New to the Toronto Blue Jays fan club? Great! All-aboard for the 2016 season, because it’s sure to be an exciting ride! Whether you’ve decided to become a fan because of last year’s playoff run, Jose Bautista’s bat-flip heard ‘round the world, or because the girl you are dating is into the Jays and you want to impress her, there’s a few things you should know about this year’s installment of the boys in blue.
Predicted starting lineup (batting order and position)
2015 was a big year for the Toronto Blue Jays. For the first time in over 20 years they won their division handily (albeit, benefiting from a weak year for the American League East). They beat the Texas Rangers in dramatic fashion, taking the 5th and deciding game of the Divisional Series. They then lost to the eventual World Series Champion, Kansas City Royals, in a series that did much to illuminate what it takes to be a champion…strong pitching and relentless hitting.
There were many impressive seasons by Blue Jays hitters. Both DH, Encarnacion and RF, Bautista had big home run and RBI seasons (39, 111 and 40, 114 respectively). CF, Kevin Pillar had a coming out party, of sorts, establishing himself as one of the best centre fielders in the game while hitting a respectable .278. And 3B, Josh Donaldson, had the biggest year of all, hitting .297, with 41 home runs and 123 RBI while playing a stellar third base. His accomplishments last year earned him American League (AL) Most Valuable Player (MVP) honours as the AL’s best player. LF, Ben Revere also had a phenomenal season, after being acquired quietly at the trade deadline, hitting .319 with the Blue Jays in the leadoff spot, and adding lights-out speed that contributed to 31 stolen bases on the year.
Five pitchers also had story-book years, for various reasons. Spark-plug, Marcus Stroman overcame a devastating knee-injury suffered in spring training to come back and dominate at the end of the season and into the playoffs. Marco Estrada had a solid season, establishing himself as the Jay’s most consistent pitcher, and then turned it up another notch in the playoffs, becoming the team’s unofficial ace. David Price, acquired from the Detroit Tigers midway through the year, had a Cy Young-worthy season (given to each league’s top pitchers - though he did not actually win), and 20 year old Roberto Osuna impressed many by winning the Jays' closer role, and being a rock coming out of the bullpen. Drew Hutchison, who had a promising if not impressive 2014 season, fell from grace last year, losing his starter's role, and spent time with the AAA Buffalo Bisons.
2016 A Season To Remember?
Blue Jays fans have reason for excitement for the 2016 season, but they also have reason for concern. The modern day “murderous row” (a term given to the 1927 New York Yankees, who featured legendary sluggers, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, among others) is intact. And while Donaldson, Bautista, Encarnacion may not put up the same ridiculous numbers this season (though they could), now added to that lineup for a full season is SS Troy Tulowitzki, who has averaged .300, 25 HR’s and 90 RBI through-out his 10 year MLB career. The Blue Jays are also excited to welcome back electric 2B Devon Travis, who hit .304 with 8 HR’s and 35 RBI, while battling injury over 62 games with the club.
Most positions are set going into the season (like any good club), but there will be a battle for the starting left field position. Canadian, Michael Saunders was acquired at the beginning of last year to fill that void, but suffered a bad knee injury in spring training. Most believe he will get the nod if he has a productive spring, but fellow Canadian (and switch-hitting speedster), Dalton Pompey will challenge for that role. Also added to the mix this off-season, is Domonic Brown, who was an all-star with the Los Angeles Dodgers just 3 seasons ago. If he has a good spring, he could also slide into the role.
We know the team will tear the cover off the ball, once again. The Blue Jays uncertainty, however, once again lies with the starting rotation and bullpen. Marcus Stroman appears to be the ace and energy-source that the team has been hurting for, R.A. Dickey seems to have settled into being a pitcher that will win you as many games as he loses you, but will eat up 200 innings per year in the process, while Marco Estrada had a breakout year, which garnered a $7 million/year pay-raise (to $14M/yr). After those 3, there are question marks. Left hander J.A. Happ returned to the Blue Jays after spending a season in Seattle. He was solid in his first go around and the Jays hope he can repeat as a good 4th option. Speaking of players that Toronto hope will return to form, Drew Hutchison faces a make or break season. If he can reclaim the 5th starter role, and contribute some quality starts, the rotation could be solid. If he falters, he may be looking for a job in another city…or industry. This off-season, the Blue Jays also acquired Jesse Chavez from the Oakland Athletics (a 10-10, 4.00 ERA guy) and made an interesting pickup in another 10-10, 4.00 ERA guy, Gavin Floyd (who has a history of notable seasons, here and there). If neither Chavez nor Floyd win the starter's role, they will be competent long-relief men. Not to be forgotten is Aaron Sanchez. He started last season in the Blue Jays rotation and could be the favourite to win the final position if he has a good spring. While inconsistent in the starter's role, he has arguably the best staff on the staff and if he finds comfort, could be a future ace. Perhaps the best thing the Blue Jays did for their staff this off-season was the addition of Washington Nationals closer, Drew Storen. Yes, it cost starting LF and leadoff man, Ben Revere, but acquiring not just a closer, but a STOPPER of Storen’s magnitude will have a trickle-down effect through-out the bullpen that could have them returning to dominance. Storen securing the role of closer, however, is not a foregone conclusion, as Osuna may hold preference given his last season with Toronto.
RHP Jesse Chavez
RHP Gavin Floyd
LHP J.A. Happ
RHP Drew Storen
SHP Pat Venditte
3B Matt Dominguez
LF Domonic Brown
Out With The Old
LHP David Price
LHP Mark Buehrle
LF Ben Revere
3B Danny Valencia
SS Jose Reyes
SS/2B Munenori Kawasaki
In short, reasons for optimism
The batting order returns healthy, and largely intact. A healthy Troy Tulowitzki, Devon Travis, and Michael Saunders should add even more thunder to an already scary lineup. The starting rotation could feature pitchers who have ‘done it in the past’. If even one of these guys has a good season, 5 consistent starters will provide enough to allow the hitters win games. Additionally, the trade for closer Drew Storen makes the Jay’s bullpen worthy of fear. Pushing Osuna into the setup role (or vice-versa), Sanchez to the 7th inning role (if he does not secure the starting job), and having strikeout specialist Cecil as the spot-lefty, games could be over from the 6th inning on if the Jays are leading.
In short, reasons for concern
Not the least of which are the lingering contracts of Bautista and Encarnacion. Will it become a distraction? Will they be signed? Can the Jays afford both? Do they even WANT to come back? Left field is largely unproven and could be a black hole, as it was for much of last year. The Blue Jays starting rotation is also a cause for concern. With Price and Buehrle gone, they don’t appear to have a pitcher who will steal them any games. Both Stroman and Estrada looked dominant at the end of last year, but how much of that was due to emotional fuel? Can they maintain that over the course of a season? Time will tell.