Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. is crucial to the Toronto Blue Jays' success

Toronto Blue Jays Five Keys for Success in 2024

Maintaining good health is a precious commodity in Major League Baseball, and in 2023, the baseball gods smiled on Toronto. The team benefited from the consistent availability of four pitchers, each averaging 30 starts throughout the season. Additionally, seasoned veterans like George Springer and Kevin Kiermaier exceeded expectations by logging an impressive 154 and 129 games played, respectively. Unfortunately, they could not take advantage of their good luck: the offensive was way below expected. This year they may have to find other ways to remain competitive such as making room for new talent.

These are the Five Driving Forces for the Blue Jays to Succeed this Year

Gausman and Romano Has to Stay Healthy

The Blue Jays’ fate this 2024 depends on whether Kevin Gausman and Jordan Romano can overcome their health issues and retake their roles in the pitching staff early this season. It won’t be easy for Toronto to come up with an alternate plan to make up for the six Wins Above Replacement (WAR) that the starter and the closer provide.

Gausman, who finished third on the American League Cy Young ballot last season, was expected to take the mound on the opening day against the Rays in Tropicana Field, but he has experienced fatigue in the right shoulder this spring. It is difficult to envision life without Gausman: Fan Graphs projected he would make 32 starts and register a 4.4 WAR this year before the news of his ailments was disclosed. It is crucial that the reports regarding a prompt recovery and an eventual return before the home opener (April 8) are true.

Since 2021, only three relievers have amassed more saves than Romano (95). Despite the depth boasted by the Jays’ front office regarding their bullpen, there isn’t a single name on the roster poised to assume Romano’s role as the full-time closer. Should his current ailment, right elbow inflammation, persist longer than anticipated, Toronto may find itself struggling to secure victories in the fiercely competitive AL East. Adding to their woes, Erik Swanson, initially earmarked to serve as the team’s setup and potentially act as the surrogate fireman, finds himself sidelined due to injury. Yimi Garcia and Chad Green are the contenders for the role.

Vlad Jr. Has to Take a Step Forward

For the Blue Jays to entertain thoughts of clinching a postseason berth, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. must deliver a star-caliber performance, reminiscent of his breakout year in 2021, surpassing the lackluster showing he displayed in 2023. According to FanGraphs projections, Guerrero is anticipated to significantly improve upon his Wins Above Replacement (WAR), with an expected 3.6 compared to last year’s 1.0, while also demonstrating increased power by hitting 33 home runs, up from 26.

Baseball-Reference forecasts a robust .872 OPS, potentially marking the second-highest of his career. The MLB Show 2024 cover player looked solid this spring training and is in better shape: would that be enough to dream of an MVP showing from Guerrero Jr.?

Varsho Needs to Prove Himself

Daulton Varsho has yet to justify, through his batting performance, why the Jays’ front office made the decisive move of trading their top prospect, Gabriel Moreno, to Arizona. While his defensive skills are unquestionable, Varsho struggled to make an impact at the plate, managing a decent 4.0 WAR despite his limited offensive output.

However, there are glimmers of hope as he displayed improved form during spring training, boasting an OPS above .800. Varsho showcased promise as a near 20-20 hitter in the minors, raising the possibility of becoming the dynamic left-handed asset that Toronto sorely needs.

A Real Third Base Has to Be Found

The Blue Jays’ prospects of success are limited with a backup player defending third base. The notion of Isiah Kiner-Falefa permanently filling in for Matt Chapman may seem heartbreaking even for the most optimistic fans. The best-case scenario is one in which either one member of the farm (Addison Barger, Damiano Palmegiani, or Orelvis Martinez) shines and gets the promotion before the all-star break or the front office brings another asset via trade (Nolan Arenado from the Cardinals?). Plan C is a platoon in which Ernie Clement and Craig Biggio split time and Justin Turner gets reps when an ultra-offensive lineup is in place.

It’s Francis and Tiedeman Showtime

Alek Manoah entered the regular season as a conundrum. He has barely pitched since last August and it is uncertain whether his best days on the mound are behind him. Although he had some flashes of dominance in the Grapefruit League, the biggest offseason sign Yariel Rodriguez came along with very few certainties also; what role he will play in the pitching staff is an ongoing conversation. This is the perfect storm for two promising arms.

Bowden Francis looked sharp and reliable in his few outings last year and impressed again during spring training. His stamina on the mound and his capability to get out of trouble are his pending assignments. Ricky Tiedemann made Yusei Kikuchi praise his repertoire during live batting practice this spring but must prove he can stay healthy for an entire season. The lefty prospect has not thrown more than 78 innings since he became a professional, two years ago, but it is about time to test all his arsenal in the majors. Especially this year when that 2023 miracle of an entire healthy pitching rotation won’t repeat.

Several conditions must align for the Blue Jays to contend in the American League East. While the contributions of franchise stars Guerrero and Bichette are significant, they alone are insufficient to secure a postseason berth. Players such as Springer, Varsho, and Kirk must rebound and provide support to the pitching staff, which, despite facing injuries, ranks among the top ten in the league.

Main Image:  Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

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