Opinion | Vladimir Guerrero Jr. wants to keep the Blue Jays gang together. That seems unlikely

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Moments after the Blue Jays’ season came to an abrupt and somewhat unexpected end two weeks ago, Bo Bichette sat in the team’s post-game Zoom room with tears in his eyes.

At one point, he was asked what he’d learned from Marcus Semien, having gotten the chance to play beside the universally respected veteran for an entire season. He could barely get the answer out.

“Everything,” said Bichette, his voice cracking. “Yeah, he’s meant a lot. Meant a lot to me.”

Semien, all but guaranteed to finish in at least the top five in MVP voting, and Cy Young winner-to-be Robbie Ray are arguably the two biggest prizes in this winter’s free-agent market. Both of them were major pieces of a Jays team that won 91 games in 2021, falling short of a shot at the post-season by just one win, and they were topics of conversation when club president and CEO Mark Shapiro met with the media for his first post-season availability Monday.


With the raw emotion of that post-game clubhouse in the rear-view mirror, Shapiro was just as effusive in his praise for the man who broke a 48-year-old major-league record this season, belting 45 home runs as a primary second baseman.

“(Semien is) one of the more unique guys that we’ve been able to observe and experience,” explained Shapiro. “I’ve seldom seen a tougher guy (who) plays every single day, (who) works harder than him, (who)’s more committed to being a consistent, dependable, reliable player and teammate. He is certainly a role model for all of us in the way we approach our jobs and for our players in the way they approach their jobs as well. It was a pleasure to watch him work, compete and play this year and exist in our environment as well.”

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Ray, fellow southpaw Steven Matz, who led the team with 14 wins, and Semien will most assuredly be Jays targets this winter.

“Obviously,” said Shapiro, “we would love to sign all three of those guys back … We feel (strongly) about them as teammates, as performers, as players and as people. They’re guys that we’re going to go into the market and compete for.”

But compete for them at all costs? No.

As the season drew to a close, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. said that he’d like to play with this exact same group for the rest of his career, but Shapiro thinks that getting the band back together isn’t the only way for the Jays to become a playoff team.

“I’m not a believer that you have to sign anyone back,” Shapiro explained. “I’m a believer that you have to get better. And as I sit down with (general manager) Ross (Atkins) and sit in on our meetings of preparation, there are multiple ways for that to happen.

“We’ll have the resources to do it, both in young talent that we could trade and in payroll, so I guess what I’d say is, I’m confident — it may not be in the exact same shape and form, but we’re going to get better. We’ll find a way to do it.”

If Ray has set a new performance baseline for himself with his breakthrough season, and if Semien can continue on the track that has seen him post an .882 OPS and belt 78 home runs over his last two full seasons combined, then it would be a lot easier for the Jays to find a way to get better with both of them back in the fold, clearly, but there are other ways.

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Santiago Espinal and a healthy Cavan Biggio could handle second base if Semien chooses not to return, and while that combo won’t likely come anywhere close to Semien’s 2021 production, the Jays could make a big play at third base, a position that was an offensive black hole.

A trade addition like, say, José Ramírez from Cleveland, or a free-agent acquisition such as the Dodgers’ Corey Seager or San Francisco’s Kris Bryant could give the Jays a massive boost from the .249/.324/.367 they got at the hot corner in 2021. Jays third basemen hit 10 home runs this past season, while Bryant, Ramírez and Seager averaged 26.

Matt Chapman, the defensive wizard in Oakland who will no doubt be able to be pried loose from that cash-poor organization, might not put up flashy numbers at the plate, but he could very well add through run prevention what those others would add in run creation.

It’s a little trickier on the mound, but the trade deadline addition of José Berríos means the Jays will head into next season with the same number of front-of-the-rotation starters they started this season with, should Ray choose not to return.

Kevin Gausman, a Jays target in the past, will be back out on the market again, unable to receive a qualifying offer this time. All-star Carlos Rodón, a lefty whose numbers were even better than Ray’s but who only made 24 starts after returning from a major shoulder injury, will be available as will intriguing arms such as Zach Davies, Zack Greinke, Eduardo Rodríguez, Noah Syndergaard and Vince Velasquez. With Berríos, Alek Manoah and Hyun-Jin Ryu set to head up the Jays’ rotation, the situation doesn’t become dire if Ray leaves.

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It’s going to be a busy off-season for Shapiro, Atkins and their lieutenants. And as much as fans might hope that a large part of that is going to be getting Ray and Semien’s signatures on new contracts, it’s likely going to be about figuring out how to make the team better without one or both of them.

Mike Wilner is a Toronto-based baseball columnist for the Star and host of the baseball podcast “Deep Left Field.” Follow him on Twitter: @wilnerness


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