Leading up to the start of the 2017 Regular Season, Diamond Hoggers will preview each of baseball’s 30 teams . Today’s preview features the Toronto Blue Jays. Stay tuned until Opening Day as Diamond Hoggers previews every team one by one until the beginning of the 2017 season.
The 2016 Blue Jays had some heavy firepower up in Canada. After surviving the Wildcard Game thriller, they disposed of the heavily favored Texas Rangers in three games. It looked like the Blue Jays were on fire and headed to the World Series. They were about a -150 favorite to go to the World Series. Then the Cleveland Indians beat them in five games in the ALCS to end their season.
I’ve never seen a team just be more gutless, bats go more flat, a more lifeless effort. It was the kind of effort that stains your mind on Manager John Gibbons forever.
Edwin Encarnacion crossed the border to sign with those Indians Jack Parkman-style this offseason. It kind of seemed like the Blue Jays would tear things down and begin to start over. It looked like cornerstone Jose Bautista was walking out the front door. But just then, they retained him. They signed Kendrys Morales. It’s like they looked their death in the mirror and decided it wasn’t time yet.
The cupboard isn’t bare; and although they aren’t going to ever have a better chance to make a run then they have had the past few seasons; is there any question that they’re absolutely as talented on paper as the Indians team that went to the World Series last season? I think they are.
Major Off-season Moves:
Projected Starting Lineup:
Nice little lineup here with some upside/uptick expected out of Devon Travis. He gets injured walking down his stairs in the morning, but is definitely a huge talent if he can ever stay healthy for 140 or 150 games.
Can you believe that Tulowitzki is entering his twilight? It’s hard to believe the guy is 32. He played in 131 games last season and his OPS of .761 was well below his career OPS of .865; but he’s still a formidable top of the order bat. He was still a nice 4 bWAR player which is pretty good. We wouldn’t be shocked at all to see him have a bit of a resurgence that is somewhat unexplained. Although like our buddy says – his injury history reads like a Tolstoy novel.
The middle of the order is the meats and potatoes of the organization. Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, and their new band member; Kendrys Morales. They’re here to get the band together and make some crazy music. People are bullish on Bautista in 2017 and for good reason. He still posted 22 home runs and an .816 OPS in a partial season last year. Something tells us he’ll be durable and a force in the middle of the lineup once again for the Blue Jays. It’s good for baseball that he remained in Canada, he shouldn’t be anywhere else.
Russell Martin is kind of like the glue that holds this team together in a captain sort of way. He hit just .233 last season but provides value in that he’s a power bat that’s capable of hitting for a little more average than that and a good defensive catcher. You wonder at age 34 with all that mileage on his knees how much he may have left in the tank.
Justin Smoak has always been enigmatic. He hit .214 last season in a somewhat full-time role and just hit 14 home runs. Even when he’s received regular playing time, he’s reached 20 homers just once in his career (2013, in Seattle) and you wonder why he had comparisons to Chris Davis type power.
Kevin Pillar is an icon in Canada and known more for his insane catches in centerfield rather than his bat. He’s the only guy on this team that can really steal a bag; with 14 of them last season. Ezequial Carrera is kind of a replacement level type and figures to share a lot of time with the likes of Steve Pearce, who is a more intriguing option from a power standpoint and could really end up a masher in Toronto.
Projected Pitching Staff:
J.A. Happ went 20-4 in 2016, a year for the ages. At 34 years old, that probably doesn’t happen again. It’s a strange case, the record didn’t deceive upon the success he truly had. Happ posted a 3.18 ERA in 195 innings pitched. He’s not the ace of this staff though.
The post coverboy Aaron Sanchez has big things expected of him in 2017. He was on a bit of an innings limit last season, but boasts the best stuff on the staff. He has command of five ‘+’ pitches and added 20 pounds to his frame during the offseason. He went 15-2 with a 3.00 ERA. We think he can improve upon his K-rate and should throw over 200 innings this season.
The big questions are in what the Blue Jays will get from Marcus Stroman and Marco Estrada. They’re capable arms who didn’t throw well last season – well, we shouldn’t say that – both seemed to throw well in spells but not at the consistency level that this team needed to become more than a Wildcard team and not in the playoffs like they needed to advance to the World Series.
Stroman seems capable of so much more than his 2016 line would indicate. He added 204 innings of experience last season, and it would seem the upcoming campaign is now or never.
We really like Francisco Liriano when you can run him out there as your fifth starter. He’s still capable of a lockdown effort on the fifth day at any given moment and overall you have to give this rotation a strong ‘B’ grade at worst with potential to earn an ‘A’ if a few things break right.
Roberto Osuna is one of the game’s best young closers. He battled some arm difficulties last season, but recorded 36 saves with a 2.68 ERA and struck out 82 hitters in 74 innings. He’s what you want as your stopper in the ninth.
Joseph Biagni, Jason Grilli, Joe Smith, J.P. Howell, and Aaron Loup comprise a pretty solid bullpen.
They’re going to be good – and quite possibly the biggest obstacle for the Red Sox in getting to the World Series. Fangraphs has them forecasted for about 86 wins, and it would seem realistic to see them win as many as 92 or 93. We would probably take the over on that 86 wins; and expect them to be in the fight until the end.
The real questions are what the veterans in the lineup will give them. Can Donaldson, Bautista, Tulo and Morales stay healthy for near a full year? What can Steven Pearce add in the way of filling in the void for the loss of Edwin Encarnacion’s bat while playing all over the diamond?
They’ll be a fun watch and a very good team. And as we said, they’re absolutely as talented on paper as that Indians team that almost won it all a year ago.