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It’s now or never for this version of the Toronto Blue Jays

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Photo credit:Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports
Veronica Chung
5 months ago
There’s one phrase that’s haunted the Blue Jays’ fanbase since the moment it was uttered: “Last year was a trailer. What you are going to see this year is the movie.”
To be fair, when Jays’ first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. said this, the team fell short of reaching the playoffs by one game in 2021, and the 2022 season looked bright with a star-studded lineup and rotation. Things could only go up from there until it didn’t. 
While the Jays succeeded in securing a wild card spot in the 2022 and 2023 seasons, they failed to win a playoff series, let alone a single playoff game. Ultimately, there was something that got in the way of the team truly clicking. When the offence roared for a comeback, their pitching and defence couldn’t prevent the other team from scoring runs, and when the pitching staff was dominant, the bats went completely limp. It’s a tale as old as time for the Blue Jays and a problem they couldn’t solve as their window for contention continues to shrink. 
What made things worse for the Jays’ fans this offseason was the agonizing Shohei Ohtani discourse. Let’s be clear, Ohtani was always the Los Angeles Dodgers’ to lose. Nevertheless, the fact that the Jays were deep in the Ohtani race was an excruciating experience for many Jays’ fans because they knew there was no consolation prize for runner-ups. Nothing can top the theoretical Ohtani signing, and everything non-Ohtani will always look extremely underwhelming from the fanbase’s point of view. 
Thankfully, most of AL East barely made many moves this offseason for the most part. The most memorable moves were when the New York Yankees made a splashy trade for outfielder Juan Soto, and the Tampa Bay Rays flipped starting pitcher Tyler Glasnow and outfielder Manuel Margot to the Dodgers. That was until a private equity firm led by David Rubenstein purchased the Baltimore Orioles from the Angelos family and signalled their presence by trading for former National League Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes from the Milwaukee Brewers. 

May 19, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Baltimore Orioles first baseman Ryan Mountcastle (6) celebrates in the dugout with teammates after hitting a three-run home run against the Toronto Blue Jays in the third inning at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The worst part for the Jays’ is that the Orioles only got started on their dominance last year, meaning there’s at least a decade left in the Orioles’ contention window given their track record for developing young talents, especially in the position player department. Combine that with the brand-new owners who are willing to win over the Orioles’ fanbase and generate more profits. It’s a scary long-term outlook to consider for the entire AL East.
However, being a part of AL East has always worked against the Jays, in the past seven years. Even if the Jays were rebuilding between 2017 and 2019, the team never got a break in the division as all five teams competed with a highly competitive roster compared to all other divisions. Winning a division was always out of reach with teams like the Rays, Yankees, Orioles and even the Boston Red Sox each getting a chance to lead the division by winning more than 100 games. The Jays always won enough games but never got a crack at winning over 100 games of their own in a hyper-competitive division. 
Even during the height of a rebuild in 2019, the Jays had a glimmer of hope as prospects like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette showed their potential in the majors. With these two young players as cornerstones, the Jays had the potential to become the dark horse in the AL East. Unfortunately, since then, the Jays got swept out of the Wild Card series against the Rays in 2020, missed the playoffs in 2021, got swept by the Seattle Mariners in 2022 and once again got swept by the Minnesota Twins in 2023. For a team with high ambition, it’s undeniable that the Jays recorded underwhelming playoff results for the past four years. 
The Jay’s front office understood that they needed to fill holes this offseason in light of another disappointing season and they did just that. They re-signed outfielder Kevin Kiermaier and signed utility man Isiah Kiner-Falefa and veteran third baseman Justin Turner. These signings do look undoubtedly confusing at best, but they indicate the Jays’ faith in core players’ bounceback in the 2024 season. In order for the Jays to be truly successful, they need right fielder George Springer, first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., catcher Alejandro Kirk and left fielder Daulton Varsho to find their offensive strengths again. The pitching rotation will also have to back up the team’s offence with stellar run prevention, even if they can’t replicate the number of innings they pitched in the 2023 season. In other words, a lot has to go the Jays’ way for the team to reap any sort of success this coming season.
Counting on a lot going right is a huge risk for a team to take, especially in such a difficult division. Every team in AL East is looking to improve after witnessing their respective shortcomings in the 2023 season. And this ambition, in turn, will fuel the teams to outperform their previous records in one way or another. The Rays have always found ways to maximize their talent roster despite their limited budget; the Yankees have the ability to produce the 2022-esque record with their talent in both pitching and offensive core; the Red Sox have remained a tough opponent with young players on the rise; the Orioles have positioned themselves as a solid contender with their formidable farm system. This division is set to become even harder than before. 
That’s where the Jays’ conundrum begins. The team has even more to prove in the 2024 season as competition becomes more fierce in their division. Whether the Jays’ are done with their offseason transaction or not is unclear at this point, and there’s no guarantee that all their signings will pan out throughout the season either. While other teams in AL East, such as the Orioles and the Rays, have the option to rely on their stacked farm system, the Jays don’t have much talent in the tripe-A system to lean on after numerous trades in the past. 
Remember, the Jays’ aim is not to have another perfectly cromulent season; it’s to win the World Series. Sometimes, winning the championship or even making a deep playoff run is a matter of luck. All you need is for your team to get white-hot at the right time in spite of the flaws in the roster. Maybe this will be the year where the Jays click on every level just in the nick of time, yet that doesn’t change the fact that the Jays have a steep competition to face for 162 games. 
The stakes have never been this high for this version of the Blue Jays and they don’t have much time to waste. President Mark Shapiro and general manager Ross Atkins have more pressure to build a more capable team while manager John Schneider and his staff have the burden to prove their efficiency in roster management skills. Time is running out and so is the fanbase’s patience. It’s a hard place to be in for any team but it’s the hands that the Jays are dealt with. If the Jays are truly the team of destiny, they’ll overcome all obstacles and defy expectations even when it doesn’t make any sense. 
Ultimately, the fate of the 2024 Jays is up to each player, coach and member of the front office and how they make their choices. It’s not going to be the easiest season, but this is the time when each and every Blue Jay has to step up to prove their worth. Whether they are successful or not, time alone will tell.

ARTICLE PRESENTED BY BETANO

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