The Blue Jays, as we all know, are entering a rebuild this offseason. They are planning to be competitive in the American League East in 2020-21. I think 2021 is really the more viable option. This means that players who won't be around in 2021 will be traded, extended, or let go at the end of their contracts. Excluding players who will be arb eligible or pre-arbitration, only two players are under contract for 2021: Lourdes Gurriel, at a very affordable 3.5 million, and Troy Tulowitzki, at 15 million with a 4 million buyout. Assuming the Jays buyout Tulo's option, (and they can't trade him) which seems likely, they will have only 7.5 million guaranteed dollars on the books for 2021. This puts us in good shape to have a reasonable amount of money to spend in 2020-2021 offseasons.
First thing's first: Marcus Stroman. He didn't pitch well in 2018, but he can, and we know he can, and I think he desrves an extension. how about a backoaded 5 year, 60 million dollar deal? Stroman seems to love Toronto and he is a great talent that could be locked down for awhile. Stroman would proably be willing to accept an extension like that after a down year.
The dealing will have to begin this offseason, though. First off, Russell Martin has to go. I hate to say it, because he is Canadian and I love how he plays, but there is no room for him on a roster with two young catchers and Luke Maile. Looking Around the League, teams looking for a catcher are: the Braves, Nationals, Astros, and Red Sox. I'd say trade him to the Nationals. The Nats have said they want to go for Realmuto, but in reality, the Marlins would want either Robles or Soto in return and I don't think the Nationals want to give up either of those young outfielders. Enter Martin: he is still a good catcher (1.3 bWAR in 2018) and he would fit fine on the Nats. He would also be pretty affordable, because the Jays would probably have to eat half of his contract. The Nats would probably give us a 45-50 rated young pitcher in return.
Second, Aaron Sanchez has to go. Again, I don't like to say it, but he will probably never re-sign with the Jays, because he is with Scott Boras, so he must go. The Astros are looking for pitching. We could ship him there with another one of our friends, Kendrys Morales. The Astros are reportedly looking for a DH like Nelson Cruz, and they would probably appreciate Kendrys too. His salary isn't too bad, at 12 million, but maybe the Jays would have to pay 2-4 million of that. In return, I anticipate we could net one or two young pitchers. Maybe one or both of Josh James and Cionel Perez. selling low on Sanchez would be tough, though. If we waited to the trade deadline he might be more marketable. However, I am beginning to wonder if he will ever get back to his 2016 form. Those two young pitchers would fit nicely into our plan for 2021 contention.
Third, Justin Smoak must go as he is a free agent after 2019. To the Yankees (yack but OK) he goes with Aledmys Diaz for Sonny Gray and Greg Bird. Gray has been connected to the Blue Jays by Ben Nicholson-Smith at Sportsnet, and he seems like a good fit. The Yankees need a first baseman and a shortstop, and Diaz and Smoak seem to fit the bill. As for Bird, he seems like a good guy to play for the Jays as he is only 26 and has a lot of upside. He is also under control through 2021, which fits with our timeline. Kevin Pillar must also go. He can go to the Giants, who want Harper but won't get him. Perhaps another young pitcher in return?
With Cot's projected payroll of 108 million, minus 8 million for Smoak and ten each for Martin and Kendrys off the books, as well as 3 for Sanchez, (MLB trade rumors) plus a projected 10.6 million for Gray and Bird, our payroll becomes 87-88 million dollars. With a budget of 120 million, this gives the Jays about 30-35 million to spend. I would first sign Gio Gonzalez, to a three year deal worth 42 million. He wasn't amazing in 2018, but he eats innings and he pitched to a 2.96 ERA in 2017, and did very well after a Trade to the brewers, so there definitely is a chance he outperforms his 4.21 ERA of 2018 in years to come. He is 32, but it is great to have a veteran on the staff for 2019.
The remaining money I would allocate to the bullpen. John Axford, Tyler Clippard, and one other reliever would be good buys for 2019 as proven vets who can pitch.
This Makes our lineup, rotation and bullpen look like this:
Lineup: C Jansen, 1B Bird, 2B Gurriel, SS Tulowitzki (if he plays, if not then Drury 2B and Gurriel SS), 3B Guerrero, LF McKinney, CF Alford, RF Grichuk, DH Hernandez. This is not a terrible lineup, in reality. It has some obvious weak points (Is McKinney a regular? Will Bird hit? Wait Tulo didn't retire yet?) but has the chance to be pretty good.
Rotation: Stroman(R) Gonzalez(L) Borucki (L) Gray (R) Josh James, David Paulino, Sean Reid-Foley, Thomas Pannone can fill it out. Obviously a bit risky but very young and could possibly be great in 2019.
Bullpen: Giles, Tepera, Barnes, Biagini, Cionel Perez, Josh James, David Paulino, Gaviglio, Mayza, Axford, Clippard - some combination of these arms would do pretty well.
Looking at this roster, it doesn't look championship calibre but looks decent and could produce a .500 team in 2019 and maybe a lot better beyond - especially when you consider the only guaranteed money for 2021 would be Tulo, Gurriel, Gonzalez, and Stroman, about 30-40 million depending on Stroman's contract extension. This would give us a ton of money to spend in the 2020-21 offseason, when Mike Trout and Jacob DeGrom become free agents...