2019 Toronto Blue Jays Season Preview
Source: Christian Petersen/Getty Images
After finishing outside of the postseason for the 2nd year in a row, General Manager Ross Atkins, backed by president and long-time MLB executive Mark Shapiro, have put the wheels in motion to start a rebuilding program that will see the club get younger under a new manager while they wait for the final few big contracts from veteran players to expire and press the reset button to build a team to contend on a yearly basis for much of the 2020's decade. At least that is the plan anyway, as they will try and improve on a season that saw them go 73-89 with a 4th place finish in the American League East.
The first order of business took place towards the end of last season when the team mutually decided with long-time skipper John Gibbons that it was time for a change. Enter Charlie Montoyo, who has been coaching at different levels in the Tampa Bay Rays organization since they started as an expansion team over 20 years ago, and managed at every level in their minor league system until spending the last 3 years as the bench coach of the big club under former Blue Jays catcher Kevin Cash. This is his big opportunity to manage a team in the big leagues and in my opinion, I have a feeling that this is either going to work or it is not and there's no in-between here. So hopefully it does work out.
Some of the faces will be different, some will be the same. They will be paying former starting shortstop Troy Tulowitzki twenty million dollars for this year and thirty-eight million overall in total to not play for the team, as they released him during the winter meetings wanting to clear playing time room for their younger infielders. Catcher Russell Martin will be paid $16.5 of the $20 Million they owe him to also not play for the team in the final year of his deal, paving the way for youth movement behind the plate as well. With all that said, let us now have a look at all the different areas of the team and who should be part of the 25-man roster on Opening Day, starting with who is in and who is out from last year (subtractions include players dealt at the 2018 trade deadline).
KEY PLAYER ADDITIONS: SS Freddy Galvis, SP Matt Shoemaker, SP Clayton Richard, SP Clay Buchholz, RP Bud Norris, RP David Phelps, RP Daniel Hudson.
KEY PLAYER SUBTRACTIONS: DH Kendrys Morales, SS Troy Tulowitzki, C Russell Martin, 3B Josh Donaldson, OF Curtis Granderson, UTL Steve Pearce, INF Aledmys Diaz, INF Yangervis Solarte, SP J.A. Happ, SP Jaime Garcia, SP Marco Estrada, RP Tyler Clippard, RP Aaron Loup, RP Seunghwan Oh.
Out with the old and in with the young. That is what it seems like as the Blue Jays transition from a team that had a veteran roster trying to win-now to a squad pressing the reset button for at least a year to see what they have from within under a new skipper and look to build the team with younger players they have in their farm system that currently ranks among the top in Major League Baseball. With Josh Donaldson, Tulowitzki and Martin out the door that leaves 3 position players left from their 2015-16 playoff teams - 1B Justin Smoak, 2B Devon Travis, and CF Kevin Pillar. On the pitching side, only starters Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez along with relievers Ryan Tepera and Joe Biagini are still around from those post-season runs.
C Danny Jansen 1B Justin Smoak 2B Lourdes Gurriel Jr. SS Freddy Galvis 3B Brandon Drury LF Teoscar Hernandez CF Kevin Pillar RF Randal Grichuk DH Kendrys Morales
C Luke Maile INF Richard Urena OF Billy McKinney
1. Marcus Stroman 2. Aaron Sanchez 3. Matt Shoemaker 4. Trent Thornton 5. Clayton Richard
Ken Giles Joe Biagini Tim Mayza Daniel Hudson Elvis Luciano Thomas Pannone Sam Gaviglio Bud Norris
15-DAY IL (INJURED LIST)
2B Devon Travis (60-DAY)
OF Dalton Pompey
SP Ryan Borucki
SP Clay Buchholz
RP Ryan Tepera
RP David Phelps
RP Jonathan Axford
As you can see, there is a lot of work to do. It all starts with the inevitable call-up of 3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the top prospect in all of baseball has just turned 20 years of age. He suffered a left knee injury in Spring Training, so no one knows if and when he will be on the big club this season. Having already dealt Morales, Smoak and his expiring contract could be a moved at the trade deadline should the team be out of contention. Other veteran players with service time left beyond this year could also be on the move, as management starts to make decisions under a new skipper as to who fits in here long term and who does not. Making progress towards this construction and showing some type of improvement is what this 2019 season is about as it will not be measured on wins and losses.
The American League is very top-heavy and it will be the usual suspects - Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Houston Astros, and Cleveland Indians. After that it drops significantly and the Tampa Bay Rays, who finished 3rd in the division behind Boston and New York, are probably the best of the bunch and while I have preached in the last couple of seasons that you can still finish 3rd in your division, Toronto would have to win 90 games to give themselves a shot at playing October baseball again and that is a long-shot at best. Clearly, they are not there yet, but especially when they add Vladdy Jr. at some point this offence is ready to explode again so no doubt the bats will get there before the arms do.
But until this team has a strong starting rotation, whether it's 2 or 3 years from now or even if it's this year - whenever the pitching gets fixed, that is when this team will contend again.