If the Toronto Blue Jays are, in fact, looking at competing in 2018, they have some concerns to think about
The Toronto Blue Jays appear out of the playoff race this year. There will be a section of fans who cling to the hope that there is still time for this team to pull off a miracle and somehow turn things around. Technically, there is enough time for that to happen, but we shouldn’t hold our breath for it. In fact, it appears that the front office is looking at ways for them to improve, but with an eye to next season.
The reason for this is that there are major issues currently hampering any kind of forward progress. These same issues will show themselves as Toronto begins it’s attempt at competing next season, though. While writing off this season and looking ahead to the next one might provide some kind of hope, it is difficult to see how 2018 will be any different than what we’ve seen in 2017. To be clear, what follows is not an over dramatic attempt at forcing a Hot Take that is beating everyone to the punch about next season. It is not meant to be a downer. The Blue Jays very well
should could compete next year…they were supposed to this year. That said, there are concerns that make you wonder if it is a reasonable expectation.
If we look ahead to next year, one has to wonder what will be different. With the Trade Deadline less than a week away, and an entire offseason to go through, it might be naive to think that Ross Atkins maintains the status quo. He’s got a lot of work to do to compete. Here’s why:
We have to acknowledge that Troy Tulowitzki is not going anywhere. The remaining $54M of his contract (he also has a $15M option for 2021 with a $4M buyout), which makes him a rather hefty hit to any team’s budget. Even if the Blue Jays offer to eat some of that money, it may not be enough. As well, there is a clause in his contract that allows for him to be traded just once, which got him to Toronto. Now, he can veto a trade. All of this makes him nearly impossible to trade.
If we add that he is no longer the 5 win player he once was, it gets even harder. When on the field this year, he’s put up 0.3 fWAR. If we apply the Blue Jays’ valuation for wins (1 win = $9M), Tulo is playing at a $3M level. He’s making $20M. This is not to bash the player. However, if Toronto feels that they are going to compete next season, they are a) going to need a healthy Tulo and b) need him performing better than he has in 2017. Even if he lived up to his 2016 2.8 fWAR, things would look a little more hopeful. Is that a reasonable expectations for a player of 33 yrs of age?
Josh Donaldson has also not been himself this year. He’s missed significant time due to leg issues. And, when he’s played, he has not lived up to his MVP type, 6-7 win performance level (as if it is that easy as all that). Instead, this year, he’s seeing 1.3 fWAR. Joanna, of Hum and Chuck, believes that he is playing hurt. And, it makes sense. It is the only thing that would explain his dip in ISO, SLG, Spd. His wRC+ value is still productive, but it is nowhere near what we’re used to. His 29 RBI aren’t either. Could an offseason of healing help him? Likely. He’ll be 32 next season. It is not crazy to think he can return to form – the safe bet is that he can -, but at some point, age has to become consideration.
Some believe that now is the time for the Blue Jays to trade Donaldson for a boat load of prospects. If this club is serious about competing next season, this would be the worst way to go about that. It would be beyond silly to think that removing Donaldson from this team would help them win. If they are in the same position next year, it would make more sense to entertain this idea. Maybe.
The situation with Jose Bautista is one that could go in a million directions. It is not likely that the Blue Jays would pick up his option for next year, given that he is putting up a .219 average, wRC+ of 93, an increased K% and a lower overall contact rate. Cold he be used as trade bate? Sure, if you can convince him to waive his 10-5 triggered no trade clause. That could be done by the other team agreeing to pick up his option, but for the same reason the Blue Jays wouldn’t, another team is not likely. Do they just walk away from him next season? That would be a tough pill to swallow for so many fans. But, can the Blue Jays compete with him?
If they feel they can’t, then competing next season will mean a free agent, or one of their youngsters like Dalton Pompey (do they feel he’s ready to take over?) or Anthony Alford (is he?). The list of free agent outfielders this winter isn’t exactly awe inspiring. Justin Upton has an opt out that could make him available, but he won’t be cheap. Jay Bruce anyone? Having this kind of question mark, to go along with whatever is going on in left field doesn’t exactly scream postseason.
We haven’t even discussed an aging Russell Martin, whether Justin Smoak is for real (BP Toronto‘s Matt Gwin says he is), whether Ryan Goins will manage to hang on to a roster spot on this team for yet another year and whether Devon Travis will be healthy enough to play a full season. All of these question marks have to raise an eyebrow when you consider competing next season.
Aaron Sanchez and his blister has already been one of the main stories of this 2017 season. Just how long will this linger? Ask Rich Hill whether a blister issue is easy to get rid of. As much time as Sanchez has missed this year, Hill would tell you that it could go on for a long time. One would think that an entire offseason would be enough time to do whatever needs to be done to heal the finger. Rather than trying band aid type solutions and rushing him out to the mound, perhaps months off would do the young stud pitcher some good. Heck, if the club is really moving on from this season, they could opt to start Sanchez’ offseason healing early. If they’re going to compete next season, they will need all of his fingers healthy.
Who will join Sanchez is up in the air right now. Marcus Stroman will be there. With rumors of clubs interested in Marco Estrada, he could be departing Toronto earlier than his free agency would dictate. Would the Blue Jays bring him back in the offseason? His 2017 hasn’t exactly been his best in Toronto. He’s walking more and giving up more home runs. Are his struggles a sign he’s been playing above his head for a while and it is over? Or, is it something he can adjust in the offseason and maybe re-sign?
Who will take Francisco Liriano‘s spot? It won’t be him. It is difficult to imagine him returning to take a spot in the Blue Jays’ rotation. Depending on which version of Liriano you believe in, that could be a good thing. He could be traded in the next week, or have his current contract expire and test his luck on the open market. Either way, don’t expect the Blue Jays to be rushing to keep him in their rotation.
Could J.A. Happ generate enough interest in the next week to find himself pitching for another team to end this season and in 2017? If so, that leaves the potential for two starting pitchers in the rotation. That’s it. The list of free agent starters provides interesting choices, but would the Blue Jays want to go that route? They might have to. They don’t have options busting at the minor league seams to step in the 2017 rotation, let alone three of them. Maybe Joe Biagini can take one spot, but then what?
On paper, the Toronto Blue Jays are a good team. They were when they started this season. What has happened to them up until this point has been nothing short of a perfect storm of unfortunate-ness. Injuries, head scratchingly poor performances and having little depth has turned the Canada’s team into season long basement dwellers.
One has to believe that this is not their true identity; that they are good enough to compete for a Wild Card spot, at the bare minimum. If the front office believes this to be true, they will have their work cut out for them as they look ahead to 2018. The reality is that this exact team will not likely be back next season. However it looks, it will have some serious questions to be answered. Starting a new season won’t be as easy as pressing the reset button. There is some major work to be done and some of that could be done in the next week.
*Featured Image Credit: C Stem- JFtC
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