After back-to-back ALDS appearances, 2017 saw the Blue Jays drop under .500 for the first time since 2013 (4th in AL East; .469, 76-86). Looking forward, the worry is the Jays go into 2018 with a familiar looking roster and a Front Office reading from a Football Manager’s script – ‘player x being fit is like a new signing’. Canada’s Team are stuck between a rock and a hard place; with three players set to earn more than $20 million next year, they aren’t in any place to strip it down and start a re-build.
Taking into account estimated arbitration salaries, the Jays are projected as having $142.7 million committed to 21 players for 2018, leaving four free roster spots for Opening Day. These projections leave the Jays a touch over $35 million to spend on players if they are to match their 2017 Opening Day payroll come late March. Putting this all together, and with few players ready to step up from the farm, the Jays need to spend that $35 million and keep up their run at ‘win-now’ to bring a World Series to the Six.
We’ve picked 7 things Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins need to do this Winter to make the Blue Jays legitimate contenders;
1 – Extend Josh Donaldson. Want to keep nearly 4 million fans coming through the door each season? Forget using him as a trade piece to build the farm, if the FO want to compete, they need to give JD an offer he can’t refuse. Having lost Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista in back-to-back off-seasons, it would be an unwanted hat-trick if Donaldson was to leave as a FA after 2018.
2 – Find another arm for the rotation. Whether it be one of the elite level arms on the Free Agent market or a back-end guy, the Jays need arms. Hopefully the blister issue that limited Aaron Sanchez to just 8 starts disappears and the 2010 1st round draft pick can get back to his All-Star best. I’m less than convinced by Joe Biagini as a starting pitcher – 13 losses and an ERA of 5.34 in 2017 – and wouldn’t mind seeing him return to the ‘pen to be replaced by an elite left-arm pitcher to work alongside J.A. Happ; how does Jaime Garcia at 2/$15MM sound?
3 – Get a lead-off man. It’s all very well having big bats in the middle order, but the Jays problem in recent years has been that these bats don’t have men on-base to drive in. John Gibbons has tried a number of players in the lead-off role the last couple of years, with Kevin Pillar, Bautista, Ezequiel Carrera, Steve Pearce and Teoscar Hernandez all having turns at lead-off. As part of the Front Office’s plan to make the team ‘faster’, a lead-off man with a high OBP, or even a high OPS, is a must. Two options that may fit – and naturally spending money comes into this – but why not help the Miami Marlins cut their wage bill and bring .308/.341/.375 man Dee Gordon to Canada? 60 stolen bases in 2017 and a WAR of 3.1, there are worse moves the Front Office could make. There bolder statement the FO could make is bringing free agent Carlos Santana north.
4 – Keep Smoaking. Heading into the 2017 season, Justin Smoak’s place on the roster was being questioned, let alone a spot in the line-up. A few months later and that 2/$8.5MM contract looks good business; one All-Star Game appearance, 38 homers and a slashline of .270/.355/.529, Smoak led the Jays in all major batting stats through 2017. Smoak certainly came to the Major League party in 2017 and if the Blue Jays are to reach the October party in 2018, he needs to match those stats in 2018.
5 – Infield Utility. With an expensive, normally injured, middle infield on the books, the Blue Jays could do with some help for Devon Travis and Troy Tulowitzki who combined for less than 500 Abs in 2017 meaning Ryan Goins got more game time that expected (GoGo had a negative WAR in 2017). If the front office could somehow trade Tulo to get that back loaded contract off the books, the Jays would have some money to play with to attract some healthy middle-infielders for 2018. With cash freed up, the Jays could make a play at FA Zack Cozart, though a more realistic FA infield-utility target would be Eduardo Nunez on a 1 or 2-year deal. Having made a case for Dee Gordon to leadoff in 2018, and keeping DevTrav fit, that would leave the Jays with a quicker middle-infield and not put too much pressure on Richard Urena to breakout whilst also being able to give recently-traded-for Gift Ngoepe some ABs. Dream World? Maybe.
6 – Solve the DH. Losing big bats like Encarnacion and Bautista leaves a hole, and the Jays will need Kendrys Morales to deliver more than he did in 2017. A negative WAR in 2017, Fangraphs project Morales to be an above average bat in 2018. The dream pick-up is Santana and possibly move Morales on, though it is more likely that Kendrys will still be a Jay on Opening Day and therefore it’s fingers crossed his hitting versus RHP picks up. With Morales as DH, if he has 12-15 rest days, that may be enough DH ABs to share amongst the others that need ‘active rest days’.
7 – Deep Right Field. Having watched Joey Bats walk out the doors at Rogers Centre for the last time as a Blue Jay, attention quickly turns to replacing him. The Jays need to find a player who can offer what Jose did with the bat (.205/.312/.685) and more with the glove (Bautista had a dWAR of -1.4 in 2017). That means the Jays will need someone who can work alongside Pearce and Pillar in the deep – by spend or by trade. The leading OF option on the FA market is Lorenzo Cain (.300/.363/.440 in 584) who won’t come cheap (estimated at 4/$70MM). Primarily a CF – he has played RF in the past – if the Jays were to make a move on Cain, Pillar would likely be moved to the RF corner and Cain play CF. A move for Cain to keep Carrera as back-up and Hernandez on the 40-man roster would be a positive winter for the Blue Jays OF.
Hold tight, James Dawne.
East Atlantic Look Toronto Blue Jays Opening Day 25-Man Roster ready to WIN-NOW;
R. Osuna (CL)
*Denotes traded for or signed via Free Agency.