State of the Squads: the Jays

So it’s no secret that the Blue Jays outperformed everyone’s expectations for them in 2015, especially in the second half, when then-GM Alex Anthopoulos went all in and bet the farm (system) on making the postseason for the first time since Joe Carter homered his way into World Series history (and Jays fans’ hearts) and, in so doing, turned Mitch Williams into a goat.  The gamble paid off, the Jays indeed made the postseason and, in winning the ALDS, may have relegated Carter’s home run to only the second-most discussed home run in Blue Jays’ playoff history.

bat flip gif

Naturally, everyone was shocked when AA subsequently walked away from the team he built over the past 6 seasons… one that unexpectedly made it all the way to the ALCS, only to lose to the eventual World Champion Royals.  I think fans are still pretty much on the fence regarding his successor, Ross Atkins, and the man who brought him over from Cleveland, new Team President Mark Shapiro.

So far, this off-season, the Jays have not made a huge amount of noise, but they have picked up a good closer who was stuck in a bad situation — Drew Storen — from the Nationals for speedy outfielder Ben Revere.  As they gain much-needed bullpen depth, and now have two legitimate candidates for closer, at the relatively low cost of a superfluous outfielder, I see it as a generally good move.  They also held on to a couple of key players from last year, Justin Smoak and Marco Estrada, and welcomed back former Blue Jay, southpaw hurler J.A. Happ.  Finally, they gave Josh Donaldson a nice payday for winning the MVP, when they agreed to $28.65 million over the next two years, instead of heading to arbitration.

Let’s take a quick look at the state of the team, starting in the outfield.

Center fielder Kevin Pillar, whose break-out 2015 season — replete with enough eye-popping plays to fill a couple of highlight reels, and earn him the nickname “Superman” — caught everyone by surprise, anchors an outfield that should be as good or better than last season.  Pillar, whose September/October included a much-improved hitting line, is the odds-on replacement for Revere at the lead off spot.  Perennial All-Star Jose Bautista will again patrol right field, and hopefully his right shoulder (injured when trying to throw out a runner at first) is all healed up, which will allow us to again see him gunning down base runners.  What isn’t in doubt is his bat… love him or hate him (yes, he’s a polarizing figure), but over the last 6 seasons, the man has AVERAGED 37 homers, 96 RBI, a 1.00 BB/K ratio (95.6 BB and 96 K average), with a wOBA of .403 and a wRC+ of 156.  He may be 35 years old but you’d never know it by his bat.  With the departure of Revere, the LF spot is a bit up in the air, and will likely be determined in Spring Training.  A healthy Michael Saunders will vie with home town speedster Dalton Pompey for the post, with utility man Ezequiel Carrera as a possible 5th OF.

The infield is pretty much the same as last season, with MVP Josh Donaldson at the hot corner, Tulo and Gogo up the middle, and a platoon of Chris Colabello, Justin Smoak and the Parrot Whisperer™, Edwin Encarnacion sharing the 1B/DH duties.  A healthier Tulo, freed from the distraction of a sudden unexpected mid-season trade from Colorado, should be better at the plate.  Also expect better plate discipline from defensive whiz Ryan Goins at 2B.  Once rookie Devon Travis comes back from November shoulder surgery, he will likely be the back-up 2B, with natural SS Goins able to slide over to relieve Tulo if necessary.  At first base, of the above mentioned trio, Smoak has the best glove, Edwin the best bat, and Colabello the best versatility (he can also play some OF, albeit not particularly well).  Smoak also has the distinction of being a switch-hitter, which adds value at the plate.

Behind the dish, Russell Martin will continue to do what he does best… shut down the other team’s running game, while Josh Thole will continue to be the personal catcher for Dickey… if Dickey is traded, expect Thole to be gone as well, which will allow A. J. Jimenez some playing time.

The rotation at this point seems to consist of Marcus Stroman, Marco Estrada, R.A. Dickey and J.A. Happ.  The 5th spot is up for grabs and there seem to be plenty of potential grabbers.  The odds-on favourite is Aaron Sanchez, who started last season in the rotation, went down with an injury and finished as a strong addition to the bullpen.  If the starting thing doesn’t work out, expect him to be back in the ‘pen.  Jesse Chavez, who was obtained in the Hendriks deal, is another strong option.  He could start in the ‘pen as a long man, but would be a good injury replacement for the rotation.  Last year’s Opening Day starter, Drew Hutchison, seems to be on the outside looking in. He has shown he has the talent; the consistency… not so much.  But, with all three of the above, it is what happens in Spring Training that can make or break .

