Opening Day is nigh, and what’s better for jacking up the hype on this Toronto Blue Jays squad than a handful of cheeky projections? Maybe none of these come true. Maybe they all do. Either way, let’s have a good bit of fun before the 162-game drama begins.
Here are five bold predictions for the 2023 Blue Jays season.
Kevin Gausman beats Alek Manoah in AL Cy Young voting
Gausman was exceptional last season. His 2.38 FIP led the AL, and if not for some tough batted-ball luck, he’d have finished much higher than ninth in Cy Young voting. That will change in 2023, when the 32-year-old will get another opportunity to rise above the rest.
This isn’t a knock on Manoah — he’s a phenomenal pitcher — but a testament to how flawlessly Gausman operates when the going is good. He set a career-low in walks last year (1.4 BB/9), and through four spring training starts (13.2 innings), he’s allowed just eight hits and zero earned runs to go along with 18 strikeouts. Manoah deserves to be the Opening Day starter, but don’t be surprised if Gausman cements himself as the Blue Jays’ ace by the All-Star break.
This is a big season for Guerrero. He raked in 2021, producing a 48-homer, 1.002 OPS season that made him a lock for AL MVP if not for the unstoppable baseball phenom that is Shohei Ohtani. A less productive showing last year saw Guerrero’s OPS drop to .818 and his dinger count tumble to 32. Tragic.
Guerrero’s 52.3% groundball rate (league average is 50%) was unideal, but with what I’ve seen from Vladdy this spring, I’ll make a soft guarantee the power stroke returns. He put a lot of pressure on himself last year. Now, one year older, he can relax and understand he doesn’t need to do it all.
Guerrero, in body and spirit, was built for baseball. Forty-five home runs is chump change for a superstar slugger like him. Watch for him to blow the roof off the new-look Rogers Centre this season.
Ricky Tiedemann debuts as a swingman, makes several starts
The Blue Jays would obviously prefer to roll Tiedemann into the starting rotation at their own pace, probably sometime in 2024. But with Mitch White starting the season on the injured list, Toronto’s depth starting options are sparse, meaning the club’s top prospect could get the call early.
I’ll bet Tiedemann cracks the bigs sometime in July or August. Who knows how José Berríos and Yusei Kikuchi will be performing by then. Maybe the rotation suffers an injury or two. At the very least, I think Tiedemann debuts this year as a long man out of the bullpen. If there’s a spot for him in the rotation, then maybe he gets a handful of starting opportunities, and the club goes from there.
Blue Jays ball out at trade deadline
It’s hard to say who the targets might be — maybe it’s Bryan Reynolds or Germán Márquez — but the Blue Jays will wheel and deal at the trade deadline with much more desperation than a season ago. In 2022, Toronto’s deadline haul was generally disappointing, though Zach Pop and Whit Merrifield are still set to contribute in 2023.
This year’s trade period will force the Jays to be brasher, accepting an overpay for a rental who can improve the club’s World Series chances. Toronto has a few prospect chips to work with, too. Addison Barger’s ascent makes him an ideal candidate to replace Matt Chapman in 2024, leaving Orelvis Martinez as a prime candidate to get dealt.
Depending on how the industry views Martinez and where the Blue Jays are come August, we could see a real head-turner at the deadline.
Blue Jays win AL East
Fans aren’t supposed to cheer for injuries, though there’s little doubt Blue Jays fans have been cackling at the New York Yankees’ predicament this spring. You could’ve argued the Jays were primed to win the AL East before the injury bug nuked the Yanks’ starting rotation, but without Frankie Montas, Carlos Rodon, and now Luis Severino for the foreseeable future, New York is compromised.
April now becomes a massive month for the Blue Jays, who went 14-8 in the first month last season. A red-hot start to the year puts Toronto in the driver’s seat and lessens the pressure as the games trudge on. The Yankees took that strategy to an extreme with a 64-28 first-half record a year ago. Perhaps the Blue Jays find some watered-down first-half successes and ride an early division lead all the way to the postseason, helping them avoid that bedevilled AL wild-card series.
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