The Canadian dollar is down but Blue Jay baseball is right around the corner. The reigning AL East Division champions are looking to make a statement once again after falling short in the American League Championship Series against the Kansas City Royals.
Pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training in Dunedin, Florida on Monday. For what seemed to be a short off season, the Blue Jays were somewhat cautious with with free agency and contracts as nothing lived up to the trade deadline in the last week of July 2015. There’s a new regime in town that is new team President Mark Shapiro and General Manager Ross Atkins. The two come from the Cleveland Indians organization who took over after the departures of Paul Beeston and Alex Anthopolous at seasons end. The 2016 season will be an important, but crucial season for the team and front office.
The Blue Jays have one of the most dangerous lineups in the game. However, pitching remains an issue for the team and luckily it’s just for the final spot in the rotation. Marcus Stroman has declared that he wants to be the ace for the team after the departure of southpaw pitcher David Price. With the energy and fire he provides on the mound, it looks promising for the soon to be 25-year old to be in that role. Marco Estrada will likely be the number two guy in the rotation. He came out of nowhere last season as Estrada started in the bullpen, then worked his way into the rotation where he had an outstanding season. Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey will likely be in the middle of the rotation along with J.A. Haap, who is making his second stint with the team after signing a 3 year/ $36 million contract in December. Both Dickey and Haap had a better second half in the 2015 season. That leaves Drew Hutchinson, Aaron Sanchez and Jesse Chavez to battle it out for the final spot.
When it comes to the bullpen, we’ll see the return of Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup and possibly Aaron Sanchez who could continue to be the guy they call on in the eighth inning. Then there’s 21-year old Roberto Osuna who surprisingly made the team for Opening Day and he did not disappoint as the teams closer. Osuna is up against Drew Storen, who the Blue Jays acquired from the Washington Nationals and Ben Revere goes to the Nationals as apart of the deal. It’ll be interesting to see how that will go when they begin pre-season ball next week.If anything, Storen could serve as a mentor for Osuna.
Any discussion should be about the teams offense. The Blue Jays scored 891 runs, the most by any team since the 2009 New York Yankees. AL MVP Josh Donaldson lead the league with runs scored and runners batted in. Russel Martin hammered 23 home runs and his strong defense showed off really well behind the plate. Martin is also known for being a voice of reason in the clubhouse which demonstrates his leadership on and off the field. When healthy, Troy Tulowitzki delivers at the plate and defensively at short stop. A major upgrade from Jose Reyes a year ago.
The departure of Ben Revere means that the left field position is up for grabs and the lead off spot in the batting rotation. Expect Michael Saunders (who was almost dealt this week but back fried because of his pending physical and slight concern of his knee) and Dalton Pompey to compete for the spot. If Saunders gets the spot, Pompey could be back with the Blue Jays AAA affiliate, the Buffalo Bisons, but he could very well be in line to to fill the gap if something does happen with Saunders.
Coming-of-age centre fielder Kevin Pillar, who should of won a Gold Glove for his defensive abilities, will probably take on a bigger offensive role and continue his dominate defensive plays. Both Pillar and Sauders are early favourites to be the lead off hitter in the lineup. Devon Travis will also be back but not until May- early June. Travis is looking to bounce back after he went from being the AL Rookie of the Month to having a shoulder injury that shelved him for the remainder of the season. While Travis is on the DL, Ryan Goins will continue to be the teams second basemen on a daily basis.
At first base, the dynamic duo of Justin Smoak and Chris Collabello will continue to switch back and forth at that position. Smoak and Collabello are looking to have the same success they had with the team last year.
There are high hopes for Canada’s lone baseball team with many reasons to be excited this summer. Fans should enjoy it while they can because this might not be the same team will we see one year from now. Particularly because of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, the teams top offensive bats who are both going into their walk years and could be the two most valuable hitters in the free agent market next winter.
Encarnacion and his agent have said they will not talk have any contract discussions beyond Opening Day. On Friday, Encarnacion also expressed his desire to spend the rest of his career in a Blue Jays uniform. He’s hit more home runs than any player, except for Chris Davis, since 2012. Bautista on the other hand, came out publicly on Monday saying he will not take a hometown discount, which is understandable for what he’s done for the team. On the other hand there was speculation that the 35-year olds asking price was five years/ $150 million which is a very steep price especially at his age. For now, the team and management should solely focus on Spring Training to prepare themselves for the upcoming season. Now is not the appropriate time to have a dark cloud looming over the Blue Jays.
Fans must understand that outside of the game, baseball is a BUSINESS. People should also note that there’s a very real chance that neither Bautista or Encarnacion will dawn a Blue Jays jersey in 2017. It’s a complicated situation and luckily there’s enough time to discuss contracts with both gentlemen.
When the bats and defense are alive, the lineup will scare other pitchers in the league. In the mean time, sit back, get the beers and snacks ready for April 3rd when the Blue Jays kick off the season on the road against the Tampa Bay Rays. This will be a season for fans to enjoy that comes with promising hope for a team who is in a must win situation.