A team’s 40-man roster is a fluid document, constantly subject to change, especially so in the offseason.
Following the season, the Blue Jays’ 40-man roster is at 43, which includes players on the 60-day injured list (those players will be counted against the regular 40-man count following the World Series). In a matter of weeks, the 40-man roster will begin to change as free agents come off of it. Later, there could be some non-tender and DFA candidates, and there is always a chance players are moved in a trade.
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Here is a look at all 43 players, with an eye on where they stand heading into next season.
Returning building blocks
1-2. Bo Bichette, SS and Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B
Throughout the season, Bo Bichette was Toronto’s most productive hitter. Had he not gotten injured in August, an AL batting title could’ve been in play. And while it didn’t show up in the advanced metrics, the eye test said his defence at shortstop improved, too. Meanwhile, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. has such a high floor that even his down seasons are above average. That was the case again this year, when the first baseman slashed .264/.345/.444 with 118 wRC+ and 26 home runs. His defence at first base declined, too. His raw metrics remain strong, but for all the hard-hit balls, he still wasn’t getting enough results for a player with his talent.
Bichette and Guerrero are the centrepieces of the roster, but with only two years of team control remaining for the pair, there is a heightened urgency for this team to find a way to win in the postseason and take advantage of their competitive window.
3. George Springer, OF
It was a weird season for Springer, who definitely dealt with tough batted-ball luck at points. He ultimately finished with respectable numbers, including a .732 OPS and 21 home runs, but he still fell short of his career precedent (he’s averaged a .851 OPS before this year.) The good news was the right-fielder stayed healthy and his 154 games played were the most since he played all 162 in 2016. Springer remains a key cog and there is hope that he can regain some of his previous form next year, although at 34 years old, he could be beginning his natural decline in production that was always possible in the back half of the six-year deal he signed before the 2021 season.
4-5. The catchers
Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen entered 2023 projected to be the top catching tandem in baseball, but Toronto’s catchers combined for a 4.1 fWAR, which wound up sixth-best. Kirk deserves credit for his defence — his 17 DRS ranked second among catchers with at least 750 innings played — but his offensive numbers, including only eight home runs and a .692 OPS, fell short of expectations. Jansen was actually one of the team’s best power hitters — his .246 ISO ranked second behind rookie Davis Schneider — but he played only 86 games due to injury. If Kirk can rebound offensively and if Jansen can stay healthy, the Blue Jays are still in good shape at catcher.
6-9. The four-core rotation
Where would the Blue Jays have been this season without their steady starting pitching? Kevin Gausman, Chris Bassitt, José Berríos and Yusei Kikuchi helped to form one of the league’s best starting rotations with their 3.85 ERA ranked third in MLB. Each pitched at least 167 2/3 innings and made 31 starts, with Bassitt leading the way with 200 innings in 33 starts. All four pitchers return next season and will form the core of their rotation once again.
10-13. Jordan Romano and the core relievers
Jordan Romano finished with 36 saves, second most in the AL, and remains one of the game’s best closers. He’ll return next season in that role. Tim Mayza, Erik Swanson and Trevor Richards formed the core of Toronto’s bullpen and each will have a job waiting for him next season — including Richards, who had a rough end to the season with an ERA north of 12.00 in the month of September, but had been exceptional in the five months prior, which will be enough give him the benefit of the doubt next spring.
14. Cavan Biggio, IF
From May 23 on, Cavan Biggio slashed .265/.378/.407 with a 124 wRC+, re-establishing himself as a valuable complement to the lineup. A change in mechanics and mindset helped Biggio have his first above-average offensive season since the shortened 2020 campaign and moving forward, he’ll slide into a versatile super-utility man role.
