Complete Offseason Guide, Predictions for the Toronto Blue Jays
For the second year in a row, the Toronto Blue Jays made it to the American League Championship Series. And for the second year in a row, the Blue Jays came up short, this time losing to the Cleveland Indians in five games.
With a number of players eligible for free agency, most notably Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, what the team's roster will look like in 2017 isn't clear.
What is clear, however, is that John Gibbons will be back as manager, a job he's now held for a decade. Team president Mark Shapiro told Sportsnet's Shi Davidi after the team's Game 5 loss:
There’s a level of consistency with him in approach that is unflappable and I think that translates into toughness. …
There’s no panic. He believes in the talent, he believes in his players, he believes in the process and he believes in all the work that’s been done to date. That gives us confidence, that gives the players confidence and the belief to hold true to the bigger picture. That’s a separator.
What follows is an overview of some of the other decisions the team will have to make—and some of the players it may look to—as the Jays try and get over the hump in 2017 and reach the World Series for the first time in more than 20 years.
Toronto has had an Opening Day payroll around the $135 million mark in two of the last three seasons. But with just over $107 million committed to eight players heading into 2017, it seems likely that the Blue Jays will crack the $140 million mark for the first time in team history.
|Player||Pos||2016 Salary||2017 Salary|
|Melvin Upton Jr.||OF||$16,050,000||$5,000,000*|
Josh Donaldson, Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ are relative bargains for the Jays given their levels of production, while both Justin Smoak and Melvin Upton Jr. are relatively inexpensive part-time players to have around.
Of course, given the potential free-agent exodus in Toronto, they might wind up being more than parts of a platoon in 2017.
*The San Diego Padres are picking up $12.05 million of Upton's $17.05 million salary in 2017, leaving Toronto on the hook for only $5 million.
The good news in Toronto is that the team's list of arbitration-eligible players doesn't include a crucially vital player, with one notable exception. And that notable exception is still going to be a relative bargain after he agrees to a new deal.
But Marcus Stroman won't be quite as big a bargain as he's been up to this point in his career.
In the table below, projected salaries are loosely based on what the players listed for comparison received, either as a one-year deal or through the arbitration process, at similar points in their careers. You can find the exact figures for those players by clicking on the links included.
|Player||Pos||2016 Salary||Proj. 2017 Salary||Player Comp.|
|Darwin Barney||IF||$1,050,000||$1,750,000||Maicer Izturis|
|Aaron Loup||RP||$1,050,000||Designated for Assignment||N/A|
|Ezequiel Carrera||OF||$521,800||$1,500,000||Jarrod Dyson|
|Chris Colabello||1B/OF||$521,300||Non-tender candidate||N/A|
|Marcus Stroman||SP||$515,900||$4,500,000||Chris Tillman|
Stroman wasn't great in 2016, pitching to a 4.37 regular-season ERA and 4.77 postseason mark, but the 25-year-old still oozes potential and has all the tools to develop into the front-of-the-rotation starter many believe him capable of becoming.
There are no delusions of grandeur when it comes to Darwin Barney or Ezequiel Carrera, but the pair proved themselves to be vital reserves for Toronto in 2016. Neither one is going to be prohibitively expensive for the Jays to keep around.
Players with Options and Toronto's Free Agents
Really, we could have titled this slide "Joey Bats or Double-E?" The Blue Jays don't figure to keep both Bautista and Encarnacion, the team's two biggest potential free-agent defectors.
|Jason Grilli||RP||$3,250,000||$3M team option, $250,000 buyout|
Back in June, Jon Heyman of Today's Knuckleball reported that both Bautista and Encarnacion saw Boston as a potential landing spot this winter. With David Ortiz's retirement, it's not hard to envision one of them stepping in to fill the void left by Big Papi's departure.
That's not going to make it any easier for Toronto to re-sign either one, as both figure to use interest from the Red Sox—whether it's real or merely perceived—as leverage in negotiations.
While keeping Encarnacion figures to be the team's main objective, seeing as how he's younger (33) and more productive than Bautista (36) at this point in their careers, he's also going to command a far bigger deal in terms of both cost and length.
As such, Bautista's odds of sticking in Toronto go up. A beloved fan favorite, Joey Bats is more valuable to the Jays than he would be another club, much in the way Derek Jeter was to the New York Yankees or, say, Dustin Pedroia is to the Boston Red Sox.
Bautista will ink a three-year pact (with a mutual option for a fourth year) to stay with the Jays, while Encarnacion will take his talents elsewhere.
Potential Free-Agent and Trade Targets
Adding a slugger to replace Encarnacion's power in the middle of the lineup would make sense, but doing so would be expensive, with Yoenis Cespedes and Mark Trumbo both expected to garner significant offers as the top power bats on the free-agent market (besides Encarnacion).
Instead, according to Davidi, "Focal points this winter are likely to be on adding athletic, speedy left-handed hitters to the lineup, beefing up the bullpen and adding depth to an exceptionally strong starting rotation."
The latter two can surely be filled through free agency.
Doug Fister, Colby Lewis and Jake Peavy could all be of interest to the Jays as affordable back-of-the-rotation options, while there's no shortage of experienced relievers the team could target to help bridge the gap from the rotation to closer Roberto Osuna in the ninth inning.
As for the left-handed bat the team sorely needs, the Jays would likely have to swing a trade for it to be a substantial addition. Two names stick out from the crowd in that regard, but a third, while he lacks speed, might be the best of the bunch.
- Charlie Blackmon, CF, Colorado Rockies: The 30-year-old has averaged 22 home runs, 29 stolen bases and an .834 OPS since 2014 and is under team control through 2018. But the Blue Jays may have some concern over his drastic home-and-away splits, and it's unclear whether the Rockies will seriously consider trading him.
- Adam Eaton, OF, Chicago White Sox: Capable of playing all three outfield positions, Eaton isn't quite the run producer or speedster that Blackmon is, having averaged 10 home runs and 16 stolen bases over the past three years. But the 27-year-old is younger, on a team-friendly deal that runs through 2021 and, perhaps, more attainable, with USA Today's Bob Nightengale suggesting that he could be available back in July.
- Joey Votto, 1B, Cincinnati Reds: Votto isn't the speedy, athletic left-handed bat the Blue Jays need, but rumors of a potential deal to bring the Canadian native back home refuse to go away. Earlier this month, Heyman reported that while there are no ongoing talks, Toronto has made it clear to Cincinnati that it would have interest if the Reds decide to move the veteran first baseman—or if Votto is willing to waive his no-trade protection to join a contending club like the Blue Jays.
Of course, there's no telling whether the Blue Jays have the pieces that Colorado and/or Chicago would want in exchange for either outfielder—or if the team would be willing to continue dipping into its farm system to bolster the big league squad.
Additionally, Cincinnati would surely have to pick up most of the money left on Votto's contract to facilitate a deal. While that seems unlikely, you can never completely rule it out.
Unless otherwise noted/linked, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, and all payroll and salary information courtesy of Cot's Contracts (via Baseball Prospectus). All player comparisons link to Baseball Prospectus.
Hit me up on Twitter: @RickWeinerBR to talk Blue Jays' offseason plans or anything baseball-related.