Ahhh, baseball season is upon us once again. With Major League Baseball clubs opening up their season’s this past Thursday, those of us on the bench figured it was time to dust off our crystal ball (or dartboard) and fire away with a blog packed full of a variety of our predictions for the upcoming season. What follows is a collection of our picks for division winners, World Series champions and a variety of individual awards. Each of which can all very easily be used as ammunition to completely dismantle our credibility for being completely off in about 7 months time. So without further ado, our 2018 MLB predictions: Read more
Category Archives: Toronto Blue Jays
There’s no better way to take the wind out of your sails like a deflating 6-1 loss on Opening Day. A five run loss isn’t quite a complete demolition job by any means. But the fact that the Jays only mustered two hits while the Yankees wracked up 11 hits and 24 total bases makes me feel fortunate that they only lost by five runs.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m no stranger to a Blue Jays Opening Day loss, so this game should just be another drop in the bucket. But after watching how Toronto lost game, this is easily the most worried that I’ve been after game # 1 on the schedule.
Last week the Jays made a couple of moves that gave off a flicker on heat in an otherwise dormant hot stove. First they signed 36 year old outfielder Curtis Granderson to a one year $5 mil deal and followed up that huge pickup by trading for Randal Grichuk by sending reliever Dominic Leon and prospect Connor Greene to the St. Louis Cardinals. Old Man Granderson still has some life in his bat and his 2017 splits versus right handers (21 home runs and a 114 OPS+) should at the very least make him a good platoon guy in a corner outfield spot. The 26 year-old Grichuk is under team control through 2020, plays all three outfield spots well and makes up for a low .285 OBP with some 20+ home run pop.
In a vacuum both moves are smart seeing as they didn’t cost the Blue Jays a lot and improve the Jays incrementally by bolstering their big league depth. In spite of that both moves have been surprisingly divisive among the fan base. While I’d like to think there’s a large group of fans that understand that these moves are low risk, medium reward moves, a lot of fans are waiting for the Blue Jays answer to the Giancarlo signing (or to blow the team up with a Josh Donaldson trade). As is stands right now, assuming the Jays carry a typical seven man bullpen, here’s how their lineup looks:
C: Russel Martin
1B: Justin Smoak
2B: Devon Travis
SS: Troy Tulowitski
3B: Josh Donaldson
LF: Curtis Granderson
CF: Kevin Pillar
RF: Randal Grichuk
DH: Kendrys Morales
C2: Luke Maile
IF: Yangervis Solarte
OF: Ezequiel Carrera
OF: Steve Pearce
(Bold indicates new acquisition)
After the moves last week the Jays have an estimated $10-15 mil left in their budget to acquire a fifth starter and upgrade the backup catcher and bullpen. This team is not a finished product right now and there are good moves to be had. But all of Jays Nation seems to have the same question that I have: what’s the end game here?
From what I can tell the 2018 Toronto Blue Jays are going to field the best team possible within their budget, without mortgaging their future in their last season of the Donaldson contract. While these moves aren’t sexy the Jays manage to win 76 games last year with a team despite some major setbacks. Donaldson was either on the DL or playing hurt for the majority of the year, 2016 Cy Young candidate Aaron Sanchez only pitched 36 innings, and the team had to hand 1,507 at bats to the dreadful trio of Darwin Barney, Ryan Goins and Jose Bautista (sporting OPS+ of 57, 68 and 76 and a combined WAR of -2.6). Even if Granderson, Grichuk and Solarte provide replacement-level production, which to be clear would be wildly disappointing, the Jays would be nearly 3 wins better than last year almost through addition by subtraction. Barring catastrophic injuries the Jays will be in the Wild Card hunt in 2018. But even given this, the Toronto offseason has been one of the most bleak in recent memory.
It’s easy to mock the ranting mouth breathers that light up the lines of Wilner’s Jays Talk. They generally don’t look at any numbers, they think everyone on the team is trash, but they feel that they can package the previously mentioned trash for a package including Mike Trout, a re-animated Babe Ruth, and left-handed pitcher Jésus Christ. But lost among the easily brushed off silly-talk is the backbone of sports: passion.