15. Daulton Varsho, OF/C
No player was more valuable in the field than Varsho, who led the majors with 29 Defensive Runs Saved, helping the Blue Jays become the top-ranked defence, per DRS. At the plate, however, Varsho performed well below the mark he set a year ago, finishing with a below-average 85 wRC+ and 20 home runs in 158 games compared to 27 in 151 games last year in Arizona. Varsho could be next season’s starting centre fielder — if Kevin Kiermaier doesn’t return — and the Blue Jays will feel good about his defence, but they’ll be looking for more from his offence.
Looking to rebound in 2024
16. Alek Manoah, RHP
Manoah’s season was a forgettable one. Shaky command and inefficient outings led to all kinds of trouble for Manoah, who had a 5.87 ERA in 19 starts in a season in which he was twice optioned to the minors and ultimately lost his place in the rotation by August. Manoah didn’t pitch again after Aug. 11, when he was optioned to Triple A. Despite a frustrating season for their right-hander, the Blue Jays are operating as though Manoah will return to the rotation in 2024. Recently, GM Ross Atkins said Manoah hasn’t asked for a trade, but the team wouldn’t be doing their due diligence if they didn’t explore what deals could be out there.
Young players looking to crack the roster
17. Davis Schneider, IF
The start of Schneider’s MLB career could be the plot of a Disney movie because it was magical. Schneider’s 1.315 OPS through his first 25 career games was the highest mark by any player in MLB history in the modern era. Although he skidded to end the season, Schneider did enough in his two months with the big-league club to have a legitimate shot at a job next season — perhaps taking the utility man role vacated by Whit Merrifield, assuming his option isn’t picked up (more on that below).
18. Spencer Horwitz, 1B
Horwitz earned a couple of brief stints in the majors because of a strong Triple-A season and his qualities — left-handed, patient approach, on-base ability — should give him a fair chance to win an MLB job next spring. On paper, he seems like an internal replacement for Brandon Belt, who will be a free agent.
19. Bowden Francis, RHP
Francis was an unsung hero for the pitching staff in a bulk role this season, during which he pitched to a 1.73 ERA in 20 appearances (36 1/3 innings). His performance opened eyes on the coaching staff and while he may ultimately be best suited for a long relief role, he’ll get a look as a starter next spring and compete for a job.
20-23. Tyler Heineman, C, Nathan Lukes, OF, Ernie Clement, IF, Cam Eden, OF
The Blue Jays were encouraged by the Triple-A performances from Lukes, Clement and Eden this season, enough so that they earned chances in the majors. With a mix of abilities, including contact rate, defensive versatility and speed, the trio represents valuable organizational depth. However, they reside close enough to the fringes of the roster that a DFA is possible if there is a tight crunch for roster spots over the next few months during which the Blue Jays may be signing and/or trading players as well as adding prospect who they want to protect from the Rule 5 draft. Meanwhile, after parts of two seasons with the Blue Jays, Heineman knows the organization’s pitchers well and while he may not last the winter on the 40-man roster, he’ll be on the radar for a minor-league deal and invite to spring next year.
24-27. Addison Barger, IF, Orelvis Martinez, IF, Leo Jimenez, IF, Otto Lopez, IF
Thanks to solid seasons in Triple A, Barger and Martinez seemed on the cusp of a call-up to end the season. Ultimately, they’re still waiting for their MLB opportunity, but with infield vacancies potentially opening up due to departing free agents, Barger and Martinez project as two of the Blue Jays’ best internal options for a third baseman or utility infielder. Jimenez advanced from Double A to Triple A by the end of the season. Overall in 2023, he slashed .270/.366/.401 between the two levels. His progress makes it fair to wonder if Otto Lopez’s days on the roster are dwindling and if Lopez might be able to be trade bait after a down season where he was also injured.
Players with contract options
28. Whit Merrifield, UT
Merrifield had a strong first half — including a scorching July — but his production slowed down in the second half and his overall numbers ended up being slightly below average, slashing .272/.318/.382 with a 93 wRC+. He adds value with his defensive versatility, speed and contact rate but his mutual option — options that are rarely exercised to begin with — is worth $18 million, which is more than the Blue Jays would likely want to pay for a utility player. (The buyout is $500,000.) If not picked up, Merrifield will become a free agent.
