Toronto Blue Jays 2017 Team Preview

2016 Recap: 89-73, 2nd in the AL East. Lost in the ALCS 4-1 to Cleveland. The 2016 Blue Jays slugged their way through the competition and found themselves on the brink on the American League pennant. Then their bats went cold and Toronto scored just 8 runs in the five game series against Cleveland including being shut out twice. This offseason saw the Indians dominance over the Blue Jays continue as Edwin Encarnacion left the Jays for The Tribe. The Jays were able to bring the majority of their team back however and looked ready to make another postseason run.

Offseason Moves:

Significant Additions: DH Kendrys Morales,  INF/OF Steve Pearce, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, LHP JP Howell, RHP Joe Smith

Significant Subtractions: 1B Edwin Encarnacion, OF Michael Saunders, RHP Drew Storen, RHP RA Dickey

Projected Lineup and Breakdown:

  1. 2B Devon Travis
  2. 3B Josh Donaldson
  3. RF Jose Bautista
  4. DH Kendrys Morales
  5. SS Troy Tulowitzki
  6. C Russell Martin
  7. 1B Justin Smoak
  8. CF Kevin Pillar
  9. LF Ezequiel Carrera

The Jays lineup is still a potent one, but it just doesn’t look as dangerous without E5 in there. Kendrys Morales is a nice player, but anyone that thinks he can step right in and replace Encarnacion is fooling themselves. Morales’ 2016 was probably the best case for him, 30 home runs and a .795 OPS. That would be a down season for Encarnacion. Make no mistake this lineup will miss their first basemen. There is also a good bit of possible downside with the recent injury history of Jose Bautista and Devon Travis plus we all know Troy Tulowitzki will miss a month at some point as he does every season. The loss of Michael Saunders was also an underrated one as Saunders finally found his swing for a full season and slugged a career best .478. Replacing Saunders will be glove first veteran Ezequiel Carrera and his career .665 OPS. That’s two positions where the Jays will take a major hit in production this season.

Projected Rotation, Bullpen, and Breakdown:

Rotation –

  • RHP Marco Estrada
  • LHP JA Happ
  • RHP Marcus Stroman
  • LHP Francisco Liriano
  • RHP Aaron Sanchez

Bullpen –

  • RHP Roberto Osuna – Closer
  • RHP Jason Grilli
  • RHP Joe Biagini
  • LHP JP Howell
  • RHP Joe Smith

The Jays relied heavily on career years from journeymen Marco Estrada and JA Happ last year. Both have been able to have success with pretty bad fastballs and using pin point control to navigate through lineups. There is nothing wrong with being more of a control pitcher than an overpowering pitcher, but when that command isn’t there things can get ugly quick. Marcus Stroman is similar to Estrada and Happ in that he doesn’t have overpowering stuff, but what Stroman does offer is that makes me more confident in him is a 60% groundball rate. Not allowing opposing hitters to lift the ball is crucial when you’re pitching in the AL East (think 2016 Rick Porcello). 24 year old Aaron Sanchez made the rotation out of nowhere last season and really showed his potential during 2016. Sanchez was able to keep the ball in the yard (.70 HR/9) by using his changeup almost double the amount as he did in 2015. I’m not buying this bullpen at all and think they could be even worse than last year (fourth worst RP WAR in 2016). They just do not have anything in front of closer Roberto Osuna who has been battling neck issues all spring himself. They Jays are going to need to add someone here if they want to make another deep run in October.

Fantasy Analysis:

Stud: 3B Josh Donaldson. With Edwin Encarnacion gone, Josh Donaldson is the clear best hitter on the Blue Jays, but for the past few seasons he’s been the clear best hitter for his fantasy owners. Donaldson always had good power in Oakland but has taken it to another level in his two seasons with the Blue Jays. Taking advantage of not only his home park, but the rest of the parks in the AL East, Donaldson has hit 78 home runs over the last two seasons and is a contributor in other categories as well hitting .290 and scoring over 120 runs each of the last two seasons. Take Donaldson at the end of the first round of your draft and build a good base of power for your team in 2017.

Sleeper: OF Jose Bautista. Bautista is at his lowest draft price in a while currently at pick 110. Injuries last season killed Bautista’s fantasy owners, but if Bautista can stay healthy in 2017 he presents a great buying opportunity. Bautista still showed the elite walk rate (16.8%) and big time power (.452 Slugging %) he always has despite being hurt most of the season. Bautista isn’t slowing down just yet, take the discount and hope for some better health this season.

Bust: Three fifths of their starting rotation. Yeah I said it. I’m not taking Marco Estrada, JA Happ, or Aaron Sanchez on any of my teams this season. I’ve already touched on how Estrada and Happ continue to make it work with basically smoke and mirrors that cannot last forever, while Sanchez threw 100 more innings last season than he did the previous year. That’s an automatic stay away in my book. I don’t like owning pitchers in the AL East to begin with unless they’re elite talents (Price, Sale, Tanaka, Archer) and with major talent questions surrounding Estrada (Current ADP SP #61) and Happ (SP #51) plus the durability concerns of Sanchez (SP #26) you should shop else where this draft season.

2017 Record Prediction: I’ll keep any potential Orioles fan biases aside. This is not the same Blue Jays team of the last two seasons. They’ve lost too much production in their lineup and I do not trust the majority of their pitchers. They’ll still be a good team and will likely be in the race come October, but I just do not see it this year. 83-79. Third in the AL East.

-Randy Haines

Check out our other 2017 team previews here.

Photo Credit: Long Island Pulse

Statistics are courtesy of Baseball reference and Fangraphs

Projected rosters are courtesy of rosterresource.com and accurate as of 3/31

Fantasy ADP data courtesy of STATS.com and The NFBC

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