The Toronto Blue Jays made it to the postseason for the first time since their last World Series victory in 1993. The past 22 seasons have been a struggle but the Blue Jays had managed to finish with a .500 or better record in 10 of those 22 campaigns. The building of what has become a championship caliber offensive team started in the 2012-2013 off season, when the Jays added shortstop Jose Reyes, along with pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle- none of whom are currently part of the ball club. However, after the emergence of late blooming power hitters Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, this was the first sign that the Blue Jays were looking to base their team on offense, a formula that has proven to be a wise one. This past off season, the Blue Jays made a trade that did not involve a lot of though behind it. It, quite frankly, did not need to. The Oakland Athletics dangled All Star third baseman Josh Donaldson as if he could be had. General manager Alex Anthopoulos (who has since left the organization) jumped on the opportunity. In fact, the Blue Jays pulled off one of the biggest heists in years getting Donaldson from the Athletics in exchange for four players, one of whom was removed from their 40 man roster (Sean Nolin) and another was traded away to the White Sox (Brett Lawrie). Having Reyes allowed the Jays to make the deal with the Colorado Rockies for Troy Tulowitzki right before the 2015 trading deadline.
The Blue Jays most recent off season has consisted on the re-inventing of the team's pitching staff. Gone are David Price (18 wins, 5 losses, 2.45 earned run average, 225 strikeouts, just over 220 innings pitched) and Buehrle (15-8, 3.81, just under 199 innings). They will be replaced by one time Blue Jays left hand pitcher JA Happ (11-8, 3.61, 151 Ks, 72 IP) and Jesse Chavez (7-15, 4.18, 136 Ks, 157 IP). They also added reliever Drew Storen (2-2, 3.44, 29 saves, 67 Ks, 55 IP) in an off season deal with the Washington Nationals in exchange for Ben Revere. Also brought in are veteran starters Gavin Floyd and Roberto Hernandez and relievers Pat Venditte and Randy Choate. All the moves were may by new team president Mark Shapiro, who hired Ross Adkins as the team's new general manager after Anthopoulos resigned.
The Blue Jays are blessed with one of the better assembled offenses the game has seen in years. Bautista (.250 batting average, 40 home runs, 114 runs batted in, .913 on base plus slugging) and Encarnacion (.277, 39, 111, .929) were enough on their own. The addition of Donaldson (.297, 41, 123, .939), the 2015 American League Most Valuable Player, and catcher Russell Martin (.240, 23, 77, .787) is a blessing by itself. The emergence of center fielder Kevin Pillar (.278, 12, 56, .713, 25 stolen bases) and first baseman Chris Colabello (.321, 15, 54, .886) made the lineup even more potent. Tulowitzki (.280, 17, 70, .777) is hoping to be healthy enough to be around all season and the Blue Jays get left fielder Michael Saunders (just 31 at bats in 2015, 19 home runs in 2012) after missing most of last year. Toronto will go with a combination of Ryan Goins (.250, 5, 45, .768) and Devon Travis (.304, 8, 35, .859) at second base once Travis has recovered from his November shoulder surgery.
The lineup I would go with is Saunders LF, Donaldson 3B, Bautista RF, Encarnacion DH, Tulowitzki SS, Colabello 1B, Martin C, Pillar CF, Goins/ Travis 2B. Travis, in my opinion, is the better full time option as long as he proves he is healthy. The Jays also have veteran Darwin Barney to provide insurance in the infield and Justin Smoak, Ezequiel Carrera and Junior Lake should all be in the mix with Josh Thole serving as the team's backup catcher. Domonic Brown comes in hoping that a change of scenery will get him back to being the player that hit .272 with 27 home runs in 2013. Casey Kotchman is also looking at another MLB shot.
The Toronto Blue Jays starting rotation will hinge this season on the impact of Marcus Stroman (4-0, 1.67, 4 starts, 27 innings pitched), who missed most of the season due to a torn ACL. However, his unprecedented return last year was a huge boast for the team and he was able to pitch in the playoffs for them. With Price no longer around, Stroman will be counted on to be the team's ace. Marco Estrada (13-8, 3.13, 28 starts, 181 IP) was a great story last season after seemingly hitting a wall in Milwaukee. If he duplicates his 2015, the Jays will be okay. The addition of Happ may be one of the more underrated moves of the entire off season. The adjustments he made under Pittsburgh Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage could have totally resurrected his career. If so, the Jays may have made a great investment even though the 3 year, $36 million contract commitment may seem like a lot for a .500 career pitcher with a slightly above 4.00 career ERA. Veteran RA Dickey (11-11, 3.91, just over 214 IP) is entering his forth season in Toronto and hopefully can gracefully provide insurance as a forth starter. The fifth spot could go to Chavez, but also look at Floyd, Drew Hutchinson (13-5, 5.57, 150 IP), Hernandez or Aaron Sanchez (7-6, 3.22, 41 games, 11 starts). I still believe in Sanchez and would like to see him get a full season as a starting pitcher.
Sanchez and Chavez may be vulnerable to the fact that they have succeeded in a relief role. With essentially one starting spot available in the rotation, unfortunately, both may not be given the attention they deserve. Storen will serve as the closer with incumbent closer Roberto Osuna (1-6, 2.48, 20 saves, 75 Ks, just under 70 innings pitched) serving as the eight inning guy. Left handers Brett Cecil (5-5, 2.48, 70 Ks, just over 54 IP), Aaron Loup (2-5, 4.46, 46 Ks, just over 42 innings), Choate, and the switch pitcher Venditte will round out what could be a deep bullpen. The Jays will have to decide if they are better with Sanchez as a late game reliever or their rotation is deeper with him as part of it.
A couple sons of former major leaguers highlight the Blue Jays top minor league players. Dwight Smith Jr could debut this season but may be better off spending one more season in the minors. Vladimir Guerrero Jr was signed this past off season, but just turned 17. Even if he is as good as his father, I cannot imagine him being close to major league ready for at least three more full MLB seasons. The Blue Jays also signed right hander Yennsy Diaz, a solid young arm that will also be a ways away from the big leagues.
The Blue Jays have a chance to be the best team in the American League if they get some solid pitching. Happ and Sanchez have a chance to be great, if Happ continues in his progression from last season and Sanchez first gets a chance to be a starting pitcher all season and second pitches as well as I think he can. That will change my overall outlook on this team. In all reality, I see the Blue Jays scoring more runs than they did last season, but giving up way more runs than they give in 2015. Stroman will be great, but I cannot expect Estrada to repeat his improbable campaign of a year ago. The American League East teams will feast off the Toronto pitchers and there are few examples of teams that are all offense that get to the postseason, let alone advance in the postseason. Las Vegas has the Blue Jays at 87 and I take the under, with a record of 84-78, second place in the American League East. However, the fact that they are ranking at 11 means they are the non-playoff team that is closest to being a playoff team. I think the Jays are that close and if they can be in the race come July, look for them to make a similar acquisition to what they did last season when they added Price.