We put on our rose coloured glasses to gaze at what could happen if everything goes right AND we also put on our Arby’s Nothing Matters glasses to look at what could happen if everything goes wrong. The 2019 Blue Jays will exist somewhere in the middle, so let’s put on our, uh, normal glasses (???) and take a realistic look at the 2019 Blue Jays.
There’s something to be said about rolling into a season with zero expectations. The 2017 season was exhausting as we watched the rotting husk of the ’15 and ’16 squads trudge their way through injuries and declining performances all the way to a 76-win season. The 2018 season was more of the same, as a team half-in, half-out on contending aspirations got off to a hot start and then imploded during the dog days of summer for a 73-win finish.
The Blue Jays are now officially in their rebuild process. Some will argue this should have started earlier, but those people generally tend to be the ones who shook their fists at the idea of the Cleveland Boys tearing apart their beloved 2015 and 2016 teams. Well, you can’t have it both ways. The front office ultimately decided to give it a whirl with Josh Donaldson, Aaron Sanchez, and Marcus Stroman as the team’s core, and it didn’t work out.
The thing with those teams was that you knew you were watching something that had died. Jose Bautista, Russell Martin, and Troy Tulowitzki’s best years were behind them, injuries to Donaldson, Stroman, and Sanchez wiped away virtually all of the intrigue possible surrounding the team, and the roster was bogged down with randoms who weren’t helping the team win in the short-term and weren’t going to have any impact long-term.
Here we are now with a team that has its visions set completely on the future. The roster is loaded with Large Adult Sons and even more Large Adult Sons will be on the way as the season goes along.
Inserting Vladimir Guerrero Jr. into the lineup will give the team a pretty massive boost offensively. FanGraphs’ Steamer projects him to have a 138 wRC+ and to slash what would be an insanely impressive .306/.386/.511 line. For the sake of comparison, if Vlad does actually live up to these projections, it would be like adding Xander Bogaerts or Freddie Freeman into the lineup.
Beyond Vlad, we’re also expecting to see full seasons from rookies Danny Jansen and Lourdes Gurriel. I think it’s fairly reasonable to expect Vlad to live up to the lofty expectations being placed on him, but Gurriel and Jansen are a little more difficult to predict. Jansen got called up in mid-August and fared well at the plate the rest of the way. He slashed a .247/.347/.432 line and Steamer is projecting he does something similar in a full-time role in 2019. Gurriel was a bit more up and down than Jansen was, as a nuclear streak in July compensated for an ugly start.
So, with that in mind, the Jays will likely be adding an elite bat and a couple of wild cards with upside into a lineup that finished middle-of-the-pack offensively last season. The rest of the lineup is a little easier to project.
Justin Smoak might fare better than he did last year because Vlad offers him some more protection in the middle of the lineup. Kendrys Morales will continue to be what he has been over his career with the Blue Jays, hitting home runs and striking out. We don’t need to have any illusions about Kevin Pillar figuring out how not to swing at everything, Randal Grichuk and Teoscar Hernandez will strike out a lot and hit a handful of home runs, and newly-added Freddy Galvis won’t provide much on the offensive side of things.
All told, Toronto’s issue isn’t going to be scoring runs. Like I said, they were middle-of-the-pack offensively last year and they’re inserting an elite bat into the middle on their lineup. This team isn’t going to lead the league in runs scored, or anything, but they’ll have some offensive flare.
The real enigma for the Blue Jays will be pitching. There really isn’t a sure-thing in the Blue Jays’ starting rotation this year.
If Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman can break out and be the pitchers they were in 2016 and 2017 respectively, this team could be surprisingly good. What are the odds that happens?
It’s very reasonable to expect Stroman to have a bounce-back season to where he was at when he finished eighth in American League Cy Young voting in 2017 given the fact his peripheral numbers were much better than his actual results indicated last year. Beyond injuries, Stroman’s 2018 season was derailed by Toronto’s horrendous defence. Adding Galvis should help the ground-ball-happy Stroman.
Sanchez is the more difficult one to bet on. His last two years have been derailed because of ‘The Blister’ as he’s only made 28 starts since he finished the 2016 season with the best ERA in the American league. Sanchez has looked phenomenal in spring so far, but he struggled last year even when he was healthy working through the lineup a second and third time. You have to wonder to what effect missing so much time has had on Sanchez.
The only predictable veteran in Toronto’s rotation is Clayton Richard, who will absolutely be bad. Clay Buchholz and Matt Shoemaker are both wild cards with upside. Buchholz had an excellent bounce-back season in Arizona last year, though it was limited to just 98 innings due to injuries. Shoemaker, once a key piece of Anaheim’s future, has pitched just over 100 innings over the past two years. There’s a lot of talent there, but he’s very far from a guarantee.
Richard, who I mentioned will absolutely be bad, will only be in the rotation if there are injuries. Right now, he’s in the mix because neither Buchholz or Ryan Borucki will be ready to start the season. Borucki got called up last year in late-June and went on to have a very impressive rookie year. He posted a 3.87 ERA over 17 starts, though his peripheral numbers weren’t spectacular.
There’s a lot of upside here. If everything magically goes right, the Jays could have a very effective rotation. If everything goes wrong, it could also be very bad! What’s most likely, obviously, is something in the middle. One of Sanchez and Stroman has a great bounce-back year, one of Buchholz and Shoemaker is healthy and pitches consistently well, and Borucki continues to be solid. If that happens, the Jays will be much, much better off than they were last year.
So, what can we expect from this year’s Blue Jays?
To put it bluntly, this team isn’t going to be great. But they also aren’t going to be terrible. They aren’t going to be 100 losses bad, but they aren’t going to be pushing for a playoff spot. They’ll finish somewhere around where they did in 2017 and 2018 with 70-some-odd wins, but, the difference between this team and those teams is they’ll actually be fun to watch.
Circling back to what I said earlier, it’s very refreshing to be rolling into a season without any expectations. Rather than hoping that Josh Donaldson can stay on the field and that Marco Estrada can regain form and that Russell Martin can effectively play six different positions, we’ll be watching a bunch of promising prospects figure things out at the big league level.
There will be a lot of downs, but there will also be a lot of ups that begin to paint a picture of how exciting the future is going to be. Who knows, maybe everything works out and this young-and-exciting group actually pushes for the second wild card spot. I don’t know! I will say, though, I’m more excited to watch this group than I have been the last couple years.
Putting the Blue Jays on my list of “I dunno, they could win 90 or lose 110.”
— Jesse Spector (@jessespector) March 27, 2019