Will Blue Jays Use 2017 as a Pivot Season?

 

Jays From the Couch asks the question, Will Blue Jays use 2017 as a pivot season? The current Blue Jays stars aren’t getting any younger.

 

 

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As the off-season’s conclusion inches closer and closer, it’s becoming clear that the Toronto Blue Jays will open 2017 as a team with multiple holes. More politically correct, spots up for grabs.

 

This off-season’s been very frustrating for Blue Jays fans. The potential loss of Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, and Michael Saunders looked to land a devastation blow the Blue Jays offense. We know that EE and Saunders have signed elsewhere, but with Jose’s return, the Blue Jays offense should be just fine.

 

The outfield, even with Bautista, remains filled with question marks. Can Jose stay healthy and rebound defensively? Can Ezequiel Carrera repeat or build off his 2016 numbers? Can Melvin Upton Jr be National League Upton or American League Upton? The bullpen lost Brett Cecil and Joaquin Benoit, but no free agents were signed to address this loss. Sorry, no major free agents. There were several relievers signed to minor league contracts.

 

With so many positions available and the core group of stars not getting any younger, 2017 can be used as a pivot season. The Blue Jays fill the open spots with players already in the system, integrating and introducing youth while remaining competitive?

 

I’m not suggesting a rebuild. I’m not suggesting a fire sale or any trade. I am suggesting an assessment, through trial by fire, of the youth currently filling the up minors.

 

What We Know

Troy Tulowitzki (2020) is the only player signed through 2020, maybe even 2021 if the Blue Jays pick up his club option. Russell Martin and Kendrys Morales are signed through (2019). With a club option for 2019, everyone’s favorite punching bag, Justin Smoak, could join the pair.

 

Every other Toronto player either are in the final year of a contract or have years of team control/arb remaining. Meaning Marco Estrada, Francisco Liriano, Jason Grilli, Upton Jr, and Darwin Barney could all make their exits at the end of 2017.

 

 

What We Think We Know

If this offseason has taught us anything it is that the Blue Jays front office appear reluctant to hand out long-term deals with high dollars. Unless we’re counting the apparent contract offered to Encarnacion at the beginning of the off-season. Let’s not get into that.

 

Using the above reasoning, it seems Josh Donaldson is likely to skip town as a free agent at the conclusion of the 2018 season. Since it is unlikely that Toronto will a) Be able to meet his asking price or b) Be willing to meet his asking price with dollars and years. After all, he is a perennial All-Star and MVP third baseman.

 

 

What Should Be Done

Although the lineup for 2017 looks set, Toronto should make it a priority to work several of their minor league prospects into their 2017 plans. This can be done through call-ups, replacing struggling players, or even utilizing the new 10-day DL to give the veterans a chance to rest those nagging injuries that accompany a long baseball season.

 

Guys like Harold Ramirez, Anthony Alford, and Dalton Pompey could spell Bautista, Carrera, Kevin Pillar and Upton. Dwight Smith Jr. could be added to the 40-man roster if a 4th outfielder is required for long-term injuries. While Reese McGuire and A.J. Jimenez could serve as Russell Martin’s backup, although Jimenez is out of options and McGuire isn’t on the 40-man roster.

 

Infielders such as Lourdes Gurriel, and Richard Urena could fill in for Tulo and Travis when they get hurt. With Jon Berti being an option to be added to the 40-man roster if the injuries are long term. Rowdy Tellez could be added to the 40-man roster if Steve Pearce‘s wrist injury causes him to struggle or Smoak is unable to take advantage of the golden opportunity in front of him.

 

Along with the lineup, the rotation is also set in 2017, but injuries happen. Toronto should turn to attention to starting pitching prospects Conner Greene, and possibly Sean Reid-Foley, Ryan Borucki, and Jon Harris (depending on their progress and date of the injury), rather than giving Triple-A and AAAA pitchers a chance at taking the mound every fifth day.

 

The bullpen has the most questions and the most opportunities for minor league arms to showcase their skills. Last season, Chad Girodo, Danny Barnes, Matt Dermody, and Dustin Antolin (no longer with org) earned valuable experience. A trend that should continue in 2017. John Stilson, Wil Browning, Tim Mayza, and Murphy Smith are guys with Triple-A and Double-A success and should be given a look to fill out the bullpen or replace a struggling reliever. Further down the system, the Blue Jays could fast track Francisco Rios and Angel Perdomo by moving them to the bullpen. Maybe some time with major league coaches and major league pitchers would benefit a power arm like Adonys Cardona.

 

Yes, they may struggle at the plate or get light up on the mound.

 

Yes, they may excel, creating a playing time controversy.   Allowing prospects to cut their teeth in 2017 will provide the Blue Jays Front Office and coaching staff a chance to see how close/far these guys are from contributing. Yes, they could have moments in both scenarios. It will also allow the prospects themselves to uncover areas of weaknesses they can focus in the off-season.

 

Many of these prospects have yet to see playing time above Double-A. This shouldn’t deter management from calling their number when the need arises. It wouldn’t be the first time a prospect from Double-A made the jump to the major leagues. Tulo, Bautista, Roberto Osuna, Devon Travis, Joe Biagini, and Aaron Loup all made the jump from Double-A to the majors. Heck, Russell Martin saw minimal Triple-A (23 games) time before contributing at major league level.

 

Whether it’s a prospect making the jump from Double-A or Triple-A, a seamless transition to the major is far from a guarantee. The Blue Jays NEED several prospects listed above to get MLB experience in 2017. They need a chance to evaluate if they can turn to the farm in 2018 or free agency.

 

 

 

 

 

*Featured Image Credit: slgckgc UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0

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Ryan Mueller

Lover of all things Toronto Blue Jays. Blue Jays MiLB fanatic. I strive for average while stumbling onto above average. Rogers isn't cheap. Baseball is a business. Your right, but I'm more right.