Playing Pepper 2022: Toronto Blue Jays

It was a winter extended by the cold realities of a lockout, but the 2022 baseball season is rapidly approaching.  Given the vagaries of the scheduling and how rapidly everything has to happen, it would be easy to let some traditions go by the wayside.  Not in this space!  Playing Pepper returns for its 14th season with the assistant of some great bloggers and podcasters who rose to the challenge of the time crunch.  There’s a lot of things to sort out so let’s stretch, get ready and play some Pepper!  If you want to keep up with the Blue Jays during the season, I’ve created a Twitter list using the recommendations of our contributors and some other options as well.  You can follow that here!

Toronto Blue Jays
91-71, fourth in the AL East
Website | Twitter
Last year’s Pepper
Top pitcher by bWAR: Robbie Ray (6.7)
Top hitter by bWAR: Marcus Semien (7.3)

Unlike a couple of other teams we could name, Toronto has looked at how close they were to playing in October last year and decided to be aggressive in their attempt to return this season.  It looks like Canada is loosening up some of its COVID-19 restrictions so there should be a lot of really great baseball taking place north of the border.  Let’s chat with some Blue Jay fans about what is to come!

Contributor Site Twitter
Kate Stanwick Bluebird Banter OhKStan
Jeremy Gibson 500 Level Fan 500LevelFan
Joshua Howsam Artificial Turf Wars JoshuaHowsam

C70: Not including lockout issues, tell me about Toronto’s offseason. What did you like about it, what didn’t you like about it, was there something you were hoping for that didn’t happen?

Kate: I’m thrilled with the moves Toronto made in the offseason. The team is headed into 2022 with very few question marks, which is not something we’ve been able to say for a long time. Having Jose Ramirez would have been fun, but I have no complaints over the players they did acquire (one of which thankfully is NOT Brett Gardner). Nabbing Kevin Gausman to fill Robbie Ray’s vacancy is stellar, I love the trade for Matt Chapman, and signing Yusei Kukuchi as a fifth starter without having to trade any more prospects was a solid move. We will see how the bullpen shakes out, whether a Cavan Biggio/Santiago Espinal platoon at second base is acceptable, and whether this lineup is too right handed, but overall the front office gets a solid grade from me.

Jeremy: It was hard not to like it. They brought in the elite defensive 3B with huge offensive upside they needed (Matt Chapman), two potentially high-impact starters (Kevin Gausman and Yusei Kikuchi), the left-handed contact bat they were looking for (Raimel Tapia), and added to the bullpen (Yimi Garcia). It would have been nice to keep Marcus Semien, and part of me was really hoping for Kenley Jansen, but I’m happy!

Joshua: It’s hard to quibble too much with how Toronto handled their offseason. They acquired very adequate replacements for the departing Robbie Ray, Marcus Semien and Steven Matz by signing Kevin Gausman and Yusei Kikuchi and trading for Matt Chapman. They also fortified the bullpen by signing Yimi García and bringing back David Phelps (who missed nearly all of 2021 with injury). The only thing they didn’t really address was replacing the lefthanded bat of Corey Dickerson, opting instead to trade Randal Grichuk to the Rockies for Raimel Tapia. That move lowers some of the outfield ceiling and makes CF depth a bit of an issue, but it also frees up Alejandro Kirk to play almost every day either at DH or C, while Tapia gives the Jays a speed/contact element that wasn’t really present previously. Overall, the offseason has to get at least a B+ grade, and probably deserves higher. They did a great job.

C70: It has to be frustrating to win 90 games only to finish fourth and out of the playoffs. Do the Blue Jays need much to go right to get into the postseason?

Kate: With the number of teams making the playoffs expanded this year, I think it’s moreso a lot would have to go wrong for the Jays not to make it. However, they will need several things to go right if they want a shot at winning the division (which they absolutely have). Healthy and productive years from Vlad, Bo, Springer, Chapman, Jordan Romano and a majority of the starting rotation would help a ton.

Jeremy: It was frustrating, for sure. But considering the fact that the Jays played in three different home stadiums last season, weren’t able to return to full capacity in Toronto until September, and lost George Springer for virtually half the season? I think 91 wins was amazing. I don’t think they need much to go right – with the core another year older and a full season at home, I think they are in a great spot.

