The Toronto Blue Jays are leaving the offseason behind and starting Spring Training. We look back at their winter moves.
The middle of February is always a wonderful time. Once the new year rolls around, you can feel yourself eagerly counting down, somewhat religiously anticipating the best day of the year.
Happy pitchers and catchers day!
Soon, fans will scroll through their Instagram and Twitter timelines to see their favourite players rolling into a sunny Florida or Arizona spring training complex to begin their spring training workouts. We’ll start hearing about how everybody and their mother is in the best shape of their life and we’ll finally begin to look forward to the 2017 MLB season.
With the offseason winding down to a close, let’s look back at how the Blue Jays did this winter:
What can I say about Josh Thole that hasn’t already been said? His name alone can make even the most hardened Blue Jay fan shudder after his four years in Toronto. In three of his four seasons in Toronto, Thole – attached at the hip to R.A. Dickey – registered a wRC+ under 40, finishing at 29 in 2016. You know things have gone terribly wrong when your singles are sarcastically cheered. Godspeed, Josh.
Jarrod Saltlama…Saltalamach…Salty posted a wRC+ of 93 in 2014 with the Marlins, 100 in 2015 with the Marlins and Diamondbacks and 69 with the Tigers in 2016. He’ll provide some defence, a bit more pop and a little more offensive production than Thole, but don’t expect him to put up anything close to the numbers he did in 2013 when he slashed .273/.338/.466 with the Red Sox. Even still, if Saltalamacchia can produce like he has the past three seasons – slashing .206/.306/.375 – the Blue Jays will finally be able to give Russell Martin a few much needed days off now that he has a major league calibre backup. Sorry Josh.
I’ve spent too much time talking about backup catchers.
First Base/Designated Hitter
General Manager Ross Atkins and company were quick to move on from Edwin Encarnacion this winter, signing slugger Kendrys Morales to a three-year, $33 million dollar deal weeks before Encarnacion settled for a three-year deal of his own. One wonders what could have happened had the Jays not been so quick to sign Morales, especially seeing how the market valued power bats this winter. Encarnacion only got $60 million from Cleveland, down from what was seen as a lowball 4/$80M the Blue Jays’ reportedly initially offered.
Look, Kendrys Morales is definitely no Edwin Encarnacion. Encarnacion – a perennial four-win player – gets on base at a much higher rate and hits for more power. Despite that, the Blue Jays lineup still boasts the likes of Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson and Jose Bautista. Morales will be hitting behind all of those guys, plus Devon Travis and hopefully, Russell Martin. Hitting in the launching pad commonly known as the Rogers Centre will certainly help Morales with his home run and RBI totals (if looking at those numbers are your thing) so he’ll be able to pull some weight offensively. Just close your eyes when he starts to run.
The Blue Jays also added utility man Steve Pearce. Pearce is so versatile, you could probably give John Gibbons days off and he’d manage a few games for you. In 2016, Pearce played innings at first, second, third, left and right field. He hasn’t played more than 102 games in a season in his career, but the at-bats he gives you are productive ones. In the past three seasons combined, Pearce slashed .267/.347/.493, good for a wRC+ of 131.
It would be nice to talk about another pickup at first base, but alas, Justin Smoak will continue to chase curveballs in the dirt in a Blue Jays uniform for the foreseeable future.
Michael Saunders and his unsightly -11 DRS in the outfield in 2016 are off to the Phillies, marking an end to an unfortunate two years for the Canadian in Toronto.
Finally – and most important – Joey Bats is back. The future member of the Level of Excellence signed a one-year, $18 million dollar contract that has a mutual option for a second year and a vesting option for a third. Had the Blue Jays indeed gone through with their plans to acquire Jay Bruce, 2017 would have looked a bit bleaker. Jose Bautista in the outfield is still an adventure, but he’s primed for a bounce-back year at the plate this summer. Plus, who doesn’t love smoothies?
When Brett Cecil leaves and your best lefty is Aaron Loup, you may be in trouble. Thankfully, J.P. Howell fell into the Blue Jays lap after a down year in 2016. Howell signed a one-year, $3 million dollar deal, which is less than the four years and $30.5 million the Cardinals gave to Cecil.
Howell struggled against lefty’s in 2016 after seeing a lot of success against them from 2013-2015. Lefty’s slashed .181/.265/.226 against him in those three seasons and that jumped to .292/.340/.412 in 24.1 innings in 2016. The low-risk signing can pay off for both Howell and the Blue Jays if he has a strong 2017 campaign.
Also signing a one-year, $3 million dollar deal was reliever Joe Smith, who had a 3.46 ERA in 52 innings split between the Angels and Cubs last year.
While Toronto goes into spring training with starting pitching depth and the left field situation looking a bit worrisome, the Blue Jays made out just fine at the end of the winter. Both Jays brass and Encarnacion’s camp dropped the ball to start the offseason with their negotiations, but aside from that, they had a pretty tidy offseason. The Jays didn’t make a big splash (more importantly, didn’t put themselves in a bad financial position in the coming years) and looking at the pieces that are already in place, that worked out fine.
Even though their pursuit of Dexter Fowler fell short, they did a good job by n̶o̶t̶ ̶t̶r̶a̶d̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶J̶a̶y̶ ̶B̶r̶u̶c̶e̶ bringing back Jose Bautista. The departure of beloved Blue Jays Brett Cecil and Edwin Encarnacion is huge and will be felt, but decent patchwork was done to try and mitigate the losses. As a result, the window stays open another year and the team looks primed to contend once again in the American League East.
*Featured Image Credit: jcsullivan24 UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0
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I’m a lifelong Blue Jays fan studying journalism in Toronto. I was only eight months old when Joe touched ’em all, so I’m just patiently waiting to see a parade of my own. The sweet swing of Carlos Delgado is what hooked me in and I’ve loved this team ever since. Jose Bautista slander isn’t welcome around these parts.