“Know Your Place” – A Toronto Blue Jays preview

A distribution of Toronto Blue Jays finishes in the AL East since realignment:

  • 1st: 1
  • 2nd: 2
  • 3rd: 10
  • 4th: 7
  • 5th: 4

Playing in a division with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees can’t be any fun. In addition to the financial juggernauts, they have recently had to contend with the Rays, a team that always seems to be on the cutting edge of innovation in team-building that recently won at least 90 games five times in six seasons. Even the Orioles emerged from their malaise to make the playoffs three times recently. Life is no fair in the American League East, and with the Yankees and Red Sox looking poised for several more years of high-quality baseball, the old order seems to be re-establishing itself and the recent decade of what passes for parity in this division looks to be coming to an end.

With opportunities so few and far between, you can understand the importance of the back-to-back trips the Jays took to the ALCS in 2015-16. Historical records show that the Blue Jays frequented the bottom ten teams in baseball (and sometimes the bottom five) in per-game attendance since realignment. However, their surprising run and the major moves they made to fortify their roster rejuvenated baseball spirit in Toronto. In 2015, the Blue Jays finished in the top ten in attendance for the first time since Joe Carter’s last season with the team. In 2016, they jumped all the way up to third. Even in the 2017 season, during which they sputtered out of the gate and finished with an unexciting 76 wins, the Jays were still the fourth-best draw in baseball. Those numbers may well come down as Toronto looks to embark on what might be another lean set of years, but it’s clear that a fervent fanbase exists up north ready to support the next team as exciting, talented, and loud as the ones anchored around Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Josh Donaldson.

With the former two of that trio moving on, only Donaldson remains and he’s set to become a free agent after the 2018 season. Over the last five years, he’s been the second-most valuable player in baseball behind Mike Trout, but the now-32-year-old will be entering the decline phase over the next several years. His partner on the left side of the infield, Troy Tulowitzki, is already in that phase, and it’s questionable how much the injury-prone shortstop can give over his three remaining guaranteed years. Even Russell Martin, whose WARP numbers actually might compare favorably to some Hall of Famers when all is said an done thanks to elite framing, has lost quite a bit both at the plate and behind it as he trucks on into his mid-30s.

It’s clear that these three will play virtually no role in the Jays’ next prolonged run at contention, but the problem gets worse when looking at the composition of the remainder of their roster. Hard-throwing Aaron Sanchez broke out in the Jays’ rotation in 2016, but blister issues limited him to just eight (poor) starts last season, making him an enigma who will be out the door in three years. Similarly, demonstrative ace Marcus Stroman, closer Roberto Osuna, and elite defensive center fielder Kevin Pillar are set to become free agents after 2020. That also goes for oft-injured bat-first second baseman Devon Travis, whom the Blue Jays foolishly carried with them on Opening Day 2015, thus eliminating the possibility of team control in 2021. The Jays are poised to lose metrics-defiant Marco Estrada, sinkerballer J.A. Happ, and extreme wormkiller Jaime Garcia to free agency after this season, which will punch three big holes in their rotation. Add in surprising slugger Justin Smoak’s pending free agency after 2019, and a staggering amount of the Jays’ projected WAR on the major league roster is set to walk out the door in the next three years.

This seems to point toward a sell-off in the not-too distant future, barring a surprisingly hot 2018 Blue Jays team, as there isn’t much else on the major league squad worth getting excited over. Randal Grichuk turned into an OBP sieve after discovering his .365 BABIP in 2015 was not sustainable. Swingman Joe Biagini isn’t normally any good anyway, but he’s the White Sox’ new Nick Martinez, as the pale hose have blistered him for a .469/.500/.750 line over five games. Offense-oriented (nominal) shortstop Aldemys Diaz cratered last year after a stellar rookie season in St. Louis.

With essentially no established long-term pieces, Toronto is looking to the minor leagues for hope, and fortunately it’s easy to find there. Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s dad just made the Hall of Fame, and given the way he just obliterated high-A pitching as an 18 year old, there’s an outside chance the third baseman may wind up joining him there in a few decades. Dante Bichette’s son, Bo, also did well at A-ball and might wind up flanking Vlad Jr. on the left side of the infield on Blue Jays teams of the future. These two guys are potential anchors for Toronto’s next sustained run at contention. They’ll need some depth around them, but that’s nothing that the surplus of tradable pieces on the current major league roster can’t fix.

Still, the Jays’ history in their division suggests that merely committing to rebuild far from guarantees Toronto a seat at the contenders’ table in the future. Over time, the AL East has been the toughest division in the game and to unseat the Red Sox and Yankees, you need to time one of their vulnerable seasons with a combination of a strong collection of internal talent and shrewd aggression to shore up your team’s roster. In other words, you have to know your place, manage accordingly, and accept that when you do succeed, it’s going to take more than the usual amount of luck. That doesn’t make for a particularly inspiring mission statement, but no one said this game was fair.

