Before I ask the questions, let’s establish the groundwork. I am a Blue Jays fan, but I do not consider myself overly bias in my opinion towards the team. First and foremost, I am a baseball fan. These questions are based both upon personal thoughts and talk around baseball.
As for the game, the rules are simple. I’m going to pose a question, provide some facts, and state my opinion. You can come to your own conclusion, but my goal is to make it hard for you to disagree.
Question 1: This one is easy, because it already happened. Do you sign the designated hitter, or the right fielder? After back to back season’s of reaching the American League Championship Series, you have two free agents who have both contributed greatly to your organization’s success over those seasons. The players are Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. Encarnacion, coming off of a 2016 season in which he hit 42 home runs, drove in 127, and played in 160 games was your team’s best player. Bautista, the fan favourite, wasn’t good. He played in only 116 games in 2016, hit 22 home runs, drove in 69, and saw his average fall for the third straight season to .234. Who would you sign? Obviously, the Blue Jays front office mucked up the whole thing, panicked, and signed Kendrys Morales. Encarnacion ended up with the Cleveland Indians for less money than the Blue Jays offered. Cue sad trombone. Looking back, it’s a move that had a drastic effect on the offensive output of the team in 2017. Other than the breakout year Justin Smoak had, there would no bright spots offensively. Encarnacion would have provided stability that the 2017 Blue Jays desperately needed.
Question 2: What do you do with Josh Donaldson? After finishing 4th in your division, climbing out of the basement on the last day of the season, you find yourself at a crossroads. One of your biggest rivals just added the reigning National League MVP to their already strong young squad, a squad that took the World Series Champions to game 7 of the ALCS. Your roster is in shambles. Besides your rotation, you need to upgrade at both corner outfield positions, second base, shortstop, and catcher. No offense to Troy Tulowitzki or Russell Martin, but neither are on the upside of their playing careers and neither stayed healthy in 2017. Tulowitzki hasn’t been truly healthy in a decade, and has one of the most disgusting contracts in baseball at the moment. Martin is a great leader, but his legs are giving out, and a catcher without legs isn’t much good to anyone. Do you trade Josh Donaldson now while his value is still high, or do you hope that you can re-sign him in 2019 and have your top prospects Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette ready to join the team? Donaldson had a frustrating year, battling nagging injuries but still managing to hit 33 home runs and drive in 78 runs. He even finished 22nd in MVP voting despite missing a third of the season. My opinion is that you’d be foolish to get nothing for Donaldson. If not now, then he likely gets moved at the deadline as a rental player. The Orioles are reportedly shopping Manny Machado, which does hurt the Donaldson market. If Machado moves, you can get more for Donaldson. The goal should be to build up for minor league system with players who will be ready along the same timeline as Guerrero Jr. and Bichette, so that your young team can grow into a winner like the Houston Astros have done.
Question 3: What do you do with Aaron Sanchez? One of the biggest disappointments in all of baseball this past season was his struggle with a recurring blister on his hand which limited him to only 8 games and 36 innings in 2017. Sanchez was one of baseball’s best in 2016. Not only did he compile a 15-2 record, but he led the American League in ERA, and made the All-Star team for the first time. Coincidentally, Sanchez played catch December 12th for the first time since he was shut down in September. Along with Sanchez, the bluebirds have Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ, and Marco Estrada in the rotation come spring. Joe Biagini will push for the 5th spot, but is more than likely going to end up back in the bullpen. Management has said they will pursue additional pitching options, so we could see a shake up or two before Opening Day. I don’t believe Sanchez will be moved. He’s in his first year of arbitration eligibility, and is under team control until 2021. It would be foolish as the team’s young prospects should be ready for 2019 or 2020. Plenty of time to return to relevance in a division that will look very different.
There are plenty of questions that will need to be addressed by the Blue Jays, but two of the three questions I’ve posed need to be thought out very carefully.
Stats from Fangraphs. Photo from The Toronto Star.