At the end of the day sports is an entertainment industry and is supposed to be an escape from from the daily grind of real life. Sports are nothing without the fans. But I feel as though the cold-calculating analytical thinking that runs front offices has started to bleed too much into fandom. I personally love to dive into the numbers and read up on nuanced numbers that go deeper than what we’re seeing on the field. But I feel like baseball has turned into a big game of math where the geniuses scoff at baseball fans who are simply looking to be entertained.
I actually like the Atkins and Shapiro front office. But I wouldn’t trade that last season of Alex Anthopolous for anything. Alex thought he had a winning hand, pushed the chips into the middle of the table and took his best shot at the World Series. Huge trades or signings can energize a fanbase like no other. Whether sincere or not it gives the basic appearance that ownership and management care about the product on the field. That 2015 Blue Jays season was the most exciting time I’ve had as a sports fan period.
Now after the fact there is a narrative among “smarter” Jays fans that, “Well Anthopolous jeopardized the team’s future. While the Blue Jays were at .500 when they made those trades, they had one of the best run differentials in the league and would’ve likely went on that stretch whether they had Price or not. Now they’re locked into a terrible Tulowitzki contract and a depleted farm system for one playoff run.” This is a real take that I’ve read multiple time over the past year and to that I say: baseball games aren’t played on a spreadsheet poindexter.
Fan perception does matter. Fans watch the games. Fans buy the tickets. Fans buy the merch. I do think the current Blue Jays front office has actually done a ton of good things to build a better organization from the big club down to Blue Field Blue Jays in rookie ball. But even they would have to admit that, what might be unfair because of the heat of the Anthopolous departure on day one of the job, Shapiro has not been received well by the majority of the fanbase,
The purpose of this piece is not to rip Blue Jays ownership for not spending more. The team had the fifth highest payroll in the league last year. Without the crazy lucrative television deals and sponsorships that the big American markets have, you can’t truly expect Rogers to shovel even more money at the roster. My biggest gripe is the million dollar nickel-and-diming economics lesson that baseball has turned into while the MLB has a handful of teams have unlimited budgets. It’s tough when you see the fun that Yankees, Red Sox and Dodgers fans have every offseason while I cling to my Al Alburquerque minor-league deals. You’re always reminded that baseball is a business and that has never been more evident than this offseason.
A Josh Donaldson Contract Extension
The Bringer of Rain is pretty much all but gone when his contract expires at the end of this season. That is if the Jays don’t trade him first. Considering it is the first time that the 2015 AL MVP will get to test unrestricted free agency, don’t expect Donaldson to come cheap. It has been proven time and time again that signing 30 year-old MVP candidates to mega-contracts just isn’t smart (ex. see Pujols, Albert who is Bad, Very). The Blue Jays just aren’t a team that can afford to eat bad contracts. But, hear me out, give this guy a blank check. On one hand you could potentially have a rapidly declining player that you’re stuck paying $20-30 million annually for seven years, which financially handicaps Toronto’s payroll, sending them into a tailspin of mediocrity. On the other hand Donaldson is the type of stud that can be the best player on a championship team. Banners fly forever baby.
No Blisters in 2018
A healthy Aaron Sanchez would’ve gone a long way in 2017. With Sanchez missing the majority of games last year because of blister problem, the Jays sorely missed their staff ace. Even with Stroman’s breakout campaign, the Jays had to eat up Sahnchez’s lost innings with the nauseating combination of Joe Biagini, Mike Bolsinger, Brett Anderson, and Matt Latos. If Sanchez’s dainty hands can’t hold up this upcoming season then the Jays are probably cooked considering the Yankees and Red Sox already have the division and at least one wild card spot already locked up.
An Eastern Conference Finals Berth
Even though they are one of the NHL’s youngest teams, the clock is starting to tick on this Maple Leafs core. Matthews, Marner and Nylander will see their rookie contracts expire in the next two offseasons and their subsequent raises will take a huge chunk of Toronto’s salary cap. Bozak and JVR are UFAs this summer and it isn’t likely that Toronto can continue to pay Kadri, Komorov and Marleau big money to play secondary roles. Chicago was able to win a Cup in 2010 before having to dump Ladd, Niemi and Byfuglien in their first salary cap purge. In my mind the Leafs have to show some playoff progress this spring with their current roster as good as it is right now. They may have a deep prospect pool but you just can’t pencil in a Kapanen to automatically replace Van Riemsdyk’s production. A 2018 Cup run might feel selfish for a fan so new to playoff hockey but a guy can dream.
