The Blue Jays’ Competitive Window Is Closing Soon

The Blue Jays are four years into their latest competitive window, but what do they have to show for it?

Between the 2020-2023 seasons, they’ve reached the playoffs three times, collecting 304 wins, with a .557 win percentage. They’ve been a steady wild-card playoff team, never winning more than 92 games, yet achieving the sixth-best record in baseball during this timeframe. 

Granted, they’ve tried to add to the core by signing notable free agents such as Hyun Jin Ryu, George Springer, and Kevin Gausman, but it hasn’t been enough to get them over the hump. This offseason, however, was underwhelming – they returned Kevin Kiermaier on a one-year deal, then added Justin Turner and a questionable and confusing two-year deal with Isiah Kiner-Falefa. The only longer-term free agent they acquired was 26-year-old RP/SP Cuban defector Yariel Rodriguez on a 5-year, $32M deal, which was more of a speculative add. 

Now, after taking a slow-and-steady approach, they’ve reached the point where their competitive window may close soon – and therein lies a dilemma. 22 of their 26 starters will be free agents in the next one to three seasons, with 16 of those potentially gone in two.

So what’s their approach now? Try to stretch that window beyond 2025 by extending their young core? Close the window now by trading their young core players before their values go down? Wait a year, then revisit things after 2024? Wait two years, then do a full rebuild after 2025?

To explore those questions, let’s first take stock of what they have to work with. Here are the three groups of players that are set to be free agents in the next one to three seasons:

 

Player

Seasons Left

Player

Seasons Left

Player

Seasons Left

Justin Turner

1

Chris Bassitt

2

George Springer

3

Yusei Kikuchi

1

Bo Bichette

2

Kevin Gausman

3

Kevin Kiermaier

1

Chad Green

2

Daulton Varsho

3

Yimi Garcia

1

Vladimir Gurrerro, Jr.

2

Alejandro Kirk

3

Danny Jansen

1

Jordan Romano

2

Santiago Espinal

3

Trevor Richards

1

Cavan Biggio

2

Nate Pearson

3

   

Tim Mayza

2

   
   

Erik Swanson

2

   
   

Genesis Cabrera

2

   
   

Isiah Kiner-Falefa

2

   

 

Group one

Kevin KiermaierJustin Turner and Yusei Kikuchi are veterans with one year of control who know their roles, and are replaceable after 2024. The Jays can weather their loss.

Of this group, Danny Jansen is the most significant. He’s struggled to stay healthy, and has often left fans wanting more. He’s been limited to 228 games the past three seasons, but still accumulated 6 fWAR with 43 HRs. He’s the most trusted catcher on the roster, and his dedication to pulling the ball with authority has made him a valuable offensive threat when healthy. 

 

Group two

This is the big one! What happens with this core group greatly impacts the direction and ultimately the rebuild plans for the Blue Jays.

Vlad Guerrero, Jr. and Bo Bichette were the hopes of the last rebuild – franchise icons who could become elite players to build around for many years. Arguably, they haven’t lived up to the lofty, if not unrealistic expectations set upon them. Now, with two seasons left of control, they have a significant opportunity to add to their 25.8 combined fWAR so far. They’re also still young – only coming into their age-25 (Vlad) and 26 (Bo) seasons, two players still younger than Orioles star catcher Adley Rutschman. 

Meanwhile, it's hard to deny that Jordan Romano has been a key player for the Blue Jays, closing out 90% of his 106 save opportunities the last three seasons. His total saves are fourth in MLB during that time, with better or similar save percentages than other top save leaders Emmanuel Clase (83%), Kenley Jansen (87%), Josh Hader (91%) and Ryan Pressley (88%). 

Beyond the above group, the Jays will lose Chris Bassitt, who is the second rotation piece leaving of note. They’re also facing a need for a full bullpen rebuild in just two seasons. The combination of Chad Green, Tim Mayza, Erik Swanson and Genesis Cabrera adds up to a solid group. Teams will lose core relievers, but for the Jays, losing five of their relievers in one year is significant, and adding in the less-notable losses of Yimi Garcia and Trevor Richards from the year prior, that’s the entire relief staff. While they have some notable arms ready or close, this has a significant impact on their roster going forward. 

