After thinking about it for the past couple of days, I’ve decided that I won’t eulogize the 2016 Blue Jays. On the one hand, there’s so much to say. A full season of baseball warrants plenty of reflection. On the other hand, there’s not much to say at all. The pitching staff was tremendous, while the offence was inconsistent, at best. The ALCS was served as a microcosm of the season as a whole. So I won’t elaborate any further on what has transpired over the past seven months. Instead, let’s look ahead to 2017.
The off-season is the second-best time of the baseball year. This winter should be particularly interesting for the Blue Jays. Not only might they lose a significant number of veteran players, but it will also be the first off-season with Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins fully at the helm. We will look at the team’s various needs and possible solutions in-depth in the coming weeks. For the time being, here is an overview of where the roster currently sits.
That’s a lot of money to have committed to eight players. Based on the past few seasons, Marco Estrada, Francisco Liriano, and J.A. Happ should all continue to be bargains. The same can be said for Melvin Upton Jr., thanks to the Padres’ contributions. Although it might be hard to stomach, Justin Smoak’s contract is also fairly team-friendly, given the going rate of first basemen. Finally, it’s hard to argue that Josh Donaldson is worth anything less than $17M. The only question marks surround Russell Martin and Troy Tulowitzki. They will probably never live up to their $20M price tags. That said, they remain valuable parts of the roster, especially with some of the outgoing players. Those contracts are still better for the team than the recent $20M deals for Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle.
These arbitration estimates are provided by MLB Trade Rumors’ predictions, which tend to be fairly accurate. After racking up sufficient service time, Marcus Stroman will be in his first year of arbitration eligibility. He will have the most significant payday of the bunch. Ezequiel Carrera will also see a nice bump. Neither Josh Thole or Chris Colabello have ben included in the total cost. Thole will likely follow his knuckleballer to another team. Meanwhile, it’s hard to say where Colabello will play next year, and even harder to forecast what he will earn.
Now there’s a healthy group of talent. Based on recent annual increases to pre-arbitration salaries, $535K appears to be a fair estimate for next season. It is incredible to consider how much value the Jays will receive from this group. Aaron Sanchez and Devon Travis obviously stand out, while Roberto Osuna and Kevin Pillar are also steals. The concern for the organization is that almost all of this group will hit arbitration at the same time, before they reach free agency in 2020. But that’s a problem for another year. For now, the Jays will derive plenty of value from this young core.
The Jays risk losing a significant portion of their roster to free agency. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion headline the group. One of them might be back, but it’s highly unlikely that both will return. Meanwhile, R.A. Dickey’s time in Toronto seems almost certainly over, especially with Liriano in town. There are interesting questions to be asked of both Michael Saunders and Brett Cecil. Saunders probably won’t receive a qualifying offer, but might still serve a role as a left-handed power bat on a reasonable contract. Elsewhere, Cecil was the longest tenured Blue Jay in 2016. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him return, given his consistency over the past few seasons. Finally, it looks like a no-brainer for the Jays to pick up Jason Grilli’s option. He will almost definitely be back next year.
The last area to be addressed is the coaching staff. Shapiro has already announced that John Gibbons will return as the Manager next year. That said, Gibbons’ re-worked contract expires at the end of 2017. It will be interesting to see if they give him an extension, or else enter the season with Gibbons sitting as a lame duck. As per Gibbons, the rest of the coaching staff is likely to return. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Pete Walker will be back, considering the success of his staff this year. While Walker is safe, I’m not convinced that Brook Jacoby will return as the hitting coach. We will have to wait and see.
Filling the Holes
The Jays have plenty of areas to address going into next season. They need to bulk up their outfield, round out the bullpen, and find a backup catcher. Beyond that, they will likely need to find a new DH, and ideally a first baseman as well. Fortunately, the rotation is in a strong position. They will just need to find some AAA depth to supplement it.
I won’t dig deep into the free agent/trade market at the moment. For now, you can check out this winter’s list of free agents. Who would you like to see the Jays pursue? Keep in mind that the free agent market is relatively thin. That suggests that the front office may actually be more active through trades. They may enter that market with some prospect capital, or even by trading off the 25-man. The next few months will be very interesting for this organization.