Probable Starting Pitchers

  • Monday, April 2: Reynaldo Lopez vs. Jaime Garcia
  • Tuesday, April 3: Miguel Gonzalez vs. J.A. Happ
  • Wednesday, April 4: Carson Fulmer vs. Aaron Sanchez

Probable Starting Lineup

  1. Devon Travis – 2B
  2. Josh Donaldson – DH
  3. Justin Smoak – 1B
  4. Yangervis Solarte – 3B
  5. Curtis Granderson – LF
  6. Randal Grichuk – RF
  7. Russell Martin – C
  8. Kevin Pillar – CF
  9. Aldemys Diaz – SS

Pitching

  • SP1: Marcus Stroman – RHP
  • SP2: J.A. Happ – LHP
  • SP3: Aaron Sanchez – RHP
  • SP4: Marco Estrada – RHP
  • SP5: Jaime Garcia – LHP
  • CL: Roberto Osuna – RHP
  • RP1: Ryan Tepera – RHP
  • RP2: Seung-Hwan Oh – RHP
  • RP3: Aaron Loup – LHP
Take a second to support Sox Machine on Patreon
Default image
Patrick Nolan
Articles: 85
14 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Greg Nix

I think you’re understating the Blue Jays near term outlook a bit here. Guerrero/Bichette are a Moncada/Jimenez-level duo to build on, and Anthony Alford looks like a high-floor outfield option. They’ve reliably been able to turn fringe hitters like Smoak (or perhaps Grichuck/Diaz) into major contributors. And they have $57 mil committed next season in one of MLB’s bigger markets.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see them target Machado/Harper, or perhaps a reunion with David Price if he opts out. Add another mid-level starter or two behind Stroman and they could easily be a wild card favorite in 2019. I think that path is more likely than a rebuild.

As Cirensica

Shapiro had said they are neither contending nor rebuilding. They are “holding” and getting ready from when Vlad Guerrero Jr comes up. We all love Eloy, but Guerrero Jr. is a better prospect teams where build around contending teams. Many scouts believe Guerrero is a better version of his father, and his father is a Hall of Famer, so that’s a pretty big endorsement. He may be 19 years old, but I have read various analysis where it is not crazy to think he will drink his first major league cup of coffee this year. He is that good. Alford and Bichette are just a super gravy here. Bichette has the potential to be a special hitter like Olerud was for the Jays once.

Also, I have read twice here about Stroman being the ace of the team. Stroman is a great pitcher but he is not the best pitcher the Jays have. In my opinion (And I am not alone here), Aaron Sánchez is better than Stroman. He just needs to be healthy. The Jays will lose Donaldson, and I wouldn’t be at all surprise if Shapiro trades him at the deadline. After all, for now, Vlad Guerrero Jr. is positioned to be a 3B. With Guerrero, Bichette, Stroman, Sanchez, Osuna (Just 23 yrs old), Alford, and free of some big $ commitments (Tulo (2020), and Russell (2019)), the Jays may be in enviable position for the next two years. They just need to invest in obtaining good players to surround the new core.

Thanks for the preview. Nice reading

Otter

This strikes me as a tad pessimistic. Either they play well and are in contention for the Wild Card this year, or they move a few guys at the deadline. Next year looks like a rebuilding year unless they bring Donaldson back on a shortish term contract (if he wasn’t traded).

With the bats they have coming, they can reset next year, bring up Vlad Jr. and Bo after the All-Star break [edit: to be clear this is 2019], and then jump head first into free agency after the season. Potentially, a 2020 Jays team could be interesting.

You’re spot on about being stuck in the AL East. Swap the Indians and Blue Jays (Cleveland isn’t that much further west); and they’re the favorites in the division (of course, the entire history of the AL is completely different if this were to happen).

Trooper Galactus

I think they really need to punt on this year before the deadline if they want to cash in on the Guerrero/Bichette pairing in a couple years. They’ll need serious depth around those two that isn’t on the roster now, and if they’re hovering around .500 in THAT division in July it would be stupid of them to not take advantage and sell off what assets they have to stock their farm to the max. 2019 is going to be an absolute shit-show for them, but I think 2020 is possible for a youth movement to start taking hold there (though not necessarily winning right away) if they play their cards right.

Also, if David Price opts out, count me as somebody who thinks any GM would be crazy to throw big money at him. He’s already shown himself to be in decline, and he’s only gonna pick up speed as he goes further down that hill.

Trooper Galactus

Good write-up, Patty. It’s a shame the Jays couldn’t capitalize on their window. Great run with elite talent, just couldn’t get past the ALCS. I was shocked when the Royals went through them in 2015.

Josh Nelson

Leury Garcia in LF

Anohito

Thanks Pnole for the preview. Hope we can see some good hitting in the non freezing dome environment this series. Though given the pitching lineup we got, that hitting may be off our guys as well.

katiesphil

Thanks, Patrick. Glad we’re seeing them early, while a number of their bats are still seeking daylight. Let’s hope they don’t snap out of it until after Wed., get a couple or three wins and get the hell out.

lil jimmy

Tulo out 8-10 weeks.
Bone spurs baby.

evenyoudorn

reading this shortly after the rany thing on the ringer, it’s easy to be like “OBVIOUSLY you blow it up immediately.” i have no idea what stroman/pillar/osuna for 2.5 years each gets you, but i assume somewhere between “a very lot, thx” and what the sox got for sale/eaton/Q.

lil jimmy

Josh Donaldson.
If they are out at the break. Maybe trade for him. That gives you an inside track to sign him. Also, no compensation loss. Maybe three years.

MrTopaz

How quick do you think his defense deteriorates? I’ll admit, if we’re looking for an “older guy who makes a positional change/full time move to DH but could plausibly replace Abreu” Donaldson tops the list, but I don’t know how great a fit* he is unless ALL the younger options spurn us.

*Beyond being a great bat, obviously. I’m just trying to lock down that hot corner.