We’re now almost two weeks removed from the Texas Rangers’ World Series win, which means that it’s about time for Hot Stove season to really start burning. It’ll be a particularly urgent winter for the Toronto Blue Jays, who not too long ago looked like one of the league’s up-and-coming contenders but now seem to be stuck in neutral after a second consecutive Wild Card flameout. The star power is still very much there, but something about these Jays feels off, like the team has yet to figure out how to avoid being less than the sum of its considerable parts. How can GM Ross Atkins turn things around this offseason? What does this group need, exactly? We’re here to break it all down.
Blue Jays offseason preview
Season in review
The arrivals of Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. figured to herald a new era in Toronto, one in which the Jays looked like a force to be reckoned with in the AL. But rather than the next step, 2023 brought more of the same as a maddeningly inconsistent team backslid from 92 to 89 wins. Their star-studded offense was prone to falling into slumps for weeks at a time and disappeared entirely when it mattered most, resulting in a second straight Wild Card sweep. This is not the trajectory this core was supposed to take, and the angst level has been upped considerably entering a make-or-break winter in which several holes will need to be filled.
Pending free agents
Toronto doesn’t have a ton of players set for unrestricted free agency, but every one of them was a meaningful contributor on this year’s team: starting third baseman Matt Chapman, starting center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, utility man Whit Merrifield, go-to DH Brandon Belt, starter Hyun-Jin Ryu and setup man Jordan Hicks.
With Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios, Chris Bassitt and Yusei Kikuchi all returning, Toronto’s rotation figures to once again be among the better groups in the league. ButaAs you might imagine from that list above, the Jays will have some holes to plug in their lineup — and GM Ross Atkins has already gone on record saying the club is looking to acquire anywhere from one to four bats this offseason. Third base and second base in particular are needs, as is a left-handed power bat given Belt’s potential departure; the veteran was really the only impact lefty in a very righty-heavy lineup this season. Daulton Varsho can slide over to center field to replace Kiermaier, but that creates a new hole in left field with George Springer occupying right.
Best free-agent fits
The Jays should be as motivated as just about anyone to make a run at Cody Bellinger, who can toggle between the outfield and DH duties while providing the lefty middle-of-the-order presence this team so desperately needs. He should be priorities one, two and three this winter, although it remains to be seen if he has any interest in heading up north. If they swing and miss on Bellinger, names like Joc Pederson, Michael Brantley, Korea’s Jung Hoo Lee or old friend Lourdes Gurriel Jr. are some outfielders the team might pursue.
The infield market is far less robust, and a reunion with Chapman could make sense for both sides; he went through a roller-coaster season at the plate but remains elite defensively, and after that there aren’t a ton of quality options at the hot corner. Jeimer Candelario and Gio Urshela are the other third basemen Toronto could take a look at, with Urshela offering the versatility to play second or short as well. That versatility is important, because second base is grim right now, with Tim Anderson and Amed Rosario at the top of the market.
Given the state of the free-agent pool, Toronto may have more interest in acquiring position-player help through the trade market. The Red Sox are reportedly shopping Alex Verdugo, who fell out of favor with Alex Cora but would be just the sort of contact-oriented lefty outfielder that the Jays could really use. They could also look to trade from their pitching surplus to fill their middle-infield hole, with guys like Twins second baseman Jorge Polanco, Brewers shortstop Willy Adames, Reds second baseman/third baseman Jonathan India and Yankees second baseman Gleyber Torres all potentially available.