Monday, March 27, 2017

2017 Pre-Season Profile: Toronto Blue Jays


The Toronto Blue Jays came just short of the World Series in 2016.  What do their prospects look like for the 2017 season?  Will they get over the hump, or fall back to the pack?

2016 Predictions
1st in AL East, lose in World Series
This will be the last year the Blue Jays make the playoffs for a decade.

2016 Results
89-73, 2nd in AL East, WILD CARD, lost in ALCS
I was all in on the Blue Jays in 2016.  I had them coming up short in the World Series.  It turns out their playoff run came up a little short of that thanks to an insanely hot Cleveland Indians team.  If nothing else, the Blue Jays showed they know how to compete.  As for my Fearless Prediction, only time will tell.

Additions / Subtractions
My look ahead in my Fearless Prediction was based on how this offseason was going to go for the Blue Jays.  It had the potential to be catastrophic.  Although it didn't hit the depths it could have, it still was pretty bad.  They watched All Stars Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Saunders walk away.  They re-signed aging slugger Jose Bautista for a discount only when it became apparent that no one else wanted him.  After losing these key pieces, the only player brought in was DH Kendrys Morales, quite the downgrade over Encarnacion.

Most Important Hitter
Troy Tulowitzki
This is the same player I highlighted in this position last year, but it is even more true this year than last year.  There was a time when Tulo was one of the best players in baseball.  The only question was if he could stay healthy.  Ever since he moved to Toronto from Denver, his production has fallen apart.  At his best, Tulowitzki was almost a 7 win player when you look at WAR.  In 2016, he was just over a 3 win player.  That's not terrible, but it's not superstar level either.  With the loss of Encarnacion and Saunders and the deterioration of Joey Bats, the Blue Jays need Tulo to be the superstar again.  It would also help if he could play over 140 games, a feat he has only accomplished 3 times in his 10 year career.

Most Important Pitcher
Aaron Sanchez
The Blue Jays had outstanding performances from some of their starters last season, most notably JA Happ and Marco Estrada.  However, the real spark was Aaron Sanchez.  The 23 year old had 15 wins and almost 200 innings.  He would have surpassed that threshold if the team let him, but they decided to shut him down late in the year to control his workload.  However, a pitcher rarely sees his inning count go up by 100 in one year without any ill effects.  With the offense possibly taking a step back this year, the pitching needs to step up and as good if not better than 2016.  Their ability to do this starts and ends with Sanchez, his health, and his ability to duplicate his dominance from a year ago.

Player to Watch
Rowdy Tellez
The Blue Jays are a few years away from their top prospects making an impact on the big league roster (however we all look forward to the debut of Vlad Guerrero Jr.).  One player who might have a chance to make an impact this season is first baseman Rowdy Tellez.  The incumbent in Toronto is Justin Smoak, who all Mariner fans know is the definition of a bust (he has a career WAR of 1.5 ... he has "boasted" a negative WAR in more seasons than a positive WAR).  Tellez, listed at 6'4" and 220 pounds, has the potential to be a serious power threat at the next level.  Look for the Blue Jays to give up on Smoak at some point this season and give Tellez a shot.

2017 Prediction
5th in AL East
This might be a little dramatic, but I could easily see it happen.  The Blue Jays are coming crashing back down to Earth this season.  Everyone else in this division is trending up.  Instead, the Blue Jays have done nothing to improve themselves while getting a year older in the process.  The pitching staff won't repeat their performance from last year (although Marcus Stroman could have a breakout season), and the offense looks a lot like the Angels now, which is one of the weakest offenses in the game.  They both have one superstar (Josh Donaldson), an aging slugger who is a shell of his former self (Jose Bautista), and a roster that otherwise sports more busts than bombs.  I'm holding to my prediction from last season.  Count this as year 1 of 10 upcoming years of futility north of the border.

Fearless Prediction
No Blue Jays starting pitcher will start more than 30 games.
One of the reasons I see the Blue Jays falling apart this year is their pitching staff.  They all had amazing seasons last year, but so many times seasons like that are followed by injuries.  JA Happ, Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, and Francisco Liriano all could spend significant time on the DL.  Marcus Stroman is a stud, but I could easily see his workload in the World Baseball Classic catching up with him.  Look for the Blue Jays to be scrambling for starting pitching by mid-season.

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