Blue Jays 2017: Offseason Musings and Preview

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If you’re reading this, be warned: this is my first ever blog post. Apparently, I’m an expert on all things Toronto sports. But I mean, what do you expect from a gal who grew up just up the 401 from the 6? A lot, I know, so I’ll try my best. O Canada, here we go.

As a lifelong (and I do mean that) Jays fan, I can guarantee the fan base is growing impatient for another World Series title. ’92 and ’93 are distant memories-not that distant because I can still remember them- and two straight seasons of ALCS and done is, quite frankly, tiresome. We need to get over that speed bump and what better time than the present?

Let’s be honest, it was a quiet off-season north of the border. We signed a few pitchers to bolster the ‘pen (always a weak spot) and acquired Kendrys Morales as a replacement for Edwin Encarnacion, who leapt at a 6-year deal with the Tribe down in that sports mecca of Cleveland. If you believe Encarnacion, the Jays didn’t try hard enough at the bargaining table and he really did want to stay(!) The Jays were caught between a rock and a hard place, or their two standout sluggers if you prefer. Re-sign Jose Bautista or re-sign Encarnacion. Every fan knew at the end of the season that we wouldn’t be seeing both of them back in blue come spring training and only the most naïve of Jays faithful would have believed otherwise. I reconciled with this fact later than I like to admit. It was Christmas if you must know. Frankly, the odds-on bet in September was that neither one would be returning and so after another playoff loss (at the hands of the Indians, no less) Jays fans across the land held their collective breaths for news of the boys’ fate.

When the dust of Winter Meetings cleared, Joey Bats was back in Toronto on a 1-year deal, with options, for less money, having failed to garner any other contract offers and Edwin was gone. So too was R.A. Dickey who signed on with the Braves.

For some reason, spring training always makes me excited: it means baseball season is just around the corner. 162 games worth of jumping around the AL East standings. It wasn’t too long ago that we were perennially lodged in 3rd place behind the Yankees and Red Sox, but the resurgence of recent seasons has done wonders for a flagging fan base grown weary of mediocrity and poor management. So, spring training 2017 edition began. Pitchers and catchers reported along with the Bringer of Rain himself, Josh Donaldson himself. But with the good, came the bad. Devon Travis still out with injury and a couple of games into spring, Donaldson goes down with an injury. The Jays had mixed results in the Grapefruit League and lost split-squad games we had no business losing. Then lo and behold, the World Baseball Classic happened. Dalton Pompey went on duty for Team Canada, Marcus Stroman got the nod for eventual champs Team USA and Joey Bats went to bat for the Dominican Republic.

If anyone caught any of the WBC this year then you’ll have seen Bautista’s towering homer against Canada and Stroman bringing the heat and a near no-hitter against Puerto Rico in the final. Stroman added to his winner’s medal bringing home MVP honours.

So musings over. On to business. The way I see it, most baseball teams can be subdivided into 4 areas: offense, defense, starting rotation and bullpen. I’ll accept arguments for coaching and management as well.

First up, the starting rotation. 4 of the starting 5 return from last season: Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ, Aaron Sanchez and Marco Estrada. Late season acquisition Francisco Liriano has, as of writing, been named to the rotation. Estrada and Sanchez were pretty much lights-out last season and gave the Jays a chance every game they toed the rubber regardless of the whether the bats came out to play. Happ was efficient in his starts whilst Stroman was a mix of stellar and sub-par over the course of the season. His staff ace tag looked to be usurped by Estrada and Sanchez every time he got lit up. That seems to have come to fruition, as John Gibbons announced earlier this week that Estrada would be getting the ball on Opening Day. Happ, Stroman, Liriano and Sanchez are pitchers 2 thru 5 this season. Arguably, Sanchez had the better spring, given Stroman and Estrada’s WBC commitments over the last several weeks, so I question this decision, but ultimately, trust that Gibby knows what he’s doing. If these guys can be as lights-out as they were last season, then another division title and October baseball could be on the horizon.

If the Jays could be said to have a weakness it would be the ‘pen. Historically, that’s always been the case- at least it has for most of my lifetime. Aside from 4 returnees (Roberto Osuna, Jason Grilli, Aaron Loup and Joe Biagini), the pen is full of new faces including former Giant Mat Latos, whom the Jays signed to a minor league contract and has officially been named to the 25-man squad. Hopefully, the arm issues he has suffered from in the past have been resolved and he can bring some stability to the pen this season. Time will tell how effective the 2017 edition will be, but if there’s one consolation it’s that Osuna will be closing games and given how good he was last year, that’s a great thing, especially if the rotation and the bats don’t come out on fire.

Let’s talk about the offense because it is the cornerstone of the Jays identity. As mentioned, Encarnacion is gone, replaced by Morales. But everyone else is back. Tory Tulowitzki will be hoping for a better year at the plate than last year and with Bautista and Donaldson returning expect the balls to be flying out of the Rogers Centre. The rest of the lineup is no slouch either: Russell Martin, Kevin Pillar and returning trade acquisition Melvin Upton are also perfectly capable of taking advantage of the opposition. Devon Travis, now back from injury, Ezequiel Carrera, Ryan Goins, Darwin Barney and Justin Smoak will all fit into the lineup somewhere. I guess the only question that us fans have right now is: how many runs will they score this year? They led the majors in runs scored last season and every time they go out there is the potential for a blowout win, thanks in large part to their affinity for the long ball. But this team also plays small ball and let’s not forget how many games they won last season courtesy of the walk off (ALDS anyone?)

Finally, the D. Now I could turn this into a long diatribe about how Kevin Pillar aka Superman has been robbed of a Gold Glove TWICE. But I won’t. Instead, I’ll point out that Pillar is consistent in patrolling centre and more often than not comes up with a big catch when the team needs it. Bautista and his cannon of an arm should never be underestimated and the platoon of Carrera, Upton and Dalton Pompey is solid; any one of those guys can fill the void in the event of injury or the occasional day off. But the Jays strength is the infield. The Donaldson-Tulowitzki-Goins-Smoak combo worked last season, but it appears that Goins will be the platoon man and Travis will be the starting second baseman. As for the catching, Russell Martin will be our No. 1 and backing him up, offseason acquisition Jarrod Saltalamacchia (give me a while to learn how to spell that). Seems pretty solid to me. Add in John Gibbons recent contract extension and things look promising.

Conclusion, then. Expectations: high Patience: wearing thin, or maybe that’s just me. Results: TBD. All I know is a World Series is long overdue. 2017 could be the year in the 6……..and with that: Play Ball! #LetsRise

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