Blue Jays Roster Review — February 2018

This offseason has been crazy. It’s been unlike any recent winter entry when it comes to signings. Eric Hosmer, JD Martinez, Yu Darvish, and many others are still unsigned, so it’s pretty unfair to evaluate each team’s current roster. For the Blue Jays, let’s do it anyway, considering they aren’t favourites to acquire any significant names. Regardless, anything can happen, and this will be updated in March. For fun, I gave each position a 5-star rating. That part means nothing too deep, but gives a general idea of where I consider that position to be at (Scale: 1 star is awful, 5 stars is elite).

Catcher (4/5 Stars)

Russell Martin, Luke Maile, Danny Jansen
This is not an immediate position that needs an upgrade for Toronto, so it’s reasonable to expect that Martin will be the starter and Maile will be the backup. Martin hit only .221 last season with a bWAR of 1.5, and it is concerning that his average has gone down every year since he joined the Jays, but he’s still an excellent defender and is a solid piece in a time where catching depth is pretty thin in the league.

Maile’s a backup catcher, and he’s an excellent defender. He’s not going to be an asset offensively, however, so keep an eye on prospect Danny Jansen. If Jansen is doing well in the minors, he may take the backup job by midseason.

1st Base (4/5 Stars)

Justin Smoak
Regression is almost a guarantee with Smoak. That’s not an insult to him, it’s just not realistic for a player to go from an abysmal bWAR of -0.4 (2016) to a fantastic 3.2 one (2017) and expect the same production in the following year. If Smoak does repeat his production, then he’s an elite first baseman. Realistically, he should fall off a bit but stay as a pretty good first baseman in the league.

2nd Base (3.5/5 Stars)

Devon Travis, Yangervis Solarte
It appears that the Blue Jays are finally setting up a legitimate backup plan for Devon Travis, who’s only appeared in 151 games in the last two seasons. Travis’ injury concerns are unfortunate, because his ceiling when on the field is very high. He was tremendous in 2016 and very good in a small sample size before that. He’s the starter if he’s healthy, but his knee was a big problem last year.

Yangervis Solarte, one of the biggest offseason additions for the team, is going to play a lot for the Blue Jays in 2017 even if he starts the year as a backup. He’s an everyday player to begin with, but injuries to Travis and Troy Tulowitzki opened the door for Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney to play 143 and 129 games respectively last year. Solarte has some nice power and could hit 25–30 homers at Rogers Centre, so he’s likely to be a nice piece in general rather than just an upgrade on Goins or Barney.

3rd Base (5/5 Stars)

Josh Donaldson
Not a concern, unless there’s a trade. Donaldson only played in 113 games last season, but still ranked second on the team with a bWAR of 4.8. He’s a top five third baseman in the league (the only obvious players that are outrank him are Manny Machado, Nolan Arenado, and Kris Bryant). The biggest question with Donaldson is the following.

Will they trade him if they’re out of contention at the Trade Deadline?

The Cardinals have shown a consistent interest in him all winter, and the Jays could look at one or more of their young starters (Alex Reyes and Luke Weaver are two impressive arms) if they were to decide they want to move him.

Shortstop (2.75/5 Stars)

Troy Tulowitzki, Aledmys Diaz
At this point, it’s probably a better on-field decision to play Aledmys Diaz everyday. Diaz has a high ceiling, and every GM is looking for young players with potential. That’s probably why Jays GM Ross Atkins jumped on the idea of bringing Diaz in. There’s a potential .280 hitter here, and he could hit 20 home runs if given consistent playing time.

Which brings the discussion to Troy Tulowitzki. If not for the name and contract, he’d be an injury prone bench option in 2018. He failed to stay healthy again last season, and his offensive skills have fallen off dramatically. With all that said, there’s potential here for a turnaround if he’s completely healthy. The massively talented Tulowitzki was terrific in Colorado, even in his last months there. It seems a bit odd that he’d fall off this quickly, so don’t be too surprised if he rebounds and becomes a solid player again.

Left Field (1.75/5 Stars)

Curtis Granderson, Steve Pearce
At least one of Granderson or Pearce will have to start hitting consistently, or younger players will take over in this position. Granderson isn’t what he was back with the Tigers or the Yankees, but he can still provide leadership and play decent defense. Pearce isn’t nearly as good defensively, but should be a better hitter at Rogers Centre. There’s going to be a platoon here, but it may not last long before Anthony Alford replaces both of them.

