The Blue Jays have preparations underway for the upcoming Major League Baseball season — their first full campaign back in Toronto since 2019.
A lockout threatened to cancel the 2022 season until an agreement was reached between MLB and its players’ association late Thursday. Toronto had its 2020 and 2021 seasons disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Blue Jays only playing half of their home games — often with limited capacity — at Rogers Centre.
Capacity limits will be lifted in Ontario by the time Toronto hosts the Texas Rangers in their home opener on April 8, but COVID-19 regulations will still potentially impact the rosters of visiting clubs.
Canada still has a mandatory quarantine period for unvaccinated travellers entering the country, effectively keeping MLB players who have not received their shots off the field at Rogers Centre.
Sources confirmed to The Canadian Press on Friday that players on teams visiting the Blue Jays who are not fully vaccinated would be placed on a restricted list for the length of their series in Toronto.
Putting players on the restricted list will open up roster spots for the visiting team. The unvaccinated players will not enter Canada.
An MLB spokesman said that by the end of the 2021 season more than 88 per cent of the league’s Tier 1 personnel — players and key staff who have access to players — were fully vaccinated.
The Blue Jays themselves got to work on Friday morning.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Teoscar Herandez, Ryan Borucki among other players reported to the Blue Jays’ training facility in Dunedin, Fla., less than 24 hours after MLB settled its labour strife.
The new collective bargaining agreement raises the competitive-balance tax threshold by US$34 million over five years, up from a $21 million hike over the 2017-21 deal and an $11 million rise from 2011-16.
Young star players like Guerrero and Bichette were the biggest beneficiaries of the deal.
Shohei Ohtani earned $545,000 in 2018, when he was voted American League Rookie of the Year. Had the new agreement been in place then, he would have earned an additional $750,000.
Cody Bellinger was at $605,000 in 2019, when he won National League MVP. Under the new deal, he would have gotten an extra $2.5 million.
The 22-year-old Guerrero finished second in AL MVP voting last season, earning 269 votes to Ohtani’s 420.
Guerrero finished last season with a .311 batting average, leading the majors with 48 home runs and 123 runs. His .401 on-base percentage, .601 slugging percentage, and 1.002 OPS were the best in the AL.
Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins shored up Toronto’s starting rotation before the lockout began on Dec. 2 when the previous collective bargaining agreement expired.
Right-handed pitcher Jose Berrios signed a $131-million, seven-year contract extension on Nov. 18, a year before his previous contact was set to expire.
The 27-year-old Berrios, who was set to become a free agent after the 2022 season, was acquired in late July in a trade with the Minnesota Twins. Berrios was effective and reliable over 12 starts for the Blue Jays, posting a 5-4 record and 3.58 earned-run average.
Atkins also signed veteran free agents Kevin Gausman and Yimi Garcia on Nov. 30, days before the lockout began.
Gausman, 31, agreed to a $110-million, five-year deal with Toronto after a 14-6 season with the San Francisco Giants. The righty had a 2.81 ERA over 192 innings in a major-league best 33 games started. He also struck out 227.
Garcia, 31, had a 4.21 ERA coming out of the bullpen for the Miami Marlins and Houston Astros with 15 saves and 60 strikeouts over 57.2 innings pitched.
It’s expected that Atkins will continue to pursue free agent options to shore up Toronto’s infield.
Preparations for the Blue Jays’ full-time return to downtown Toronto are already underway. Metrolinx, which manages public transit in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, said that it is prepared for an influx of baseball fans to Union Station.
“We are monitoring ridership very closely and will do our best to provide extra trains when big games or events are scheduled,” said a spokesman from Metrolinx. “To provide assistance to customers who may be travelling to Union Station for the first time in years, we are ensuring extra staff are available to assist customers during events.”
The Blue Jays first Grapefruit League game will be against the Baltimore Orioles on March 18 in Sarasota, Fla.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2022.
John Chidley-Hill, The Canadian Press