 

Group three 

In year three, we have what is the final group of core players set to leave in George Springer, Kevin Gausman, Daulton Varsho and Alejandro Kirk.

Springer still has some time to add value to his six-year, $150M deal. He’s provided $72M in value so far, but with his decline underway, this deal is looking like neither a bust nor a win. On the plus side, he represented a shift in top free agents coming to Toronto (after Hyun Jin Ryu), breaking the narrative that free agents didn’t want to play there. 

Gausman, in just two seasons, has provided $87.8M of value for the Blue Jays, making his five-year, $110M deal a near lock to be a big win for the Jays. Gausman will be next entering free agency at age 36, so he’s not likely seen as a player you could extend further to keep the window open.

Varsho and Kirk might be the two biggest wild cards of the entire group. 

Varsho will forever be viewed as not Gabriel Moreno, despite having a good chance at being a solid contributor to the team as an elite defender with power abilities. His range of outcomes varies greatly. If he can improve his offense to be more in line with his 2022 season, he’ll be a valuable 3-5 WAR type. 

Kirk is also under-appreciated as a player who lacks an athletic frame, and was originally viewed as someone who likely couldn't handle being a catcher longer-term. However, he’s excelling in metrics like pitch framing. His bat is the bigger question. Through age 24, he has a wRC+ of 114 – good on the surface – but his line-drive/ground-ball approach doesn’t help a player near the bottom of the sprint-speed list. 

 

What’s left

The only contract of significance is Jose Berrios’ 7-year,  $131M deal, which runs through the end of 2028. Berrios does have an opt-out after 2026. In theory, he can join Group Three and become a free agent, if he believes he can beat roughly his remaining two years and $50M at that point, and enter free agency at age 33. Interestingly, Berrios has been the only extension of note for this front office – not any of the home-grown players. 

The only remaining currently rostered players left would be Yariel Rodriguez and Alek Manoah, whose value has plummeted after his horrific 2023.

 

The next wave

The Jays could continue their window if they had a fresh crop of high-end prospects close to the majors, thereby extending the competitive window. At the moment, their  farm has $172.9M in surplus value, based on our Team Ranking tool (for GM-level subscribers), and ranks 22nd out of 30 – not ideal for a team in their situation. 

They only have two players with surplus values over $20M: LHP Ricky Tiedemann ($38.2M) and IF Orelvis Martinez ($20.4M). It’s a farm with two solid, near-ready prospects but limited in quantity of high-end potential starters or even average MLB regulars after that.  

Tiedemann could factor in the Jays’ 2024 season, though without a built-up arm he isn’t expected to be a regular or impact guy just yet. Martinez is 21 and raw. He could also make an appearance in 2024, but is most likely to be seen in 2025 and beyond. 

So the Jays do not have a farm system that can carry the weight of losing the MLB talent set to leave after 2025. 

 

Extending via free agency

Entering this offseason, this seemed like the most viable option if the Blue Jays were going to either supplement or extend their window. Had Shohei Ohtani been on “that” plane, the narrative completely changes, and the possibility of extending Bo and/or Vlad becomes more realistic. Attracting supplementary pieces who want to come play with Ohtani and a division favourite also changes the discussion and outlook. 

But the Jays did not pivot to the next tier of top free agents, and were not able to attract or acquire players that impacted the outlook of their future window. Instead, they only added short-term deals with minimal impact on the 2024 roster.

Adding significant payroll would have pushed their already record-setting payrolls well beyond their recent history. Perhaps in the short term that would have been okay, especially with the unique revenue implications Ohtani carried. 

It’s not out of the question they could look to add free agents for 2025, but untimely it doesn’t solve the challenge that nearly their entire roster is set to leave. You cannot build an entire roster out of expensive free agents. 

 

Can they extend the core?

So they have what they have. The question now is, what’s next?

