Following a disappointing two-game sweep at the hands of the Seattle Mariners in the playoffs last October, the Toronto Blue Jays spent their offseason rejigging their roster to place a greater emphasis on defence and lineup balance.
Fan favourites Teoscar Hernandez and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. were traded and replaced in the outfield by Kevin Kiermaier and Daulton Varsho — two Gold Glove-calibre defenders who both hit left-handed. Two-time World Series champion Brandon Belt was also brought in to provide some thump from the left side along with plenty of playoff experience.
On the pitching front, free agent starter Chris Bassitt signed a three-year deal to replace the hole Ross Stripling left in the rotation, while Erik Swanson was acquired in the Hernandez trade to bring extra stability to the back of the bullpen.
Whether or not this iteration of the Blue Jays is better than the club that won 92 games in 2022 remains to be seen, but Toronto's new look is drawing the attention of managers around the American League East.
“That’s one of the toughest, if not the toughest lineups to face,” Baltimore Orioles skipper Brandon Hyde told The Athletic's Kaitlyn McGrath. “[George] Springer and Vlad [Guerrero Jr.] and [Bo] Bichette, it’s really, really tough at-bats. Not to mention their pitching was really good last year, the front-end starters and a good bullpen. And they’re going to be really, really good again.”
Toronto's balanced lineup is something Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora commented on, jokingly pointing out he may actually be able to deploy some southpaw relievers against the Blue Jays in 2023. The Blue Jays dominated the Red Sox last season, winning 16 of their 19 meetings.
“Our lefties come into play. We had three last year that we couldn’t use because of all their righties, so hopefully on our end, it’s an advantage,” Cora said to McGrath. “But all joking aside, they’re a powerhouse. Obviously, they got a taste of the playoffs last year, and they’re looking for more.”
The New York Yankees ended up winning the ultra-competitive AL East by seven games in 2022 and are favoured to take the crown once again this year. Yankees manager Aaron Boone isn't expecting to walk to another division title and expects the Blue Jays to give his squad a run for its money.
“They’re going to be a team that is going to be fighting for the division and right in that mix,” Boone told The Athletic. “Anytime we play them, you got to play your best to beat them.”