Blue Jays' 14 biggest questions heading into the 2022 season

Spring training is in the rear-view mirror and the Toronto Blue Jays are all set for their first "normal" season since 2019.

There's plenty of buzz around this team as it gets ready to take on the Texas Rangers Friday in front of a packed Rogers Centre, and rightfully so. The Blue Jays won 91 games in 2021 and return most of the key pieces from a squad that missed the playoffs by one game. Robbie Ray and Marcus Semien are no longer with the club, but Kevin Gausman, Yusei Kikuchi and Matt Chapman have been brought in to complement a very talented core.

The Blue Jays look excellent on paper, and are betting favourites to win the American League. That being said, there are still plenty of question marks surrounding this team.

The Blue Jays are a very talented team on paper, but there are a number of question marks heading into the season. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
The Blue Jays are a very talented team on paper, but there are a number of question marks heading into the season. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

What will Vladdy do for an encore?

After spending years as one of the most hyped prospects in baseball, Vladimir Guerrero Jr.'s first two seasons in the majors were solid but underwhelming given the expectations. That all changed in 2021, when he led the American League in on-base percentage and slugging percentage and led MLB in home runs with 48. If not for Shohei Ohtani's two-way brilliance, Guerrero Jr. would have cruised to his first MVP award.

Now that he's shown his true potential, the sky is the limit for the 23-year-old. It's probably unfair to expect him to improve upon last year's performance — or even maintain that production — but he's poised for another monster season in a loaded Blue Jays lineup.

Can Springer stay healthy?

George Springer showed he was worth the Blue Jays' $150-million investment whenever he took the field in 2021, posting an OPS of .907. The problem was he only suited up in 78 contests as he battled oblique, quad and knee issues at different points in the season.

Keeping Springer healthy will be essential to the Blue Jays' success this year, as he is one of the game's most dynamic leadoff hitters and can still play a strong centre field. Expect to see the veteran take plenty of turns through the designated hitter spot to minimize the wear and tear on his body over the course of the summer. He's played 140 games or more only three times in his eight-year career, so a healthy season is far from a given.

How will Gausman fare in return to AL East?

Kevin Gausman signed a five-year, $110-million contract with the Blue Jays prior to the lockout as he essentially steps in to replace Ray at the top of Toronto's rotation. He has plenty of familiarity with the American League East, having spent six years with the Baltimore Orioles to begin his career. His numbers were solid but not spectacular during that time, logging a 4.22 cumulative ERA.

The right-hander made big strides with the San Francisco Giants over the past two seasons and was particularly strong in 2021, as evidenced by his 2.81 ERA. The Blue Jays are paying him like an ace, so they'll be expecting Gausman's transition back to the challenging AL East to be a smooth one.

Will the lack of an imposing left-handed bat matter?

Much has been made of the Blue Jays' righty-heavy group, with Cavan Biggio the only left-handed batter projected to crack the everyday lineup. Raimel Tapia should see plenty of playing time, Gosuke Katoh is a versatile bench piece and newly acquired Zack Collins could factor into the catching rotation, but there's not a true difference-maker on this team from the left side. That's a huge part of the reason fans were clamouring for the switch-hitting Jose Ramirez to be added via trade prior to his extension with the Cleveland Guardians.

Of course, the lack of balance might not matter all that much when you have the calibre of right-handed hitters the Blue Jays do.

Can Ryu return to form?

Hyun Jin Ryu was a Cy Young contender in both 2019 and '20 but saw his numbers take a hit last season. He finished the campaign with a 4.37 ERA over 31 starts and struggled mightily in August and September. The Blue Jays no longer need him to be a front-of-the-rotation arm but a return to form by the big Korean lefty would be a major boost to the starting staff.

Will Manoah avoid the sophomore slump?

It is not uncommon for a player to make a big splash in his rookie season, then take a step back in his sophomore campaign as the league adjusts to his tendencies. The Blue Jays will be hoping Alek Manoah avoids that phenomenon after he posted a 3.22 ERA in 2021. The former first-round pick has the confidence, work ethic and arsenal to repeat his success, now it's a matter of executing.

