Blue Jays offseason grades: Rating all of Toronto's big moves
The 2023 Blue Jays will look a lot different than the team that lost to the Mariners in last year's playoffs.
Toronto Blue Jays fans expected a busy offseason this winter and they weren’t let down.
After adding the likes of Kevin Gausman and Yusei Kikuchi ahead of the 2022 season, the Jays went in a different direction in 2023. Toronto swapped out a few key pieces of its core via the trade market and injected some veteran talent through free agency.
All told, the 2023 Blue Jays squad looks quite different than it did a year ago. Let’s walk through all the moves and assign a letter grade to each acquisition.
Blue Jays trade Teoscar Hernández to the Mariners for LHP Adam Macko and RHP Erik Swanson
Just over a month after Seattle booted Toronto from the playoffs, the Jays did a deal with the enemy, sending Hernández, a long-tenured fan favourite, to the M’s for prospect Macko and late-inning reliever Swanson.
In a nutshell, this trade doesn’t look great. Hernández is an established clean-up hitter who clubbed 57 homers over the last two seasons with a 130 OPS+, whereas Swanson – a reliever, so inherently less valuable – has been good the last two years (2.33 ERA, 167 ERA+) but less impactful.
This trade was a flop for the Jays if they didn’t replace Hernández’s production in the outfield. Since Toronto added more offence later in the winter, I bumped my grade up a tick.
Blue Jays sign OF Kevin Kiermaier (one year, $9 million)
Like the Hernández trade, where a character shakeup was a factor, Kiermaier’s signing comes with intangible benefits. He’s renowned as a clubhouse leader, and he’s played in the AL East his entire career. The 32-year-old’s defence is the real moneymaker (he has three Gold Gloves), as he’ll assume duties in centre field, shifting George Springer to right.
But can glove and leadership tools make up for below-average hitting? That’s the quandary when evaluating this signing. Since the start of 2018, Kiermaier owns a slash line of .232/.296/.382, plus he’s missed 150 games over the past three seasons due to injuries.
The contract itself involves little commitment from Toronto, but the club is counting on Kiermaier for a full season in centre field – that part is very risky. For that reason, I’m not as high on the Kiermaier signing.
Blue Jays sign RHP Chris Bassitt (three years, $63 million)
With Ross Stripling’s departure and Kikuchi’s inconsistency, the Blue Jays desperately needed another starting pitcher. Bassitt was a perfect fit.
The 33-year-old inked a three-year deal (not too hefty of a commitment) with the Jays, bringing boatloads of experience to Toronto’s rotation. Bassitt is wickedly consistent, pitching to a 3.31 ERA (123 ERA+) over his last four seasons. He’s also a strong-willed veteran who knows how to get hitters out and won’t require a full operational rebuild (like Kikuchi) or constant mechanical tweaking (like José Berríos).
The Bassitt signing was easily the best move Toronto made this offseason.
Blue Jays trade OF Lourdes Gurriel Jr., C Gabriel Moreno to Diamonbacks in exchange for OF/C Daulton Varsho
This Christmas Eve bombshell was the trade Blue Jays fans had been expecting for two years. At long last, Toronto dealt Moreno, one of its three major-league ready catchers, for a left-handed hitter — another longstanding need.
The return was fair for both teams. Gurriel is slightly better than Varsho offensively by wRC+, but Varsho is younger, under contract through 2026, and was the best outfielder in baseball last season, per Outs Above Average. Varsho, 26, is built like Mike Trout and plays with game-changing intensity. He’ll slot into left field (though he’ll get reps in centre, too) and bat near the middle of Toronto’s order.
Moreno’s development will decide the winner of this trade. If he can stick behind the plate and discover a major-league power stroke, the Jays might regret dishing him away. In the meantime, though, Varsho offers several tools the club didn’t possess before.
Blue Jays sign 1B Brandon Belt (one year, $9.3 million)
If he’s healthy (a big if), Belt is arguably the best platoon hitter in all of baseball. The 34-year-old owns a career .814 OPS and will be the designated hitter for the Jays this year, especially against right-handed pitching. He'll also mix in at first base to spell Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
The addition of Belt deepens Toronto’s lineup tremendously. With Belt batting against righties, the Blue Jays can matchmake their catchers (Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen) depending on pitching and battery matchups. Belt's pull power (.458 career slugging) is also very intriguing, especially with the shortened right-centre field wall at Rogers Centre.
This was a stellar signing by the Jays.
The Blue Jays entered this winter with a plan and executed it. Defence and pitching, both in the bullpen and the rotation, are dramatically better than they were a season ago. Because of those improvements, Toronto is much better prepared for playoff baseball. Despite having one of the more under-the-radar offseasons in the league, the Blue Jays checked every box they needed to.
There are new skillsets on the roster and a rejuvenated dynamic in the clubhouse, which makes this club better equipped to win in 2023.
Final Grade: B+
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