Speaking of the bullpen, the aforementioned addition of Storen gives John Gibbons lots of options.  Last season’s eventual closer, Roberto Osuna, showed remarkable poise for someone only 20 years old (the youngest player in MLB).  Now he and Storen could end up as the de facto 8th and 9th inning guys.  Add in the nigh unhittable Brett Cecil in the 8th; he allowed hitters a mere .197 average last season and had a decent K/BB ratio of 5+ (from July to October it was 20… 40 K against 2 walks).  This would nicely fit with the trend of having multiple one-inning closers, one started by the Royals and continued this year by the Yankees.  Other bullpen holdovers from 2015 include Ryan Tepera, lefty side-armer Aaron Loup, Bo Schultz and Steve Delabar.  They are joined by free agent Gavin Floyd and waiver-wire pickup Joe Biagini.

Overall, the 2016 Jays are much like the 2015 version, minus workhorse Mark Buehrle and playoff-run rental David Price.  The lineup is just as strong, maybe even stronger, and it will be fun to see what Marcus Stroman can do, given a full season.  The only dismal spot is the departure of fan and media favourite Munenori Kawasaki to the Cubs organization.

6 thoughts on “State of the Squads: the Jays

  1. Well, we know that Aaron Sanchez can pitch. But can he cook?

    Seems to me the big question for the Feather Lice this year is the rotation. Buehrle has gone back south to his pitbulls, but his arm was so dead by the end of the season that he could barely sign his name. My big question concerns how much if anything Biggeth Dicketh has left. I love the guy – literacy is at a premium, especially in the designatedhitterball league – but his flutterball just doesn’t flutter like it used to anymore. His days as a color commentator can’t be far orf. I fear they’re going to need to upgrade the rotation if they want to bring home the smoked meat sandwiches this season.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is an excellent write-up, nb. Not signing Price is going to hurt the Jays greatly, and some of the Jays pitchers are due for some regression, but man, can your team mash. They are fun to watch hit, except when they’re playing my team.

    Props for the using the most righteous bat flip ever. I still get chills looking at it. I said, “Oh, shit!” when I saw it live.

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    • Yeah, I wish they had signed Price as well, but if they did, it would have guaranteed they would be letting Bautista and Edwin both walk at the end of this season. Rogers Communications is nothing if not a bunch of cheap bastards.

      I agree that Estrada will likely regress, but on the flip side of that, I don’t believe we have seen the full potential of what Marcus Stroman is capable of.

      Dickey is a question mark… he is a no doubt innings eater, like Buehrle, but he was like two different pitchers in 2015, no matter how you look at his splits:

      Home: 9-3, 3.11 ERA
      Away: 2-8, 4.83 ERA

      First Half: 3-10, 4.87 ERA
      Second Half: 8-1, 2.80 ERA

      But he was also at the mercy of (or got the benefit of) that prodigious offense:

      • In his 9 starts where the Jays scored 2 or fewer runs, he was 0-6, but had a better ERA (3.12) and allowed only 4 HR and 16 walks. In other words, he worked hard to keep his team in the game and the offense let him down.
      • By contrast, in his 10 starts where they scored 6 or more runs, he was 5-0, but had an ERA of 4.36 and surrendered 10 homers and 24 walks. He must have graduated from the Jack Morris School of Pitching to the Score.

      That said, he averaged almost 6.2 innings per start, and I’ll take that from a starter any day.

      And, as Old Gator rightly pointed out, he is literate, even eloquent, and I’d love to see him in the booth someday. He’d be a real change from a mouth breather like Schilling.

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      • Mouth breathers are highly evolved for dry land. They lack the long snout which makes it possible for the matamata to breathe while underwater without exposing itself:

        As a consequence, mouth breathers can’t be detected from underwater. On the other hand, mouth breathers also lack the dangling scrims of palatal baleen which would enable them to filter krill from the air. Life, like designatedhitterball, is a trade-orf.

        Or something…..

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  3. Back end of the bullpen should be a concern. Happ has not been high on dependability from year-to-year. And if you look at Jesse Chavez’s record, he was highly dependent on his home base being Oakland County Stadium. They need Dickey to be good because it may be thin behind him.

    But those guys will mash the ball for sure.

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