What will Pearson bring to the table?

Nate Pearson didn't have the same hype as Guerrero Jr. as he made his way through the minors, but he consistently found himself in the Top 10 of prospects lists over the years. Injuries have been largely to blame for his lack of MLB success, but he hasn't been sharp in his 17 career big-league appearances.

With the Blue Jays starting rotation set, Pearson appears destined for some type of role out of the bullpen once he returns from a bout of mono. He has the weapons to be a difference-maker in relief should that end up being his long-term fate.

Will the Kikuchi gamble pay off?

The Blue Jays certainly rolled the dice when they inked Kikuchi to a three-year, $36-million deal after the lockout ended. The 30-year-old has a high ceiling thanks to his velocity and whiff rate but gives up a lot of hard contact. He was an all-star in 2021 but fell off a cliff in the second half and finished with a 4.41 ERA. The Blue Jays clearly feel like there's untapped potential with the southpaw and are hoping he can realize it north of the border.

Will Bichette quiet the haters for good with consistent defence?

While his offence has never been a question, Bo Bichette's defence at shortstop has been under the microscope since he arrived in the big leagues. He showed major improvements toward the end of the 2021 season and has the chance to silence any talk that might still be lingering about a position change if he can come out of the gate on the right foot with his fielding.

What can Chapman bring offensively?

On the other end of the spectrum, Matt Chapman arrives for his first season in Toronto as arguably the best defensive infielder in baseball. Groundballs to third base will no longer make Blue Jays fans hold their breath.

But Chapman's offensive abilities are a bit of an unknown. Will the Blue Jays be getting the player who received down-ballot MVP votes in 2018 and '19, or the one who struggled mightily at the plate in 2021?

We all know what happened the last time a third baseman came to Toronto from the Oakland Athletics.

Is the second base platoon good enough?

Toronto elected to replace Semien with Chapman in the infield, leaving Biggio and Santiago Espinal to handle second base. Biggio was productive in his first two MLB seasons, but had a rough year in 2021 due at least in part to a series of injuries. Espinal impressed in his first extended taste of big-league action, particularly with his glove. He also added 15 pounds of muscle in the offseason with the hopes of putting more pop in his bat.

With plenty of offensive firepower all over the diamond, second base is the one position that could be pointed to as a weak spot. If the Biggio-Espinal platoon isn't performing, an in-season trade would be on the table.

Can Gurriel Jr. find consistency?

When the Blue Jays are fully healthy, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. should be hitting somewhere from fifth to seventh. Even though he bats lower in the order than the heavy hitters up top, the native of Cuba is capable of making a major difference. He led the American League with a .368 batting average with runners in scoring position in 2021 and hit .276 overall with 21 home runs.

Gurriel Jr. is a streaky hitter and if he can raise the floor on his valleys while keeping his ceiling intact he would take Toronto's offence to the next level. Maybe his age-28 season is the year he finds his stroke of consistency.

Is the bullpen talented enough?

Toronto's relief corps was a weakness in the early portion of the 2021 season, and it likely cost the team a playoff spot. Things stabilized once Adam Cimber and Trevor Richards arrived in mid-season trades, and the 2022 group features a number of consistent performers. That being said, closer Jordan Romano is really the only arm who has proven to be consistently elite. Does manager Charlie Montoyo have enough firepower to comfortably navigate the late innings?

When will Moreno arrive?

Gabriel Moreno is currently the crown jewel of the Blue Jays' farm system and there's a very realistic possibility he makes his MLB debut sometime in 2022. He will begin the season with triple-A Buffalo and a strong performance out of the gate would put pressure on the front office to call him up.

Toronto already has its catching situation sorted out in the immediate term with Danny Jansen and Alejandro Kirk sharing the position, but it will be interesting to see what transpires if and when Moreno arrives.

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