After a 2017 season that was derailed by injuries, the Blue Jays spent their efforts on improving their depth, a very understandable reaction.
Additions: Aledmys Diaz, Yangervis Solarte, Jaime Garcia, Randal Grichuk, Curtis Granderson, Seung Hwan Oh, Gift Ngoepe, Rhiner Cruz, Al Alburquerque, John Axford, Jake Petricka, Craig Breslow, Matt Tracy, Tyler Clippard, Danny Espinosa.
Subtractions: Ryan Goins, Darwin Barney, Jose Bautista, Rafael Lopez, Rob Refsnyder, Michael Saunders, Mike Ohlman.
How it will all shake out:
Catcher: Last year Russell Martin started less than half the games at the position. Unfortunately for the Jays, the catchers who filled in for him were terrible. Martin has to play more. If he doesn’t, they need better than Luke Maile. Danny Jansen is their top catching prospect, if Martin were to miss significant time, he might get the call.
Infield: Justin Smoak and Josh Donaldson hold down the corner spots. The Jays have to hope that the 2017 Smoak is the one that we see this year, and not the Smoak from, well, every season before that. Donaldson missed almost a third of the 2017 season with injury, if the Jays are going to contend, he can’t miss so much time.
Devon Travis and Troy Tulowitzki are set to fill the middle of the infield, but then that was the plan last year, and both missed most of the season. Tulo is already expected to miss at least the first month of the season. Travis, though he looks healthy early this spring, has missed significant time in each of his three seasons with the Jays, so you can pardon Jays fans for having doubt in his ability to stay injury free.
Last year, Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney ended up taking most of the playing time in the middle infield positions. They had OPS+ numbers of 68 and 57 respectively, so you can understand why management wanted to improve their depth at the positions. Aledmys Diaz and Yangervis Solarte might not be all-stars, but they should be an improvement over last year. It looks like Danny Espinosa will get the 25th spot on the roster, and be a defensive replacement at short.
Outfield: Jose Bautista has been patrolling right field for so long, it’s hard to remember anyone else playing there. It is going to be strange seeing someone else out there. Randal Grichuk might not be able hit 40 plus home runs like Bautista once could, but his defense will be much better. And he does have offensive potential, as he hit .276/.329/.548 in his first full season with the Cardinals. His numbers have dropped a bit since then, but he’s just 26 and should be coming into his prime.
To his right will be defensive human highlight reel Kevin Pillar. In left, we’ll have a platoon of Curtis Granderson and Steve Pearce. Granderson plays a less irritating brand of defense than recently outrighted Ezequiel Carrera, with a lower BA, more power and a better ability to take a walk.
DH: Last year’s big free agent signing, Kendrys Morales. Kendrys was, inexplicably, signed to a 3-year contract. He’s come into this spring’s camp slimmed down some from last year. We can hope he cuts down on the double plays and, maybe, improve on the .250/.308/.445 line of last year.
The starting rotation looks to be Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, Marco Estrada and Jaime Garcia. The wild card in the group is Aaron Sanchez. Sanchez led the AL in ERA in 2016. Last year, he missed most of the season with blister problems. If he can stay healthy, the top of the rotation looks much better.
The team has tried to improve the starting depth, compared to last year, when 14 different pitchers made at least one start for the Jays. This year Joe Biagini, Thomas Pannone, Taylor Guerrieri, Deck McGuire, Ryan Borucki and Sean Reid-Foley should all be at the top of the minor league system, competing to be called up if there is an injury.
Bullpen: Hold overs Roberto Osuna, Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes and Aaron Loup will be joined by free agent signing Seung Hwan Oh. To fill out the rest of the pen, the Jays may choose 1 of a group of lefties Matt Dermody, Tim Mayza and non-roster invites Craig Breslow and Chad Girodo. And two of right-handers Carlos Ramirez (though it looks like he’ll start the season on the DL), Joe Biagini and non-roster invites Tyler Clippard, Al Alburquerque, John Axford and Justin Shafer. Right now I’m guessing Clippard and Axford well get the two last spots.
The Jays are hoping that better luck with injuries, improved depth and addition of outfielders Curtis Granderson and Randal Grichuk, will bump up a AL worst total of 693 runs. They almost couldn’t be worse offensively.
On the other side of the ball, outfield defense should be better with the changes in right and left field. And, with improved depth and if Aaron Sanchez can avoid the blister problems, they should be some better on the run prevention side.
The Jays are not carrying all that much in guaranteed contracts in the future.
The Jays have the following contracts:
Russell Martin: $20 million.
Troy Tulowitzki: $20 million.
Kendrys Morales: $12 million.
Jaime Garcia: $10 million (team option with a $2 million buyout).
Justin Smoak: $6 million (team option with a $250,000 buyout).
Yangervis Solarte: $5.5 million (team option with $750,000 buyout).
Lourdes Gurriel: $1.929 million.
In total just short of $75.5 million, and only $57 million guaranteed.
There will be a few arbitration eligible players:
Year one: Joe Biagini, Ryan Tepera.
Year two: Randal Grichuk, Roberto Osuna, Kevin Pillar, Aaron Sanchez and Devon Travis.
Year three: Marcus Stroman.
We are down to three contracts:
Troy Tulowitzki: $14 million.
Yangervis Solarte: $8 million (team option, $750,000 buy out).
Lourdes Gurriel: $2.929 million.
So that’s just $24.929 million.
Arbitration eligible players:
Year 1: Danny Barnes, Aledmys Diaz, Luke Maile, Dalton Pompey.
Year 2: Joe Biagini, Ryan Tepera,
Year 3: Randal Grichuk, Roberto Osuna, Kevin Pillar, Aaron Sanchez, Devon Travis
Year 4: Marcus Stroman.
The Jays have a fair bit of financial flexibility. Of course, that could change if they extend Josh Donaldson. And, at some point, Marcus Stroman is going to need a long term contract.
Much of the ‘health’ of the franchise is dependent on their minor league prospects. The Jays have done a nice job of building up the minor league system. MLB.com lists the Jays as having the 9th best system in the MLB. Much of that is on the strength of our top 2 prospects Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette. Vlad and Bo could make an impact sometime in 2019, but more likely 2020.
It isn’t like that’s where the talent ends either. Anthony Alford, Logan Warmoth and Danny Jansen are very good looking prospects. On the pitching side Nate Pearson, Ryan Borucki, T.J.Zeuch, Eric Pardinho and Sean Reid-Foley.
For a closer look at the Blue Jays prospects, check out our Bluebird Banter Top 40 Prospect list starting here.
If this is a health check, the patient looks healthy. This year’s team looks better than last year’s team. The Blue Jays look like a team who could compete for the playoffs. Looking to the future, they aren’t carrying a lot of contracts; they have financial flexibility. They have a good number of young players who could be the nucleus of a contending team. Added in, they have several very good prospects, some who could be middle of the order impact bats, like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, and there’s more where they came from.
The Blue Jays problem is that they are in the AL East, and the Red Sox and Yankees are the 600 pound gorillas in their way. In the near term, Toronto faces an uphill battle against those teams, but there is reason to hope in the future.