball approach. Any team would be happy with one of Jansen or Kirk minding the plate for 110 games a year. Having two starting quality catchers is a good problem to have, and there’s plenty of ways to get both of their bats into the lineup five days a week or so.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. followed up his 2021 MVP-level season with a merely “very good” 2022. He still hits the ball about as hard as any player in baseball, but his intermittent ground ball issues popped up again last season. He’s never posted an average launch angle over 10 degrees, but he beat the ball into the ground too much last season. This is on balance a minor quibble, as he still hit 32 home runs and was 34% better than average by Deserved Runs Created (DRC+). He’s projected similarly for 2023, and while merely a 4-win player feels disappointing, this will only be Vlad Jr.’s age-24 season, and even a slight uptick in his batted ball profile could see him back among the MVP candidates in the American League.
Santiago Espinal might be a bit stretched as an everyday second baseman, but if he’s the worst hitter in your lineup, you are living pretty well. He didn’t maintain the .300 average of his breakout 2021 campaign, but he makes enough good contact to remain within a shout of average with the stick, while being able to hold down three different infield spots. If the batting average slips anymore, you might see Whit Merrifield pick up a bit more playing time than projected. The Jays will also have Addison Barger killing time in Buffalo until an infield spot opens up. He’s a better fit at third base, but is rangy enough to handle the keystone even in a post-shift universe and has far more offensive upside than the incumbent options at second.
Bo Bichette had one of the great bailout months of all-time in 2022. Sitting at .260/.305/.420 as the calendar turned over to September, he hit .406/.444/.662 the rest of the way, raising his OPS nearly 80 points and ending up with nearly a carbon copy of his 2021 All-Star campaign. Bichette and the Jays agreed on a three-year deal to buy out his arb seasons, and while he feels like an incredibly high-variance hitter, the soon-to-be 25-year old feels a lock to hit around .300 with around 25 home runs every year of that deal. You’d be forgiven for imagining that there’s a second gear here, a potential batting title, or 35+ home run season. Bichette has always been able to show that in flashes, but like Guerrero, there’s a few too many ground balls. Unlike Guerrero, Bichette also chases a lot. Part of that is he just swings a lot, and he can do damage on pitches out of the zone, but it does impact his overall quality of contact. If he had Danny Jansen’s contact profile, he’d be an MVP, but perhaps it’s best to just let Bo cook. It’s unclear how much longer he will be cooking at shortstop though. He might be the best organizational fit for second base in the short-to-medium term, as his range and arm have both slid in the wrong direction during his early-20s.
Matt Chapman reined in the Ks a bit in 2022, but has settled into the “merely above-average” portion of his career. He’s still a plus, if not elite, defender at third, and he‘ll hit for power and get on base enough to buoy a batting average likely to sit in the low-.200s. He’ll also be a free agent after this season, but that’s a problem for after this season. Chapman is likely to be a solid regular during it.
The Jays have decent depth on the dirt, Merrfield looked more like the good version of himself in 2022 after the trade, but he’ll be 34 and is best used as a 3-4 day a week player. Brandon Belt dropped 300 points of OPS between 2021 and 2022 and is a 35-year-old corner bat with durability concerns. He’s also not going to be asked to do much more than DH or spell Guerrero at first occasionally, and any bounce back at all will land him in the “good veteran bench bat” role they are functionally paying him to be.
The Jays’ new-look outfield has a bit less ground to cover with the new fences, but should be one of the best defensive groups in the game. Now, it’s not great when you’re leading with the gloves, but hey, George Springer has looked every bit an All-Star at the plate when on the field—which perhaps has been less frequent than Toronto was hoping—and a shift to a corner spot might help save his legs and keep his bat in the lineup more.
Kevin Kiermaier may no longer be at his Platinum Glove peak, but he’s a good defender up-the-middle. Analytics are pretty sour on his bat, predicting something close to his 2022 line. That might lead to his losing playing time in center to new acquisition Dalton Varsho. Varsho was a Gold Glove finalist in left field and graded out well in center in limited playing time. His offensive contributions are going to come almost entirely from his power, but the closer fences in right and right-center make that a pretty viable plan.
If you want to pick one group where the Jays might be a bit thin offensively, it’s the outfield. Kiermaier and Springer have both missed time in recent years, and there’s little in the way of upper-minors depth. Merrifield and Cavan Biggio both have some outfield experience, but are infielders by trade and both of their bats would be stretched by regular time in a corner spot.
