After another ALCS run this last October, the Toronto Blue Jays found themselves halted by yet another AL Central foe. This time it was the Cleveland Indians and their secret weapon, Andrew Miller. With that season-ending loss, heads turned towards the team’s future, or more importantly, its two premier free agents, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. Early reports were that the Jays offered Encarnacion a four year offer around $80 million. The soon-to-be 34 year old rejected that offer and weeks later signed with Cleveland for 3 years/$60 million instead just days before Christmas. With this 40+ home run slugger gone, what now?
Potential impact of Encarnacion’s departure
With Encarnacion’s departure, the Jays lose a player capable of hitting 40+ home runs every season. Ten years ago, hitters like this were plentiful, but these days they are rare. With him gone, Toronto loses some thunder in the middle of its lineup.
Luckily for Toronto, with the signing of Kendrys Morales, the Cuban can slot right into Encarnacion’s vacancy as DH/first baseman. For the Jays, Morales is a slight downgrade as he hit 12 less home runs than Encarnacion, but did so in pitcher-friendly Kauffman Stadium. Morales also provides a left-handed bat against righties, and a move to Rogers Centre should boost his numbers a bit.
It is good that Toronto had a suitable replacement for Encarnacion since his return was never a certainty. This way the team has a slightly lower-performing player but at a heavily discounted cost of 3years/$33 million vs. 3years/$60 million. This allows the team to spend money elsewhere and improve itself in different areas that can make up for the loss in home run power and on-base abilities.
As of Jan. 1st, the other premier free agent, Jose Bautista is still unsigned. One would think that with Toronto would not want to lose two potential 40+ home run hitters, but it seems that the team is not averse to it. With rumors circling Brett Gardner of the New York Yankees, a trade with Toronto would definitely end Bautista’s time with the Jays.
The idea of trading for Gardner is not a bad one. The 33 year-old has two more years on his 4 year/$52 million contract and an option for 2019 at $12.5 million. This money is affordable. The Jays would receive a gold glove caliber outfielder with speed on the bases, as well as another decent lefty bat.
On the contrary, this idea seems to break down when one considers that the Yankees are in the same division as Toronto. This means that whomever they trade to New York could be playing against the Jays in pinstripes at some point or another. The Yankees are also in somewhat of a rebuild phase right now and would certainly ask for good prospects- ones that could kill Toronto in the future. It is true that prospects are just prospects, but Gardner is no superstar, and I do not belive that giving up good prospects for a player of his level is the best of ideas. Therefore I think it would not be in the team’s best interest to trade for Gardner.
By signing Bautista instead, the team does not have to give up anything to sign him other than money. The draft compensation attached to Bautista has hurt his market, and he may come at a relatively affordable price. In doing this, he may have to play right field which would hurt the team defensively and comes with injury potential, but a healthy 2017 would more than make up for that.
As for the rest of the team, the rotation is in good shape. J.A. Happ was a diamond in the rough for them, Aaron Sanchez had his best year yet, Marco Estrada was good, and Marcus Stroman continues to develop after his first full season post-ACL recovery. Francisco Liriano is inconsistent but is OK for a no. 5 starter.
The bullpen is definitely an area of concern, but hopefully some holes could be filled with players down in Triple-A. Two such players would be Wil Browning and Murphy Smith who had great years as relievers in the minors this year. Browning could be a righty expert as he held them to a .436 OPS against him, and Smith had a 1.48 ERA, although the latter may need a longer evaluation period.
As for a reclamation project, I would suggest the Jays swoop in and snatch up Greg Holland. The free agent and ex-Kansas City Royals closer missed all of 2016 with Tommy John surgery. In 2014, the closer posted a 1.44 ERA with a .914 WHIP and 46 saves, although his ERA ballooned to 3.83 in 2015. With Greg Holland the Jays have a chance here to pick up a player who has tremendous upside and not a huge amount of risk- like Joaquin Benoit before he went down. An effective Holland paired with Roberto Osuna would make for a fearsome, lockdown tandem at the end of games for the Jays. The only problem in acquiring him would be outbidding the competition.
Overall, the Jays are still in a good position after Encarnacion’s departure. Given the massive upgrades by the Boston Red Sox, a division title is a little doubtful, but could another Wild Card spot is quite realistic. The bullpen is questionable, but the offense still has Troy Tulowitzki and 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson in the middle of it. The rotation will be key to the team’s success in 2017. On the whole though, it is good to know that things still look good after Encarnacion’s departure.
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