This off-season has been a frustrating one for the Toronto Blue Jays and their fans. First, they watched as superstars Shohei Ohtani and Juan Soto, both of whom were Blue Jays targets, landed elsewhere.
Ohtani, at least, wound up in the distant National League West after signing his historic $700 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Soto will have a chance to keep on hurting the Jays regularly – 13 times a season, starting on April 5 at Yankee Stadium – after he landed in pinstripes.
And the Jays haven’t exactly been quick to pivot after those players found homes south of the border. Though they remain in the market for more help, particularly for their frustratingly unproductive lineup, negotiations with the agents for Cody Bellinger, JD Martinez, and Jorge Soler, among the targets they’ve been linked to, haven’t exactly been sailing along briskly, reports indicate.
So far, the Jays’ biggest moves to bolster an offence that finished eighth in runs scored in the American League were landing Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Kevin Kiermaier, two guys who are tremendous fielders and – in their best years – average hitters.
Though time remains to change the narrative, this off-season may be more about subtraction than addition, as Brandon Belt, Matt Chapman, Hyun-Jin Ryu and flame-throwing reliever Jordan Hicks all became free agents. The Jays would be wise to consider bringing Chapman back while continuing to discuss the potential additions of Bellinger and Martinez. While it’s reasonable to expect a return to the mean for an underperforming offence, counting strictly on returns to form would be malpractice by the front office.
Yes, the pitching was remarkable in 2023, in part due to bounceback seasons from Yusei Kikuchi and José Berrios and in part due to the brilliance of Kevin Gausman. The Jays’ staff finished fifth in MLB in fWAR, fourth in ERA, sixth in fFIP and third in K/9.
In most regards, it doesn’t matter which segment of the team the front office spends its money on. It’s sometimes easier to double down on a strength than to shore up a weakness, particularly if you thought that weakness was only temporary. Healthy and productive seasons from Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette might do more to improve this team’s ability to score runs consistently than any free agent or available trade target would at this point.
The Blue Jays’ four-year, $32 million deal to sign Cuban right-hander Yariel Rodriguez last week seems like a smart move. The Blue Jays, according to ESPN Deportes’s Enrique Rojas, were one of the few teams that offered Rodriguez the opportunity to be a starter, presumably taking over Ryu’s rotation spot.
Rodriguez, 26, had a 3.03 ERA in 79 relief appearances with the Chunichi Dragons of the Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan from 2020 to 2022. Scouts have been itching to sign him since the 2023 World Baseball Classic. In the WBC, he had 10 strikeouts in just 7 1/3 innings. Whether he gets his wish and starts or winds up in the Jays’ bullpen, he’s another quality arm on a deep staff, the most important foundation a team with World Series aspirations can have.
The overall quality of this Blue Jays’ roster is a good argument for them to continue searching for pieces that can help this off-season. One well-planned addition at this point could make the difference between a team that can go deep into October and a club that could get lost in a tough division.
With that in mind, let’s delve into some Jays-related MLB futures plays with odds courtesy of Bet365:
Blue Jays to Win World Series Odds
The Jays, at +1200, are the No. 7 choice – after the Dodgers, Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros, Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies and defending-champion Texas Rangers. The next team on the list, the Baltimore Orioles at +1500, is noteworthy here in part because its roster brims with young talent and, in part, because they dominated the Jays in head-to-head matchups last season, winning 10 of 13 meetings. Otherwise, this seems like a perfectly reasonable place to situate the Jays. It doesn’t cry out to be played, but the Jays could be one of those teams behind the heavy favourites that make noise in October and make money for anyone who buys this ticket now.
Toronto Blue Jays to win the 2024 World Series
Blue Jays to Win AL East Odds
What’s odd here is that the Orioles have the same odds as the Blue Jays (+275), just behind the favoured Yankees (+140), and ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays (+750) and Boston Red Sox (+1000). The ‘books appear to be expecting a come-back-to-earth season for Baltimore, which won 101 games last year, and a major crash for Tampa, which won 99. The Blue Jays seem like a reasonable bet to improve on their 89 wins from a year ago, particularly if they make another move or two, but they certainly don’t feel like good value here given the depth of competition in the division.
Toronto Blue Jays to win AL East in 2024
Blue Jays to Win AL Cy Young Odds
The only pitcher with shorter Cy Young odds than Gausman’s +600 here is reigning AL award winner Gerrit Cole. Gausman certainly brings reliability, having achieved a sub-3.70 ERA in each of his past four seasons, with a K/9 of 11 and an ERA+ of 132. So, yes, he deserves this co-favourite status. But at 6-to-1, with some good up-and-coming young pitchers in the AL, this doesn’t feel like great value on a 33-year-old.
Kevin Gausman to win 2024 AL Cy Young Award
Blue Jays to Win AL MVP Odds
The markets reacted to a down season for Guerrero and an injured season for Bichette by seriously downgrading their award chances. Guerrero is tied with Bobby Witt Jr., Marcus Semien and Rafael Devers as the co-No 10 choices for AL MVP at +2000. Bichette is the next Blue Jay on the board at +2200, followed by Gausman at +20000. If you’re so inclined to bet this kind of thing in January, consider investing in Guerrero particularly. He doesn’t turn 25 until March and, as recently as two seasons ago, he finished second in MVP voting. One small adjustment could unlock the swing that terrorizes pitchers as relentlessly as any right-handed cut in the American League that doesn’t belong to Aaron Judge.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to win 2024 AL MVP
Blue Jays to Have AL Hits Leader Odds
Bichette, 25, wasn’t far off his career norm last season when he pulled up with a quadriceps injury in August, one that would have him in and out of the Blue Jays lineup for the remainder of the season. Bichette wound up with 175 hits, just a tick off his 191-hit 2021 season and his 189-hit 2022, both of which led the American League. Considering his age and assuming a healthy off-season, he’s an awfully strong play here (at +1000) to lead the major leagues in base hits (statistical bets aren’t league-specific). He’ll have, perhaps, stiffer competition from those seasons given the rise of Luis Arraez, Ronald Acuña Jr. and Julio Rodriguez, but those odds make this a worthwhile play.
Bo Bichette to lead AL in hits