29. Yimi García, RHP
Garcia led all Toronto pitchers with 73 appearances and pitched to a 4.09 ERA with an above-average 28 percent strikeout rate. The performance of a reliever is rarely linear, but García was effective far more than he was not this year. His team option can be picked up for $5 million with a $1 million buyout. For an experienced set-up man, that’s a fair price and it seems likely García will be back next year.
30. Chad Green, RHP
When he finally returned from Tommy John surgery in September, Green was effective in a set-up role. The reliever has a multi-layered contract that includes a club option for $27 million over three years. If the Blue Jays decline that, Green has a $6.25 million player option for 2024. If Green declines that, the Blue Jays can opt into a $21-million, two-year club option. If the Blue Jays don’t want to commit long-term, it seems reasonable that Green would like the idea of a one-year deal to pitch a full season and then return to the market.
31-34. Adam Cimber, RHP ($3.2 million), Génesis Cabrera, LHP ($1.4 million), Santiago Espinal, IF ($2.5 million), Nate Pearson, RHP ($800,000)
(Arbitration estimates from MLB Trade Rumors)
Acquired from the Cardinals, Génesis Cabrera became a key second lefty reliever and should be easy to bring back at that projected price. Nate Pearson is in his first year of arbitration — time flies — and while he wasn’t a core member of the bullpen, he showed enough in his big-league stints to bring him back. Santiago Espinal regressed after his All-Star 2022 season, but he’s still the team’s best backup shortstop.
Adam Cimber is perhaps the only tough decision after he missed most of the season with injury. The right-handed reliever almost made it back at the end of the season and whether he’s tendered a contract will likely depend on if the Blue Jays believe he can be effective again when healthy or if there is enough internal depth that has leapfrogged Cimber to justify non-tendering him.
The additional bullpen arms
35-38. Hagen Danner, RHP, Wes Parsons, RHP, Zach Pop, RHP, Yosver Zulueta, RHP
Hagen Danner’s stint in the majors lasted all of two pitches after he, unfortunately, injured his oblique in his MLB debut in August. But the righty throws hard and should be in the running for a bullpen job next spring. At the start of the season, Yosver Zulueta was seen as a contender for a major-league call-up but his command trouble in Triple A remained an issue. Still, he’s one of the organization’s most talented arms. He’ll get a look next spring. Zach Pop started the season with such promise, but never regained his stride after a right hamstring strain. He will be out of minor-league options next year, making him more susceptible to a DFA or trade. Wes Parsons soaked up innings in a meaningless game 162 and his reward is likely a place on the DFA chopping block.
39-43. Matt Chapman, 3B, Hyun Jin Ryu, LHP, Jordan Hicks, RHP, Brandon Belt, DH, Kevin Kiermaier, OF
Five days after the World Series ends, the above five players will become free agents, assuming they don’t re-sign with Toronto during the exclusive negotiating window. Of the above players, only Matt Chapman is likely to be under consideration for the qualifying offer. Even after a down season, Chapman will remain one of the best position players in a weak free-agent class and while Chapman and the Blue Jays remain open to a reunion, his agent Scott Boras will be eyeing the biggest deal possible. Kevin Kiermaier’s one-year deal worked out splendidly for both parties, and he was vocal about how much he enjoyed the year with Toronto, although he’s set to test the market and may be looking for a longer-term agreement this year.
Brandon Belt’s one-year deal turned out well for Toronto, too, but at 35, the designated hitter said he’ll take time this offseason to discuss with his family whether he wants to play another season. As a hard-throwing reliever, it’s fair to say Jordan Hicks will be highly sought after this offseason. Hyun Jin Ryu pitched well enough after he came back from Tommy John surgery that a return next season — for the Blue Jays or any club — seems plausible, although he didn’t comment on his future after his last start of the season.
(Top photo of Bichette: Mark Blinch / Getty Images)