The obvious first option is to extend players like Bichette, Guerrero, Jansen, and Romano, then build around them with free agents, trades and their prospects. The problem with that is, as players get closer to free agency, it becomes less likely they would sign for team-friendly contracts, which will make it difficult to manage a competitive roster. They would likely have to pay at or above current market rates to keep them. 

So the time might have passed for long-term deals with this group. They could return as free agents, but the Jays would also need a viable roadmap to contention again to keep them around. 

Beyond that group, there aren’t many obvious extension candidates. Kikuchi, Varsho, and Kirk would not make much of an impact on the longer window of competitiveness; they’re better served as nice add-ons to an already-good roster. Varsho and Kirk do have three remaining years of team control, so their price tags will be a bit lower, but extending them wouldn’t make sense without cornerstones in place longer-term. 

 

Trading into a longer window

 Can they just trade for longer term pieces to add to their window? Not likely. With a 22nd-ranked farm, they don’t have significant minor-league talent to acquire more MLB-ready or controllable assets. 

And based on our Team Rankings, we also see that the Jays rank 25th in MLB Surplus Value at $131.2M. It’s not that they don’t have a talented team; they have a lot of players making high salaries compared to their field values. 

 

Player AFV Salary Surplus
Bichette 85.6 29.7 55.9
Gausman 99.8 68 31.8
Kirk 34.2 13 21.8
Jansen 17.3 5.2 12.1
Manoah 25.1 13.3 11.8
Varsho 37.5 26.1 11.4
Guerrero 59.4 49.7 9.7
Kikuchi 18.2 10 8.2
Swanson 13.9 6.8 7.2
Romano 26.2 19.3 6.9
Mayza 14.8 8.3 6.6

 

As you can see, almost all of these players are critical to staying competitive, so trading them makes little sense – nor would they bring back a ton of value. Had Manoah retained his previously high value, they could have traded him for different needs, such as a 3B or offensive-focused OF. At the moment, his $11.8M surplus has fallen to where it likely doesn’t make sense to move him. 

Bichette is their highest-valued asset, at $55.9M, but it’s difficult to trade your best player and continue to be as good or better. Trading Bichette really only helps in a rebuild scenario, and not the current competitive window.

In other words, there’s not a lot of trade capital to work with. The best they could do is swap their players for different ones of similar control or value. 

 

What Blue Jays fans are likely facing

The most likely situation is that the team is facing another one or two competitive seasons before some kind of rebuild. There are different versions of this outcome. For example, if the Jays find themselves out of contention this summer, they could take advantage of selling off assets from Group One, such as Jansen, Kikuchi, or others in that group. But they do not have a big fish that could net a return to impact the next one to two seasons. 

In theory, they could jumpstart the rebuild by selling off Bichette or others in Group Two, but that would be more unexpected. 

The best case for the Jays is that things come together in 2024, and they make a significant run – or better yet, they have a miracle season and win it all. The games have to be played, after all. Maybe their core players all have big years at the same time. Right now, they’re reliant on the top 20% of outcomes if they want to win 95+ games and take the AL East. If they fail to make the playoffs or yet again fail to win a playoff game, they could be facing an extremely important and franchise-altering offseason.

In that event, the front office will have a massive decision to make. They would be facing the final season of Group Two, and a group of aging former stars the year after. Do they make a final push for 2025? Or do they blow it up while they can to recoup some value? 

The Blue Jays are not a small-market team, so they are less likely to trade away Bo, Vlad or others in order to rebuild faster – even if that is technically the better long-term play. They would be more likely to take the route of signing short-term veterans to take a final run at winning. Most teams expected to make a playoff spot do not blow the team up. 

For Blue Jays fans, they will be watching what could be the final two seasons of their competitive window. There just are not any easy pathways that lead to an extended window of competitiveness beyond that. But if they end up, once again, being good but not great, it might be time to consider blowing it up a year early instead of a year too late. 

 

About the Author

John Meloche

An avid lover of baseball who will argue with you about why Teoscar Hernadez hits the most beautiful homeruns.

WestCasey

This was terrific article. I found it well organized, very informative. Thank you

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