This past winter, the Toronto Blue Jays made a choice to become more left-handed.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Teoscar Hernández were traded, while Brandon Belt, Kevin Kiermaier, and Daulton Varsho joined the squad for the 2023 season. In theory, the lefty-heavy lineup is more balanced and trickier for opposing managers to game plan against. In reality, Toronto is now getting cooked against southpaws.
This year, the Blue Jays’ offence has produced a .703 OPS and .379 slugging percentage versus left-handers, ranking the club 22nd and 26th, respectively, in those two categories. Lefty pitchers have specifically exposed Varsho (.517 OPS), Belt (.417 OPS), and Cavan Biggio (.343 OPS), making them essentially unplayable unless a right-hander is on the hill.
Here are three ways the Blue Jays can fix this problem.
Sit Varsho and wait for Springer, Espinal, Kirk to produce
This won’t comfort fans very much, but there’s a case to be made the pieces are already there and guys simply aren’t performing to their best abilities. George Springer, for example, owns a career .875 OPS against lefties, which is better than his career OPS (.831) versus righties. The 33-year-old’s dreadful start to the year set him back, but he’s hitting like himself again. The power versus lefties will come.
Alejandro Kirk and Santiago Espinal have been two of Toronto’s biggest letdowns at the plate this year. Career-wise, Espinal’s been a touch better against left-handers (.760 OPS) than Kirk (.755 OPS), but neither guy is anywhere close to those numbers this season.
The Jays could also start favouring Kiermaier over Varsho against left-handed starting pitchers. Kiermaier is the better option, plain and simple. Neither guy has homered against a lefty this year, but Kiermaier’s OPS (.690) and batting average (.286) trump Varsho’s numbers.
The upcoming All-Star break creates a natural pit stop for players to catch their breath and re-assess their swings. Perhaps Kirk and Espinal come out stronger in the second half. If not, and if the Blue Jays front office is tired of waiting, there are two routes the club can go.
Call a hitter up from the minors
The Blue Jays’ farm system isn’t oozing with lefty killers, but there are a few faces who offer more upside than Ernie Clement, for example.
Jordan Luplow comes to mind. He went 0-for-6 in four games with the Jays earlier this year, though that’s hardly a large enough sample size to condemn him to Triple-A for the rest of the year. As a major-leaguer, Luplow owns an .830 OPS against southpaws, and he’s hit lefties well with the Buffalo Bisons this year, too (.466 SLG). He’s worth a shot in the lineup over Kirk, Varsho, or Espinal right now.
Davis Schneider could’ve been another option if his splits weren’t so imbalanced (1.029 OPS versus RHPs; .674 versus LHPs). The same dilemma applies to Rafael Lantigua, a smaller, OBP-type player who likely wouldn’t give the Jays more than what Clement offers.
Damiano Palmegiani is a high-impact bat lurking with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats in Double-A, but it’s hard to make a case dipping that low into the farm system — even for an upside play like Palmegiani — is wise ahead of a wild-card race.
Beyond Luplow, there aren’t many proven hitters. What now?
Make a trade
This is the likeliest route, and there are some solid names to gander at. While some clubs, like the Mets and Cubs, are deciding if they want to blow things up, the Jays can strike deals with the Pirates or A’s, two franchises that seem guaranteed to sell.
Brent Rooker, Oakland’s breakout slugger this year, is the best available lefty masher. He’s very limited defensively, but that will not deter Toronto. The 28-year-old has found a sweet power stroke (.535 SLG) versus southpaws this season, making him an instant candidate for the Jays’ cleanup spot. Rooker’s also not a free agent until 2028.
The Pirates, on the other hand, could trade Connor Joe or Andrew McCutchen. McCutchen seems like the better fit, even if he’s only played eight games in the outfield in 2023. In a designated hitter platoon with Belt, the 36-year-old adds much-needed pop and big-game experience.
If McCutchen wants to retire in Pittsburgh, then the Blue Jays can gun for Joe. He owns a wicked .900 OPS versus lefties this year, which could make him a strict platoon hitter near the bottom of Toronto’s order. Joe is also a capable corner outfielder and first baseman. The Bucs might want to hold onto him, as he’s under team control through 2027, but if he’s available, the Blue Jays should ante up.