By Bruce Penton
It was a pretty good offseason for the Toronto Blue Jays, who have their eyes set on improvement from 2022’s 92-win season — the third-highest win total in baseball’s American League behind the Yankees and Houston.
Even though last season ended abruptly for the Jays in a wildcard playoff loss to Seattle Mariners, the 2022 season gave fans hope that the team was on the rise. As the Jays’ 47th season gets under way, the roster looks to be improved and fans across Canada can legitimately expect the Jays to not only contend for the American League East crown, but to perhaps win their first World Series since 1993.
While the Jays belted 200 home runs last year, third-highest total in the American League, their pitching was inconsistent. The 2021 breakthrough of right-handed pitcher Alek Manoah (9-2) was a bright spot and when he followed up with a 16-7 record in 2022, it solidified his role as the team ace.
But because a team can never have enough pitching, the Jays signed free-agent right-hander Chris Bassitt to strengthen their staff. Bassitt will earn $63 million over the next three years and join Manoah, Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios, Yusei Kikuchi and Hyun Jin Ryu in one of the potentially strongest rotations in MLB.
The bullpen got an overhaul, too, with the addition of reliever Erik Swanson from the Mariners, who was 3-2 last year with a 1.68 earned-run average, 70 strikeouts and only 10 walks. His arrival came with a price, however — the loss of slugging all-star outfielder Teoscar Hernandez, who slugged 25 home runs in 2022. So what will offset the loss of all that power that was sent to Seattle? How about the addition of slugging outfielder Daulton Varsho, who crushed 27 home runs for Arizona last year. To acquire Varsho, the Jays gave up Lourdes Gurriel, Jr., and a prospect. Gurriel’s offensive production dropped off substantially last season, as he hit only five home runs after swatting 21 the season before.
Overall, the Jays have championship potential. Bassitt’s addition to the pitching staff makes it an MLB top-10 rotation, and offensively, with Varsho added to the batting order loaded with Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. George Springer, Bo Bichette and Matt Chapman, runs will be plentiful. Toronto also picked up acrobatic outfielder Kevin Kiermier, formerly of Tampa Bay, and longtime San Francisco Giant Brandon Belt, who will likely find himself in a DH role.
One other change Jays’ fans will notice is in the broadcast booth. Veteran colour man Pat Taber was dumped by Sportsnet, a move that annoyed veteran play-by-play man Buck Martinez, who plans to return for the 2023 season. Dan Shulman will work all 81 of the Blue Jays’ home games, and 25 or 30 on the road. Shulman, a Canadian, told ESPN he will no longer do radio games for the American network.
• Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel, on Twitter: “Did you see where the average price of a new car is almost $50,000? Or as they say in the SEC: ‘About the same amount as the NIL (Name, Image, Likeness) deal for Texas A&M’s third-team long snapper.’”
• Radio sportscaster Mike Golic, Jr.: “I wonder if the influx of cash going to college football players will lead to better quality tattoos.”
• Fark.com headline: “The war between (Knicks’, Rangers’ owner) James Dolan and the State of New York escalates, as Dolan sues the state liquor board for threatening to take away the only thing that makes Knicks’ and Rangers’ games bearable.”
• Legendary U.S. college basketball coach Lou Carnesecca, 98, asked how new St. John’s University coach Rick Pitino’s scandal-scarred professional and personal history lines up with the Catholic school’s stated values: ‘It’s very simple. That’s why we have confessions.’”
• Comedy writer Alex Kaseberg: “The Netflix golf documentary ‘Full Swing’ chronicled the human-rights-violating Saudi Arabia’s new ‘LIV Tour.’ The LIV Tour is expected to be competitive unless ISIS opens a tour that pays more.”
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