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Yankees know revamped Blue Jays will be big AL East test

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DUNEDIN, Fla.- The Red Sox are a team seemingly in transition and the defending division champion Rays took a hit when they traded Blake Snell to San Diego.

With the regular season approaching, it certainly seems like Toronto might pose the biggest threat to the Yankees in the AL East.

“They’ve got a really good looking team, no question about it,’’ Aaron Boone said before the Yankees faced the Blue Jays Wednesday at TD Ballpark. “We’ve seen some of their younger players come of age here these last couple years and bringing in guys like [George] Springer and [Marcus] Semien, two really good players.”

But Toronto could have done considerably more damage to the Yankees’ chances for 2021.

Seemingly in on every free agent, the Blue Jays showed significant interest in DJ LeMahieu before the Yankees finally brought back their top offseason priority on a six-year, $90 million deal in January.

Still, with Springer and Semien at the top of the lineup, as they were Wednesday, Toronto could pose a threat, since they’ve watched the core of their lineup — Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette — continue to develop and have Lourdes Gurriel, Jr., Teoscar Hernandez and Rowdy Tellez already in the mix.

George Springer and Marcus Semien
George Springer and Marcus Semien
AP (2)

“Bringing in Springer and… Semien, they brought in some bats and they’ve got a good lineup,’’ Luke Voit said. “It’s good to see them go out and spend money and bring some competition and make it a little bit harder [for us].”

With the additions, the Blue Jays’ payrolls is projected to be around $151 million, still shy of the Yankees’ projected $204 million, according to Spotrac.com, as nearly all teams in the majors looked to stay under the $210 million luxury tax threshold.

The return of LeMahieu set up the rest of the Yankees’ offseason moves, as it led to them being able to remake their starting rotation by signing Corey Kluber and trading for Jameson Taillon and coupled with the trade of Adam Ottavino to Boston to free up much of his salary, put them in position to add Darren O’Day, Justin Wilson and Brett Gardner.

As for Toronto, they mostly focused on their offense, with Springer signing a six-year, $150 million deal after drawing interest from the Mets as the top position player available on the market.

“They’re solid up and down the lineup,’’ said Jordan Montgomery, who didn’t allow a hit to the stacked offense in his five innings of work during a 1-0 win at TD Ballpark. “You’ve just to continually make pitches. You really never get a breath of air in there.”

That’s usually what opposing pitchers say about the Yankees’ offense.

And on Wednesday, both teams featured most of their regulars in a game that had just one run.

There will no doubt be different results during the regular season.

“It’ll be exciting,’’ Voit said of facing Toronto, who will play at least the first month of the regular season in Dunedin due to Canadian COVID protocols that prevent them from playing in Toronto for the foreseeable future. “I hope we get to go up to Toronto and play up there, too. It’ll be a fun test during the season.” 

And it will be one the Yankees will be expected to win after falling short to the Rays in both the shortened regular season and the ALDS a year ago.

“We know they’re gonna be tough,’’ Boone said of Toronto. “We look forward to battling it out with them and the other teams in the east, but they definitely look formidable.”  

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