Less Roman Polak
Everything bad ever said about Dion Phaneuf (he certainly wasn’t great but I have long been a vocal Dion defender) is actually true about Roman Polak. He is an absolute pylon and liability on the ice. He’s slow, has no offensive inclination to speak of… but boy can he ever move bodies in front of the net! As much as I like the work Babcock has done to turn the team around, his affinity for “the Roman Polak show” is both weird and maddening. I don’t care how they do it, but I need Lou to find a new sixth defenseman.
More Soccer Wins Probably
Not a huge fan of the beautiful game but BMO Field was rocking when TFC stormed their way to the MLS Cup. Who am I to look down on a championship winning team? Especially considering I’m lucky when my teams even make the playoffs. Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco seem like they’d be cool to cheer for. Hopefully they can keep the good times rolling.
An NFL Team
This is a pipe dream seeing as NFL expansion isn’t imminent and there’s no obvious relocation candidates. As one of the CFL’s least attended teams–home games only averaged a capacity of 51.53% with no sellouts–the Grey Cup-champion Argonauts clearly aren’t scratching Toronto’s football itch. The closest NFL team is the Buffalo Bills who haven’t made the playoffs since 1999. Football fans from Southern Ontario either have to latch onto a loser franchise or have to wade into the depths of Bills Mafia at New Era Field to watch the away teams play. Both options are less than ideal. I for one am tired of watching the Bills get pummeled by the Patriots in Week 15 with a potential playoff berth on the line.
Beat Cleveland… Please
Two straight years of losing to the Cavs in the playoffs just won’t cut it anymore. We are now four seasons removed from the “We the North” movement and only have three “Atlantic Division Champions” banners to show for their efforts. I would much rather make the playoffs every year than go back in time and watch Andrea Bargnani disappoint me on a nightly basis. But at a certain point if you aren’t even threatening to win a championship then the whole process seems rather pointless. I love watching the Demar score at will from all over the court (he’s even hitting some threes this year!), Kyle is still a bull dog of a point guard, and it’s fun to watch the seemingly endless amount of young bench contributors step in and play effectively. It would just be cool to at least look like you can hang in with Lebron and the Cavs as opposed to being swatted aside like a bug.
An NBA Christmas Day Game
Regardless of their lack of playoff success, the Raptors have consistently been one of the best teams in the NBA. Yet they get snubbed from the NBA’s prime-time Christmas Day games. Since the end of their breakout 2013-2014 season, here’s how the Raptors regular season win % from 2014 to today matches up with the teams that played on Christmas yesterday:
Golden State Warrior 0.836
Cleveland Cavaliers 0.661
Houston Rockets 0.653
Toronto Raptors 0.646
Boston Celtics 0.594
OKC Thunder 0.593
Washington Wizards 0.554
New Yorks Knicks 0.348
Minnesota Timberwolves 0.346
Los Angeles Lakers 0.270
Philadelphia 76ers 0.254
As of right now Raptors sit atop the Eastern Conference with a 23-8 record with a top 10 offense and defense and one of the NBA’s best benches. They have only ever played one Christmas Day game in franchise history (Vince Carter and co. lost to the Knicks in 2001) due in large part to: a) not playing in a major American media market and b) they don’t have a “marketable” star.
I feel that these two notions are incredibly short-sighted. Toronto is easily the media epicenter of Canada and the inclusion of the Raptors in a Christmas Day game could potentially create a holiday tradition among Canadian hoops fans. I would easily count myself in as someone who would be in the NBA’s target market, but I only ever occasionally tune in to the Christmas Day games if the day hits a lull. If the Raptors are slated for an afternoon game then I am tuning in no questions asked. As for the lack of star-power, I realize that Demar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry’s names don’t carry the same name as a Porzingas, Westbrook, George, Carmelo, Towns, Embiid, Simmons or Lonzo, but they have been far too good for far too long to be ignored as much as they are South of the border. Toronto needs a Christmas game no later than 2018.
