Is the Toronto Blue Jays' window to contend officially closing?

Sitting last in the AL East with regression throughout the lineup, the Blue Jays will soon have to face the reality of being sellers at this year's trade deadline

Not long ago, the Toronto Blue Jays appeared to be in line to become baseball’s next great team. They had talent, a good mix of veterans and young players, strong starting pitching and a bullpen capable of closing the door. And with a young duo ready to take the world by storm in Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, everyone believed it was their turn.

But as baseball often shows in its own cruel way, no one is entitled to anything. And what might be here today is never guaranteed tomorrow.

After reaching the postseason the past two seasons and being promptly swept by the Mariners and Twins, respectively, the Blue Jays have regressed so far in 2024. Toronto is 19-23, last in the AL East and seemingly unable to find any level of consistency.

In trying to figure out what has gone wrong in Toronto, there has been obvious regression throughout the roster. In the rotation, Alek Manoah’s 180 from Cy Young finalist to afterthought is a bizarre situation that hasn’t been resolved. Despite stellar starts from José Berríos and Yusei Kikuchi this year, the continued struggles of Manoah and a slow start from Kevin Gausman (4.95 ERA) have been difficult to overcome. What’s more, Toronto’s bullpen has not been reliable, as evidenced by a 5.03 ERA that is third worst in MLB.

But the major head-scratcher comes from Toronto’s offense, which was once the team’s biggest strength. This season, the Blue Jays’ lineup has been anemic, ranking 29th in MLB in runs scored. The biggest part of the offensive backslide has come from the struggles of Guerrero and Bichette, a duo that was once the envy of many teams in baseball.

Since his first full season in 2021, Bichette has consistently been one of the best hitters in baseball. From '21-23, he slashed .298/.339/.476, and his 555 hits were third most in MLB. But this season has been another story. Bichette has looked lost at the plate, posting a .227/.287/.320 slashline with just two homers and a 77 WRC+. His struggles have led manager John Schneider to put his former leadoff hitter as low as sixth in the lineup in response to his lack of production.

An even bigger issue from a production standpoint might be Guerrero’s dip over the past two seasons. Vlad Jr. arrived in the big leagues in 2019 with as much hype and expectation as any prospect in the past decade. And his third season in 2021 delivered what looked like the next young superstar starting to blossom. That year, Guerrero slashed .311/.401/.601, crushing an AL-leading 48 homers. If not for the existence of Shohei Ohtani, Guerrero would’ve run away with the AL MVP Award.

Since that monster season, Vladdy hasn’t been able to deliver an encore or continue his development into one of MLB’s best players. His numbers have been fine, with a combined .804 OPS the past two seasons and a similar start to '24. But after that glimpse of what his ceiling could be in '21 — not to mention a Blue Jays roster built with him as the expected centerpiece — fine isn’t going to get it done. Toronto’s success relies on Vlad Jr. being great, not just OK. Without him, the whole offensive equation starts to fall apart.

If the Blue Jays played in the AL Central, NL Central or even this year’s AL West, maybe sleep-walking through the first seven weeks of the season wouldn’t be as concerning. But they play in an AL East that features two World Series contenders in the Orioles and Yankees, a Rays squad that is always in the mix for the postseason, and a Red Sox team that is much better than expected. That leaves Toronto as the team with the worst record in the division and the only one playing less-than-inspired baseball.

In the middle of the 2022 season, Blue Jays president of baseball operations Mark Shapiro and the team decided to fire former manager Charlie Montoyo and turn to Schneider, a move that helped spark a run to the postseason. It’s not too early to wonder what Toronto will do if it can’t play better baseball going into June and whether another change at the helm will be made. It’s also not too early to ask where the Blue Jays stand regarding the trade deadline and how far into seller mode they might go.

Going from being the runners-up in the Shohei Ohtani sweepstakes to facing a teardown at the trade deadline before the end of May probably isn’t the way the Blue Jays thought this season would go. But something is off north of the border, with far bigger problems than a hot streak or two could solve.

Sooner rather than later, Toronto’s front office is going to have to decide if its window is officially closed. The baseball gods might’ve already decided for them.