Blue Jays 2019 Offseason Primer
Source: Dave Abel/Toronto Sun
The Toronto Blue Jays are now officially re-tooling for the future. After back-to-back losing seasons since last making the postseason in 2016, they are going to need a couple of years to get back on track, and while there have been a lot of changes since a year ago, there are more to come this winter. This is not going to be a full-fledged rebuild like you've seen with other teams, it is more of a re-tool, reload or reboot. That started by parting ways with manager John Gibbons, who has now been replaced by longtime minor league manager and most recently the Tampa Bay Rays bench coach, Charlie Montoyo. In Spring Training, Montoyo will have the chance to see all players in the organization at the major league and minor league levels. There might be a few players he likes that would never have made the team under Gibby, and there also may be a few players that will fall out of favor with him whom would have been on the team for sure.
If the season started today, the team fully healthy would look like this:
C Russell Martin 1B Justin Smoak 2B Devon Travis SS Troy Tulowitzki 3B Yangervis Solarte LF Teoscar Hernandez CF Kevin Pillar RF Randal Grichuk DH Kendrys Morales
C Luke Maile OF Dwight Smith Jr. INF Lourdes Gurriel Jr. INF Aledmys Diaz
INF Drury OF Billy McKinney C Danny Jansen
Obviously, a lot of this is subject to change over the next few months. The one player I do not mention here, of course, is top prospect 3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr., who after tearing up the minor leagues last year both at the AA and AAA levels it is inevitable he gets called up anytime after about a month into the season. This is so the team can preserve service time for one more season, just like the Chicago Cubs did with Kris Bryant in 2015. That would ensure the team has Vladdy Jr. under team control through the 2025 season.
There are several questions to be answered such as; are they going to make room and open up an everyday position for Lourdes Gurriel Jr.? He showed a lot in 2018 when healthy and in the lineup, including an 11-game consecutive multi-hit streak. What position do they want him to play? Does that mean the end of Devon Travis at 2B? Possibly. How about when Vladdy Jr. gets called up in May? What happens to Yangervis Solarte? Will he or Travis even be on the team on Opening Day? What to do with Russell Martin and his $20M salary on the final year of his deal? Will he or Danny Jansen catch the majority of the games or will they split it? Where does that leave Luke Maile if Jansen is on the team? Do they try and trade with eating a huge portion of the salary for the last year of deals like veterans DH Kendrys Morales ($12M) or Justin Smoak ($8M)? If they do, will you see Teoscar Hernandez and his erratic defensive play get yanked out of the outfield and become full-time DH? Where do we begin with SS Troy Tulowitzki and all the questions surrounding him and his $20M contract?
One thing is for sure - the Blue Jays have a lot of options and are 2-3 layers deep at every position on the field with their current starters, bench players and prospects in the farm system. This means you will not really see any additions via free agency or trade acquisitions. All they lack is a big bat or two in the middle of the lineup, and with them being a middle-of-the-pack offence in 2018, they definitely have the supporting cast around that. Enter Vladdy Guerrero Jr. and Lourdes Gurriel. If those two can develop into the meat of the order hitters, the offence on this team is once again ready to explode.
Other Possibilities: Sean Ried-Foley, Thomas Pannone.
As opposed to the position players, this area of the team does bolster so much promise and looks very thin. Based on my projections for a young, dynamic offence in the next couple of years, this area of the team might take longer to retool and will have to look outside the organization to fill the needs, particularly the starting pitching. Until this gets addressed, it is going to be hard to imagine that the Blue Jays will be any type of playoff contention in the near future. The only 2 proven starters they have are in Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, and both have either been injured or underperforming when they've managed to be healthy. The only bright light is rookie Ryan Borucki, who was their most consistent starter since getting called up in late June and the trading of staff ace J.A. Happ at the deadline in late July.
The bullpen will continue to be the strong point of this pitching staff. Yes, they traded closer Roberto Osuna but Ken Giles, although five years older than Osuna, has the same service time left (which makes him controllable through 2020) and did a decent job in save situations. With Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes and Joe Biagini behind him, they will be solid if they can somehow find a lefty reliever and another serviceable right-handed piece, this bullpen should be fine.
1. Starting Pitching 2. Left-Handed Reliever 3. Bullpen Depth
I know it's hard to believe that a team that finished just 73-89 would only have these 3 needs, but if management sticks to the plan and starts to implement quality young players up and down their roster under the new skipper than they will get better. That should be the goal in 2019, to get better and not necessarily contend for a post-season berth. That expectation should arrive in 2020 or 2021, depending on the improvements made to the starting rotation, which is the area they need to attack the most this off-season. Next year will be about finding out who they are, what they have and what they need going forward into the 2020's. It's all about the process at this point.