The Toronto Blue Jays had a season to remember in 2015. The club went on a post-trade deadline hot streak and rode it all the way to 93 wins and the ALCS. Despite front office turnover in the offseason, the club, which featured the most fearsome lineup in baseball largely remains intact. Toronto is not only an AL East favorite but one of the top World Series contenders. Can they repeat their success and take the next step?
Depth Chart (as of 3/18)
C: Russell Martin
1B: Chris Colabello/Justin Smoak
2B: Ryan Goins
SS: Troy Tulowitzki
3B: Josh Donaldson
LF: Michael Saunders
CF: Kevin Pillar
RF: Jose Bautista
SP: Marcus Stroman
SP: R.A. Dickey
SP: Marco Estrada
SP: J.A. Happ
SP: Aaron Sanchez
CL: Roberto Osuna/Drew Storen
New Faces: Darwin Barney, Domonic Brown, Jesse Chavez, Randy Choate, Gavin Floyd, JA Happ, Junior Lake, Drew Storen
Departures: Mark Buerhle, Jeff Francis, LaTroy Hawkins, Munenori Kawasaki, Mark Lowe, Dioner Navarro, Cliff Pennington, David Price, Ben Revere
Position Battles: The Toronto Blue Jays almost solved their left field situation before a Jay Bruce deal with Cincinnati fell through, so now it’s up to Michael Saunders and Dalton Pompey to battle it out for the spot. Saunders, who missed nearly all of 2015, has the upper hand, though both players have options remaining. The Blue Jays likely feel more comfortable giving Pompey everyday at-bats in Buffalo, while Saunders keeps his spot warm for another season.
In the rotation, the fifth starter spot is up for grabs with Aaron Sanchez and Drew Hutchison being the two biggest names competing. The 23-year-old Sanchez had a solid season in a mixed role last year, throwing 92.1 innings with a 3.22 ERA in 41 appearances (11 starts). His control was an issue as a starter but he settled down when he pitched out of the pen. Hutchinson was expected to be a consistent force in the Blue Jays rotation and ended up having a career-worst season. His 13-5 record was not indicative of his performance, as he posted 5.57 ERA, a 4.42 FIP, and a 1.483 WHIP. If Hutchinson doesn’t win the spot he made be on the trade block. Gavin Floyd, who made seven appearances with the Indians in 2015, is also a major candidate with his strong spring. Jesse Chavez, acquired from the Oakland A’s, has an outside shot at a rotation spot.
In the bullpen, there are multiple spots up for grabs, as Steve Delabar, Randy Choate, Arnold Leon, Joe Biagini, Ryan Tepera, Chavez, Sanchez and Floyd will all compete for two middle relief spots and a long relief spot. Whichever pitchers don’t win the rotation spots are likely locks for the pen, and Biagini might have an advantage over others since he’s a Rule 5 pick.
Injury Concerns: Devon Travis had shoulder surgery in mid-November and likely won’t be back until early June. In his absence, Ryan Goins, who proved more than capable for long stretches last season, will man second base. Edwin Encarnacion suffered a minor oblique issue and may miss the first few games of the season recovering on the DL. Aaron Loup suffered an elbow strain earlier this month which might cause him to miss the start of 2016. Aside from Travis, all of the injuries aren’t serious and shouldn’t affect the club in a major way, but if Loup’s elbow keeps barking, it could have consequences for Toronto’s bullpen.
Key Player: Jose Bautista may have been the long-time face of the franchise, but 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson is now the most important player wearing blue and white. The 30-year-old smashed 41 home runs and drove in a whopping 123 runs to go with a .939 OPS, also posting the third highest WAR (8.7) in the league. Donaldson’s the best hitter among an elite bunch and a dynamic defensive player. He’s the heart and soul of the Blue Jays.
Underrated Asset: With the big boppers in the lineup one player who doesn’t get enough credit is catcher Russell Martin. He’s an All-Star caliber catcher, an outstanding defender and an above average hitter at his position. Martin was tied for first among qualified catchers with a remarkable 44 percent caught-stealing rate, and also was second among his position with 23 home runs. Martin is the definition of underrated, despite his hefty salary.
Burning Question: How badly are they going to miss David Price?
Toronto’s rotation is decent 1-5, but they don’t have an immediate replacement for David Price.
Marcus Stroman made an impressive recovery to return late in the season and the playoffs and is almost ready for stardom, but needs a full season of dominance and staying healthy before he can take on the “ace” label. Marco Estrada had a breakthrough season, prompting the Blue Jays to re-sign him a reasonable two-year deal, but it’s unlikely he’ll repeat his success given his 4.40 FIP was much higher than his 3.13 ERA. R.A. Dickey can eat innings but he’s not much more than that at this point in his career. J.A. Happ is a wild card after he had an excellent post-trade record with the Pittsburgh Pirates – going 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA in 11 starts – but wasn’t very good in 21 appearances with the Mariners.
Toronto has starting depth and is in a fine position since their offense is so lethal, but not having a big-game ace means their rotation is good, not great.
Best Case Scenario: The Blue Jays win their first World Series trophy since 1993 behind one of the best offenses in baseball history. Marcus Stroman makes fans forget about David Price while Aaron Sanchez develops into a good middle of the rotation starter. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion both re-sign and the start of a dynasty begins.
Worst Case Scenario: All of the positive momentum acquired in 2015 gets pissed away as the Blue Jays get hit hard with the injury bug. The rotation and bullpen flounder and the young arms of Sanchez, Osuna, and Stroman don’t take the next step. Toronto misses the playoffs and manager John Gibbons is fired and replaced by Eric Wedge. Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista walk away from the club in free agency.
Realistic Prediction: Toronto is on the cusp of something special and should be able to go on a deep playoff run in 2016. The rotation will be good enough to get them there, but may falter come playoff time if a big move isn’t made. The Blue Jays will make the World Series, but lose to the Chicago Cubs. Jose Bautista is re-signed to a Yoenis Cespedes like deal, but Encarnacion walks as the team doesn’t have the funds to retain both. It should be a fun year in The Six.