Joshua: It definitely wasn’t fun seeing the team win 91 games and then fail to qualify for the postseason, but the team that walked off the field on Oct 3, 2021 was VASTLY superior to the one that took the field on even May 1. All they really need to make it to the postseason is health. A full season of Jose Berríos and Springer, along with the bullpen additions from last year’s deadline as well as all the offseason signings, should leave this team fighting for the division crown. 

C70: Starting this year, Randal Grichuk will have played more seasons for Toronto than St. Louis. What are the expectations for the outfielder? (Sigh. Why can’t baseball stay still until I get these published!)

Kate: I expect him to hit a lot of home runs in Colorado 🙂 Regarding Tapia, it seems like he will be a fun player to watch! It would be awesome if the Jays could unlock something in him that allowed him to have a real positive impact on the team this year, but as a fourth outfielder I don’t think our expectations are overly high. If he can put up some solid contact, and use his speed, he will do just fine.

Jeremy: I didn’t have a ton of expectations for him coming into the season, but with his recent trade to Colorado I can see him having a big year in the NL.

Joshua: I assume you don’t need this one answered anymore, since he’s a Rockie! I think he’ll do really well there! So I’ll talk about his replacement, Raimel Tapia, instead. Tapia needs to show a bit more consistency in his approach. His launch angle has cratered over the last few years and while he finished in the 70th percentile in max exit velocity, he was all the way down in the 5 percentile in average exit velocity. If the Jays can get him to make more consistent hard contact, he could be a really useful piece as the fourth outfielder. If not, he won’t add a ton of value beyond giving other players rest and not killing the team when he’s out there.

C70: Which prospect are you most excited for and when should they make their major league debut?

Kate: Oh man, this one is easy. If all goes well, Gabriel Moreno should be up at some point this year. Orelvis Martinez is the other name to watch, but it seems unlikely he will be in the majors before next year. Two really tantalizing players with huge ceilings. We’ve been blessed to have so many prospects to be excited about over the past 2-3 years. I can’t wait.

Jeremy: I think the obvious answer is Gabriel Moreno, but I’m not sure we’ll see him this year or not. I’m not sure if he’s still being labeled as a prospect or not, but I still have high hopes for Nate Pearson. He’s been through a few injury plagued seasons, but has enormous upside, and might break camp as a high-impact reliever, or potentially sneak into the rotation later on. I think he has a huge year.

Joshua: I imagine the common answer will be Gabriel Moreno, the catcher who is clearly the team’s no. 1 prospect, but my answer is Orelvis Martinez. I’ve been hyped about him for two years and he gave fans a little glimpse of what he can do during spring training. He’s a SS now, but will probably end up at 3B (or 2B if he’s ready before Chapman is a free agent). He hits the ball so hard and has really big power, especially for a 20-year-old. Look for him to make the team in 2023. 

C70: How do you see 2022 shaking out for this team? What’s your expectation of where they finish?

Kate: Honestly, my hopes and expectations for this team are pretty darn high. I think the division is attainable, with playoffs almost a certainty. I expect the homers to be plentiful, the rotation to be fierce, and the good vibes and fun to be at all time highs. It’s going to be an incredibly enjoyable, must watch season for Jays fans.

Jeremy: I saw that placed the Jays into a “World Series or Bust” section of their rankings. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I do think they should be a playoff team this year, especially with the expanded playoffs. If they can stay healthy, I think they should be in contention for the AL East title too.

Joshua: The Toronto Blue Jays will win the AL East in 2022. 

C70: Besides yourself and the team account, give me up to three good Blue Jays Twitter accounts to follow.

Kate: Can I choose four? @Minor_Leaguer, @Lesley_Nope @_rallycap and @JoshuaHowsam. Your timeline will instantly be better.

Jeremy: I’ll be honest with you – I’ve gone off Twitter a bit over the past year. The negativity got to me, so I went cold turkey!

Joshua: I’ll give three names that constantly keep me smiling on Twitter, as I’m sure everybody can find analysts.

Andy @_rallycap
Spencer @Spenred
Piri Piri Pie @PiriPiriPie

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