Spare yourself the torture and don’t bother to look back at the 2017 Blue Jays, trust me its not worth it. It was a season overwhelmed by injuries, the offense all but dissipated, the key offseason additions were a bust and the roster got yet another year older. When we look towards 2018 its hard to say things will be better unless some changes are made.
I for one have been a big believer in doing not a full reboot but more of a pivot, because its not all bad but it could be much better longer term if 2018 & 2019 were not about winning. That is not always a popular opinion as winning is really the main objective but with baseball there is always a balance of winning today or winning tomorrow. Which can be more often plan to hopefully win tomorrow but we all know how that can some times go. No one wants to see a full 5+ year rebuild, and in a market like Toronto that has found a rebirth with its fan base there is a good amount of sense into not doing a full tear down.
What Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins have lead us to believe is that 2018 is all about winning (well at least until July) and they are left with the task of building a winner from the core group. All the while protecting their farm system, limiting payroll increases and keep the roster flexible for a potential pivot. In all frankness I have no envy for the job in front of them because its no easy task. On one hand you have Josh Donaldson with one season of control left, which is great but also a massive trade chip. So because they are “going for it” they have noted they will only sell Josh should it make them better in 2018. That really translates to the fact that he will not be traded. Now call me crazy but I think there is a high likelihood he will be traded come the July deadline, unless of course they can pull off a big offseason and stay in contention.
The biggest issue in 2017 was their offense which finished 26th in MLB in runs scored, that is the first place to start repairing. Again starting at 3B you have Josh Donaldson which is a great start. Next at 1B you have Justin Smoak, who hit 38 bombs and drove in 90. I am not ready to say Smoak found himself but there should be some optimism that he will be a respectable power threat. Next in line would have to be Kendrys Morales, his 2017 was not all that pretty, while he hit 28 HR and drove in 85 his value stops there. He is a full time DH hitting for a low average, with a low OBP. Except you also don’t really want him or even Smoak on base as their lack of speed makes it near impossible to drive them in.
After that it really thins out on players you can count on and becomes more questions than answers. Russell Martin while not a middle of the order bat will be a 35 year old catcher with some power and on base skills but again slow. Troy Tulowitzki at SS has struggled to stay on the field and if he is healthy its hard to know if he is done or not. Tulo has gone from hall of fame pace to looking like a washed up 32 year old who is a shell of his former glory. I do think the Blue Jays want to give him another full year before they start to consider tough options about his future. Moving over to 2B Devon Travis is a really nice young player who can hit for average, some power and on base skills. He is a great idea of a player if he could actually stay healthy. Beyond that there is no offense of note and while I am a huge fan of Kevin Pillar he really is a defensive specialist who is more of a 7-9 hitter. That right there tells you the Blue Jays need a few more bats of impact to surround Donaldson.
All of this leaves a tough job for Shatkins but here is what they need to do in my not so humble opinion.
OF – With Pillar in CF they need two players who can swing the bat and provide offensive upside without hurting them on defense. If we are looking to the FA market the best candidate would be Lorenzo Cain and of course at 32 he comes with some long term question marks. Don’t even talk to me about Jay Bruce, because that contract is destined to be a disaster for a guy who will hit .240 with a .290 OBP with 25-30 HR, no thanks. If I am going off gut feel I think Joc Pederson is high on their list. The team has preached the desire to find younger players, if you like what Bruce could do, Pederson is younger with the OPB upside and some projection left. Now I don’t like Bruce of course but I go for Pederson as once you move him to RF or LF, his defense looks much better and you have nice bat at a cost effective rate. If you can pull of Cain and Perderson that leaves you with the option of trading Pillar and giving room to the trio of Anthony Alford, Teoscar Hernandez and Dalton Pompey. Pillar I believe could be a chip for an IF or pitching acquisition. As well they really have no need for Pearce or Carrera, take your pick at trade or release.
In the IF they have already acquired Aledmys Diaz while non-tendering Ryan Goins which was a great depth move. With the health issues of Travis and Tulo too often the Blue Jays relied on Goins and Barney to be regulars. While I love the defense Goins has provided going with the offensive upside of Diaz was necessary as you need a player who can play regularly to cover them. It was a savy addition by betting on the upside and all the while gaining 5 years of player control at a cost effective rate. Sadly I fear the Blue Jays are stuck with Morales which means they have Morales, Pearce (he is not a LF) and Smoak at 1B/DH and with the need for the resting the injury risk players they need more access to DH. So something there has to give. The Blue Jays have also been tied to Dee Gordon and in reality if they can acquire him they really should. That would leave them heavy on the IF but in reality they need to be heavy. In all likelihood Tulo and Travis will miss time and they need real backups not 1 dimensional players.
On the pitching side the Blue Jays are well positioned with Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada leading the rotation. The pen lead by Roberto Osuna and followed by a respectable lesser know cast of Ryan Tepera, Dominic Leone, Danny Barnes is a good place to start. They need a reliable Lefty beyond Aaron Loup which should be a priority such as a Tony Watson or another arm in a trade. Ideally you get 2 relievers but start with one. The pen is really the least of their concerns going into 2018 but it still is an area they need protection in.
The final rotation spot is a question for me and I do think it would be in their best interest to sign someone like Alex Cobb or Lance Lynn who has some upside. They likely cant turn the offense into a top 5 run producer which is okay if they can tighten up the pitching. If Sanchez is healthy you have a rotation and pen that stacks up very will with the leagues better staffs. With the questions around Sanchez’s health they should protect their depth by giving themselves a robust starting 5 and repair with the Joe Biagini‘s of the world with injuries which will come.