The Toronto Blue Jays are on the fringes of contention in 2020 and have short-term answers for short-term success
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If we were witnessing a normal baseball season, we’d be in the midst of the dog days of August and contenders would be distancing themselves from the pretenders. But in the virus-corrupted 2020 campaign, fan bases can still pretend their teams are (mostly) all legitimate playoff contenders thanks to an expanded playoff field and a reduced schedule. Blue Jays fans seem to be split into two camps at the season quarter pole, with the majority seeming content with their team remaining competitive if not in contention come the end of September. Which is OK really – the 2020 baseball season will be more about fantasy league scoring than final standings anyway. But do the Blue Jays have the roster to be competitive and keep fans interested for the rest of the year?
So many words of praise (and criticism) have been written about the young studs and future hopefuls, I will not take time in this article to examine their roles on the 2020 roster. But I will make the case that the supporting cast does have the talent to help win more games than they will lose. More importantly, regular contributions from several current Blue Jays will serve as a temporary bridge for future Blue Jay teams to get back onto the road to contention.
Neither Danny Jansen nor Reese McGuire will be the Toronto “catcher of the future”. Not even the most optimistic front office executive could try to sell either’s chances to be just that without needing to go to confession immediately after the conversation. Fangraphs 2019 Steamer Projections ranked Jansen as the 2nd best catcher in the American League, but actual performance often dilutes the potency of projections. Toronto pitchers seem to like pitching to Jansen though, and that is an intangible that is immeasurable when you consider the inexperience of much of the Toronto staff. For now, Jansen will prove to be important part of the development of the young bullpen pieces and will bring out the best in Hyun-Jin Ryu, Tanner Roark and Matt Shoemaker.
THE CORNER INFIELDERS
Every Blue Jays fan will talk endlessly about Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and the future glories they will lead the franchise to. But it is at the corners of the infield that Blue Jays fans need to focus their attentions if they truly hope for a playoff spot. I know Rowdy Tellez has seen the bulk of his playing time as the DH, but his defensive metrics are better than Vladdy’s and if the latter’s struggles at the plate continue, Tellez will see significant time at first base when Vlad is on the bench or working on his approach from the DH slot. His wRC+ may be a pedestrian 84, but until a free agent bat or two is added, Rowdy can contribute from the middle and the intriguing bottom of the order.
Travis Shaw may just contribute more before or at the August 31st trade deadline. He has solid major league seasons in the not that distant past, and he has proven so far that there is still magic in his bat. Shaw is third in wRC+ (134) and batted balls in play (.353) and leads the Blue Jays in slugging percentage (.500). He can play both corner infield positions and contribute on an everyday basis if needed. He may be keeping the hot corner warm for Santiago Espinal or the person he is traded for, but if Shaw is kept on for 2021 fans should be happy he stuck around for the big push.
ANSWERS IN THE OUTFIELD
It physically pains me to type Randal Grichuk‘s name on this list. For me, Randal Grichuk should be an integral member of the next Blue Jay playoff roster. Over a full 162-game schedule, it is a foregone conclusion that you can use a permanent marker when you register 25 homers and 70 RBI next to his name. But you need to keep that marker handy when it comes time to register strikeouts (100+). No one will mistake Grich for a Gold Glover, but in 2019 Fangraphs credited him with a 99.1% rating for making routine catches and 100% of likely catches. Great metrics for a LF, but Lourdes Gurriel Jr. plays there and Teoscar Hernandez seems to be cementing himself in RF. Add in the fact that Cavan Biggio just might follow his father’s footsteps into center field and you have an odd-man out. Given the fact that other major league front offices think more highly of Grichuk than Toronto fans seem to, he may be dangled at the trade deadline to add pitching depth. But he will be an above-average contributor at the plate and in center for the remainder of 2020.
Would you be shocked to know that Derek Fisher leads the Jays in wRC+, BABIP % and BB%? I know I was. So Fisher can be counted as a contributor for 2020. But the most important percentage to consider when discussing Fisher is the ZERO PERCENT chance he is on the 2021 Toronto 40-man roster.
The promotion of top prospects was the big story of 2019. But the feel-good story of the early going was the sterling pitching of Matt Shoemaker. Logging a 3-0 record and 1.57 ERA while posting a WHIP of 1.02 and a respectable 6.2 K/9 rate, it appeared the incentive laden 3.4 million dollar contract they signed Shoemaker to was more a steal than a bargain. But as his career path had proven, injuries would be one of the nightmares the team experienced with their staff. Shoemaker has not duplicated his 2019 numbers through 25 games, but he has been – well, Matt Shoemaker again. That is good news for Blue Jays fans in 2020-especially if playoff hopes begin to fade and interest at the trade deadline grows more focused. He is a free agent after this season and offseason dollars will more likely be paid by another team.
You could argue Tanner Roark should be included among the “OK for now” team, but he is an innings eater and remarkably consistent. Just what you need for a playoff contender with more than their share of young arms who may prove inconsistent at times.
I cannot end this discussion without bringing up Charlie Montoyo. Like Bobby Mattick in the early Jays days, Montoyo is considered an excellent player development mind and has been given the keys to unlock the wealth of talent the team has developed. Also like Mattick, Montoyo has proven to be a tad stiff with the press and often out of his depth in the dugout. In 2019, Charlie could have been classified as “OK for now” as he tried to grow into the managerial job and start to nurture and refine the young roster. My observations so far in 2020 seem to confirm Montoyo will not be managing Blue Jays teams that are slam-dunk contenders. My evaluations are stating Montoyo is no longer “OK-for now” and needs to be reassigned to the front office as soon as possible.
So relax Blue Jays supporters. Maybe the team is not a division-winner or pennant contender now. But there are a solid block of players who will make identifiable contributions to the 2020 quest for a winning record and wild card bid. Which makes them OK-for now.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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