Analytics are a bit more bearish on the Jays rotation than we would have expected. Kevin Gausman wasn’t quite as good in 2022 as 2021, but every bit the ace Toronto signed for nine figures, posting a 76 DRA- across 175 innings. He’s projected to be just 10% better than league average in 2023, and while his four-seam did get hit a little harder—and a little more often—last season, his split remains one of the best secondary pitches in baseball. He’s also got a pretty good track record of durability at this point.
Alek Manoah outperformed his DRA by over a run and a half last season. His strikeout and walk rates are pretty unspectacular by modern standards, and his shiny ERA was based on excellent hit and home run suppression. Manoah had a miniscule slugging percentage against his four-seamer, and gets a fair amount of weak contact generally. It’s fair to expect a bit of regression in the ERA, but there is something to his pitch mix that will continue to limit success on balls in play.
Chris Bassitt has made a career out of limiting success on balls in play, and he’s been even better at weak contact inducement than Manoah. The Jays inked him for fewer guaranteed dollars than Taijuan Walker or Jameson Taillon in part because so much of his value comes from outperforming ERA estimators and expected run values, and in part because he’s in his mid-30s. The move from Citi Field to Rogers Centre might exacerbate his occasional issues with the gopher ball, but he’s a high-probability third starter who will give this rotation another arm capable of supplying good innings in bulk.
José Berríos had one of the worst four-seam fastballs in the league in 2022, continuing a downward trend for the pitch. He still threw it about a quarter of the time, which would account for a large portion of his 5+ ERA. His sinker is the far better of his two fastballs, and he badly needs a pitch-mix tweak to get him back towards the success he found in the Twin Cities. As it stands, analytics see a bit of positive regression regardless, and something close to league-average performance when he’s on the mound in 2023.
The fifth starter spot is currently Yusei Kikuchi’s, although he looked better after a move to the pen in 2022. Hyun-Jin Ryu will miss most of the season recovering from Tommy John surgery. Mitch White cost the Jays a Top 101 prospect in Nick Frasso, and he pitched to a 7+ ERA as a starter for Toronto. Ricky Tiedemann is the best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball and did reach Double-A in 2022, but he’s likely more of a second-half option. Yosver Zulueta is closer, but more likely to help out in the pen, and your guess is as good as ours regarding the availability and performance of Nate Pearson in 2023.
Jordan Romano has been one of the best closers in baseball for three seasons now, but the rest of the pen has been an issue for the last few seasons. Toronto opened up a hole in their outfield to help fill it, getting Erik Swanson from the Mariners for Teoscar Hernandez. And despite their very public blow-up in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series against the Mariners, the Jays pen wasn’t quite as bad last year. Tim Mayza, Yimi Garcia, and Adam Cimber are all respectable medium-leverage arms, and they will get a full season of Zach Pop. They could use one more shutdown relief pitcher, and perhaps Zulueta will fill that role. If nothing else, they have more good options to fill out the late innings than they’ve had in the recent past.
The AL East is inarguably the most competitive division in baseball, and the Jays might reside in the perfect sweet spot of both fun and good. The Yankees are probably a cut above them entering the season—although they are already down one starting pitcher for most of 2023—but can they really ever be considered “fun” by the non-Bleacher-Creatures? The Orioles are certainly fun, but maybe not quite good enough yet. The Rays are the Rays. The Red Sox are flailing a bit at being the Rays, and while Rafael Devers is very fun, they spent most of their offseason marching onto a series of rakes in front of the assembled baseball media. Toronto, meanwhile, might be the perfect MLB.tv team. You’ll usually get a good starter. The lineup is exciting and can beat you in a bunch of different ways—although with the fences moved in, more of those ways are going to be laser beam dingers, not a bad thing. The bullpen means the late innings are rarely boring. Rogers Centre has decent aesthetics for a domed stadium, and the uniforms are always on point. The Jays would be one of the most watchable teams in baseball even if they weren’t a likely playoff team, but they are.
Since so many of you follow the Blue Jays, we wanted to give you a preview of their season and let you decide what you want to do. Personally, we’re not betting it because this number seems to be precisely where it should be. Pass.
Toronto Blue Jays o91½ -125 (Risking 0 units - To Win: 0.00)