Source: The Canadian Press/Frank Gunn
Heading into this season the Toronto Blue Jays looked like a team that could contend for a playoff spot if certain things went right. Things like staying healthy, having their starting rotation give them a chance to win every night and improve an offence that was dead last in the American League a year ago. So far, they are 43-52 at the break and not a lot has gone right. This team needs to continue to get younger in order to get better, which means they will be "sellers" at the July 31st trade deadline, and for the 1st time in a few years the Jays are out of contention at the All-Star break and have been since the end of May.
WHAT HAS GONE WRONG?
A. 1-2 PUNCH NOT ONLY IN THE AL EAST, BUT IN THE AL WEST AS WELL THUS KILLING WILD-CARD HOPES.
A year ago, the Blue Jays had around the same won-loss record they have now. Difference is, they were only roughly 5 games out as compared to around 15 now. Reason for this is that last year nobody grabbed the Wild-Card spots and ran away with them until late September. Not the case this year, as not only do AL East rivals Boston and New York have the best 2 records in all of baseball, the defending World Series champion Houston Astros along with the surprising Seattle Mariners in the AL West are both 20+ games above .500, thus the 1-2 punch in both divisions are taking up both Wild Card spots. As for the weak AL Central, the Cleveland Indians could be 8-10 games better or worse than they are now and are still going to end as division winners and the #3 seed in the American League, as this unfortunately is not a playoff spot the Blue Jays can go after. But make no mistake about the fact that if you are 5-10 games under .500 like the Jays have been all year, you don't deserve nor have any business making the playoffs.
B. STARTING ROTATION: FALL FROM GRACE
This was supposed to be the biggest strength of the team and what gave most hope heading into this season. Instead it has been the reverse and that is an understatement, as it has been somewhat of a colossal disaster. Ace Marcus Stroman gets injured with shoulder fatigue in spring training, insists on pitching when the season starts, clearly was not right and started the 1st 5 weeks with an 0-5 record and an ERA over 7. After going on the DL which he should have done at the beginning of the season in the first place, he now looks right and back to his normal self. But it's too late. Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada and Jaime Garcia have all been inconsistent when healthy and have nowhere near the numbers they have had in the past. Only opening day starter J.A. Happ has had any consistency as he will be their biggest trade chip at the deadline given his expiring contract status. This was the area of the team I was least worried about heading into this season; this is now the area of the team I worry about the most heading into 2019 and beyond with only Stroman and Sanchez under team control next year. Call-ups Sam Gaviglio and Ryan Borucki have looked good in spurts but it's too early to say if either one of them is ready to stay long-term.
C. INJURIES, INJURIES AND MORE INJURIES (AGAIN)
I have already mentioned Stroman (not to mention Sanchez, Estrada and Garcia each missing time as well), but the same exact thing went on with starting 3B Josh Donaldson; didn't look right with his calf injury when the season started, went on the DL then came back and shouldn't have started the year on the team in the 1st place. Then he went back on the DL again and has been getting set back for several weeks now. He of course was supposed to be the team's biggest trade chip and that is starting to look more and more unlikely. Starting SS Troy Tulowitzki has still not come back from surgery for the bone spurs in his right heel and you may not see him at all this season. OF/1B Steve Pearce was on the DL most of the year as usual, and has since been shipped off the Boston Red Sox a week after he came back. Closer Roberto Osuna has had to serve a 75-game suspension for a domestic violence case since early May and is eligible to come back on August 5th. Set-up men Ryan Tepera and Danny Barnes have also seen time on the DL recently, so it is incredible to believe that the bullpen has been very strong throughout the season despite these challenges largely due to the pickups of Jonathan Axford, Tyler Clippard and Seung Hwan-Oh, who have given the team all they could have asked for and more, all being former closers to boot.
D. THE HIGHEST PAID PLAYERS ON THE TEAM NOT PRODUCING LIKE IT
Between Donaldson ($23M), Tulowitzki ($20M) and C Russell Martin ($20M), these 3 players account for $63 Million of the $163 Million on the team's payroll. Even when all have been healthy the 3 of them have combined for under 15 Home Runs and under 40 RBI, which is less than what 1 of them should have had by now alone. Add in sub-par numbers of Kendrys Morales starting slow ($11M) and the 4-7 record of Marco Estrada ($13M), along with Jaime Garcia ($8M) going 2-6 and it leaves you shaking your head. One thing we can say is that although the team is not hand-cuffed with albatross long-term contracts like we have seen happen with other teams in the past, this 2018 season - you are not getting what your paying for. Not even close.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
Happ is the only player on the team ($13M) making any kind of significant money that is living up to expectations. There are too many players either having injury-plagued or off years, or both. Some things have to change, which could mean getting worse before getting better, particularly with the starting pitching. The position players look fine with a bright future - you have 3B Yangervis Solarte leading the team in HR's and RBI's, and right behind him is LF Teoscar Hernandez both of whom weren't even supposed to be in the starting lineup at the start of the season. The outfield of Hernandez, Kevin Pillar and Randal Grichuk with Anthony Alford and Dwight Smith Jr. waiting in the wings looks very promising for years to come. In the infield, between Solarte, SS Aledmys Diaz, 2B Devon Travis and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. along with young Catchers Luke Maile, Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire this team won't take long to re-tool or re-load into a contender again. They just have to do a re-boot right now, and that does not mean completely pulling it apart and re-build. And we haven't even mentioned the prospects the team has not seen on the big club yet, with young sluggers Vladimir Guerrero Jr, SS Bo Bichette and 2B Cavan Biggio on their way up soon too. The future looks bright, so long as they can get a couple of quality starting pitchers to come up as well as we wait for the remaining contracts to expire (with some of those players to be traded as rentals) over the next calendar year or so.