The Blue Jays finished the 2019 season on a high note this weekend, winning their final two games on Saturday and Sunday in front of modest-sized-but-enthusiastic crowds. About 25,000 fans came out to watch this Jays squad glide out their regular season, earning back-to-back wins against a hungover Rays squad to ensure the franchise didn’t set a new single-season low for wins in the post-expansion-years era.
It’s certainly a far cry from three and four years ago when the Dome was loaded with fans backing the club as they geared up for playoff runs. Those 2015 and 2016 teams feel like a lifetime ago at this point. Still, it didn’t have the same exhausted relief vibe that the previous two finales did. The 2017 and 2018 teams were a slog to follow as they carried the burden of unrealistic hopes and expectations. This team, as bad as it was, made things interesting.
So, what can we make of 2019?
Back in March, we put out an optimistic, pessimistic, and a realistic outlook heading into the season. The conclusion of my realistic expectations post was that we didn’t have to have any expectations and that was a good thing. I figured that just embracing this year as a learning year would make the team much easier and more interesting to follow. There would be plenty of lows but there would also be quite a few highs.
One thing I didn’t really think about heading into the season was the extent to which a throw-darts-against-the-board-and-see-what-happens type season would leave unanswered questions in its wake. I figured at the end of 2019, we would see a more clear path to contention and that we would know who was going to be a part of it.
Looking back at it now, that wasn’t really the case. I think I have more questions from this supposed learning season than I do answers.
While I expected Vlad Jr. to be the shining light in 2019 that made everything worthwhile, that wasn’t really the case. He certainly had some flashes, but Vlad’s good-not-great .272/.339/.433 slash line wasn’t what any of us were anticipating when he was making a joke of Minor League Baseball last year. The one guy who was supposed to be a sure thing ultimately resulted in more questions. It isn’t just the “can he stick at third” question we expected. Is this ground ball thing really an issue? Is it just age and inexperience?
Bo Bichette ended up being the star of 2019. He wasn’t recalled until late July, right after Marcus Stroman was traded. Bo hit the ground running, smashing the cover off the ball all the way to a record-setting first month of play. He finished with a sparkling .311/.358/.571 line and absolutely looks like a star of the future. Cavan Biggio and Lourdes Gurriel were also positives this season. Biggio massively surpassed expectations and, at the very least, proved that he can be a very solid depth, utility player. Gurriel reinvented himself as an outfielder and hit like an All-Star after his position change.
So, after 2019, the core I can see established is Bichette, who ran an amazing hot streak and legitimately looks like a superstar, Vlad, who we’re all hoping figures it out over the off-season and becomes the player we dreamed, Biggio, a bit of an overachiever who should certainly be able to carve out a role in the future, and Gurriel, a bit of an enigma who’s finally hitting his stride.
After that? It gets a little difficult.
Danny Jansen struggled at the plate but was good enough defensively to look like a Major League catcher. Will he ever be a catcher with offensive upside or will he be carried by his glove? Also, Reese McGuire came up and hit better than Jansen did in his 30-game stint. Ie he the catcher of the future?
What’s going on with the outfield? Gurriel, as I mentioned before, seems to have one of the three spots locked down long-term. But who else belongs? The Jays paid Randal Grichuk like he does, but he didn’t really live up to his new contract. Teoscar Hernandez had one of the most puzzling statlines you’ll ever see. He hit very well after a trip to Triple-A but still strikes out every third at bat. What does this team see in Derek Fisher? Why do they not believe in Anthony Alford at all?
Everyone is talking like Justin Smoak is good as gone, but is there anyone there to replace him? Rowdy Tellez clubbed 21 bombs, but he also only had one walk for every four times he struck out. Is the Vlad-to-first-base thing going to happen even sooner than we expected? Or are they going to give Rowdy another go?
The pitching. Oh god. Trent Thornton ended up being the ace of the staff this year, which is wild given the fact he was only supposed to make a few spot starts at the beginning of the season due to injuries. If I had told you that Thornton and Jacob Waguespack were going to be two of Toronto’s most reliable starters for a good chunk of the season, you’d have laughed. If you were to pick an Opening Day starter for 2020 right now, who would it be? You’d probably have to go Thornton, right? Maybe Waguespack? Do either pitcher figure to be anything other than a back-of-the-rotation type? Same goes for Anthony Kay and T.J. Zeuch, who made their debuts in September.
When Bo, Vlad, Biggio, and Gurriel are all in the lineup, you can quite easily start to see the foundations of something good coming together. But that’s only four out of 25 players. There’s a long, long, loooooong way to go beyond those four guys before this team becomes competitive.
How are the Blue Jays going to get there? While 2019 was soothing in comparison to 2017 and 2018 because of the complete lack of expectations, it really didn’t help me answer all that many questions about where this team is going and who’s going to help get it there.