Center Field (2.25/5 Stars)

Kevin Pillar, Ezequiel Carrera
Pillar looked to be having a breakout season offensively in 2017, but he got suspended in May and went back to the player he was before. Mediocre eye, over-eager swing, and nothing great tool-wise at the plate. It’s essentially a guarantee that he would not have received any at-bats in the leadoff spot if he was an infielder, but managers love putting outfielders (particularly LF’s and CF’s) there.

Defensively, Pillar’s obviously above-average, even if his routes aren’t always great, and he’ll always be a fan favourite thanks to his spectacular catches. Unfortunately for the Jays, even his defense wasn’t as good as it was in past years, and that could leave him without a secure place in the outfield as prospects (Anthony Alford, Roemon Fields, Dwight Smith Jr.) make their way to the bigs. That said, his job’s probably secure for 2018.

Carrera is a good backup, but he’s not an everyday option. If an outfielder gets injured for an extended period of time, expect someone else to replace them.

Right Field (3.75/5 Stars)

Randal Grichuk, Teoscar Hernandez
Grichuk is a fantastic fit for Toronto. A change of scenery could be exactly what he needs to reach his potential, which is a solid hitter with power. With Grichuk, Toronto has now acquired three high upside players this offseason that own at least an above-average ability to hit homers. None of Diaz, Solarte, or Grichuk are winning the home run title anytime soon, but they each have the ability to hit around 20 a year, which isn’t bad at all.

Hernandez’s strikeout rate is a legitimate concern. In 26 games late last season, Hernandez walked six times. He struck out 36 times. He also hit eight home runs, which helped disguise this to a fanbase that was desperate for good news at the end of a bad season. With all the depth that the Blue Jays have built, don’t be surprised to see Hernandez train to cut down the strikeouts in AAA or AA. If he starts the year in the minors, however, he likely won’t be there for long.

Rotation (3.75/5 Stars)

Marcus Stroman (1), Aaron Sanchez (2), JA Happ (3), Marco Estrada (4), Joe Biagini (5)
The 2017 Blue Jays were supposed to have one of the best rotations in baseball, but injuries and under-performing veterans held that idea back. Stroman and Happ were excellent, but Estrada and Liriano were either mediocre or awful depending on the start. With Estrada sleeping again and Liriano no longer a Jay, the Blue Jays hope to have fixed both of those issues.

But the biggest problem last season was Aaron Sanchez, who dealt with blisters and fingernail injuries for nearly the entire season. If Sanchez is on the field, he’s really, really good. In 2016, he pitched to a 15–2 record with a 3.00 ERA. His health is essentially the key to this rotation’s success.

Well, one of the keys. Joe Biagini is another one. The ideal situation for the Jays is to sign a starter (Jason Vargas and Lance Lynn would be good fits). If they choose to use Biagini, he’ll have to dramatically improve his performance from last season. Biagini went 3–13 with a negative bWAR. He’s significantly better as a bullpen arm. Speaking of the bullpen…

Bullpen (1.75/5 Stars)

Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes, Aaron Loup, Carlos Ramirez, Matt Dermody, Tim Mayza
It’s almost a guarantee that the bullpen gets an upgrade before the season, probably in a similar way to last season in which they signed JP Howell and Joe Smith. Howell was awful and Smith was traded, but bullpen arms are so unpredictable that it’s a possibility they just try the same strategy there again. Another thing they could do is move Biagini to the ‘pen and sign a starter.

Dominic Leone (2.56 ERA, 2.2 bWAR, 70.1 IP) was involved in the Randal Grichuk trade, making the bullpen even weaker. Loup, Dermody, and Mayza are unpredictable, and the duo of Tepera and Barnes were pitched to exhaustion last season. Positive traits are there, Tepera and Barnes were very good last season (and Loup was fine), but it’s overall a concerning area.

Closer (4.5/5 Stars)

Roberto Osuna
Don’t be concerned about Roberto Osuna. It’s really that simple. He’s one of the best closers in the game. The only discussion here is whether they rebuild and trade him in the process, but unless the return proves to be ridiculously overwhelming, the Blue Jays won’t do that.*

(*This was written in February, before Osuna’s 75-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy. In the months following the assault allegations that led to the suspension, Osuna was traded to the Houston Astros.)

Farm System (4.25/5 Stars)

Names to Keep an Eye On: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Anthony Alford, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Nate Pearson, Logan Warmoth, TJ Zeuch, Rowdy Tellez, Richard Urena, Ryan Borucki, Justin Maese, Danny Jansen

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