Wow this is a tough one. Just a complete gut punch. Here we had an athlete, role model and–to many–a hero. Without any warning at all Halladay is just gone. He is tragically leaving behind a young family at the way-too young age of 40. It just doesn’t make sense.
Some say that your formative years as a sports fan is around age 10. When I was just starting to become a baseball fan, I happened to be stuck with the hapless Toronto Blue Jays of the early 2000’s. I watched many years of bad baseball, while a seemingly endless supply of forgettable players suited up for the Toronto Blue Jays. Despite the Jays being an after-thought in the tough American League East, I still loved the team. This was do in no small part to Roy Halladay. Read more
In a season mired by injuries that started off with a deflating and horrendous 2-11 start, the Toronto Blue Jays season of 2017 has felt like a constant, steep climb back to relevancy. With every game they’re trying to chip away and get back to where they’ve found themselves these past two exciting seasons: postseason contention.
As the Blue Jays have gotten deeper into this season, I’ve had to keep a realistic view on the chances they had at digging themselves out of this hole. The recent optimist in me would argue that there’s an opportunity to gain ground on some of the teams they’re chasing in head to head matchups down the stretch. It’s also a weak wildcard race and they have had a recent surge of good play that had pulled them within just three games of the second wildcard spot as recently as last weekend. These games left just enough hope that I thought, “you know what? Maybe they can pull this off.” But a three game sweep at the hands of the defending World Series champs and a split with the Rays going into a rubber match tonight (EDIT: They lost this one too) has the Jays looking at a 1-4 stretch that has just about spelled the end of the 2017 playoff push. Since the All-Star break, I’ve kept in mind a philosophy that I wouldn’t totally give up on the Jays’ postseason chances until they are more games back of the final wildcard spot than there are weeks remaining in the season. Well, there’s about five and a half weeks left, and they’re now five and a half games out. That’s cutting it pretty close with just 36 games remaining and seven teams to pass. I’d say it’s basically over.
We really shouldn’t be surprised. At this point in time they’re without their starting catcher (Martin), shortstop (Tulowitzki), second baseman (Travis) and best starting pitcher of last season (Sanchez). The likes of Raffy Lopez, Matt Dermody and Nick Tepesch, to name a few of many scrub replacements, simply won’t hold up for a stretch of wins the Blue Jays need. There’s a reason we hadn’t really heard of them before they were forced into their current roles. But with all of that said, it’s nearly September, so there may still be something to get excited about as a Jays fan (and no, it’s not that the season is almost over with). It’s the…September Call-Ups:
Ahhhhhh, roster expansion. The time of year where fresh faces get the call to the bigs with hopes of proving themselves under the bright lights and gaining some valuable developmental reps. It’s at this time where we as fans likely get our first real look at a potential Blue Jay piece of the future. Unfortunately we aren’t going to see the Jays legit young studs, Bo Bichette or Vladimir Guerrero Jr., just yet because they are still too early in their development. Below are some of the players we could be introduced/reintroduced to come call-up time. (Players Currently on the 40-man roster are in bold)
Anthony Alford (OF): The Blue Jays 2012 3rd round pick is considered the team’s #3 prospect behind only Guerrero Jr. and Bichette and is the #49 prospect in baseball according to MLB Pipeline. We had a very brief eight-at-bat look at him with the Blue Jays in 2017, so hopefully we can see some more of the 23 year-old who has a .399 OBP in the minors this season, most of which was with the AA New Hampshire Fisher-Cats. He could bring some much needed speed and defense to the corner outfield positions.
Brett Anderson (P): We’ll get a look at Tom Koehler – a 31 year-old veteran the Jays recently acquired in trade from the Miami Marlins last week – in his first chance to start with the team this Thursday. Anderson is another veteran starter the Jays took a flier on and, like Koehler, we could see in an appearance this season. Anderson is 29 years old and was signed to a minor-league deal last week after being released from the Cubs. He’s seen Major League rotation time with the Athletics, Rockies and Dodgers in the past, but injuries have been a major issue for him. His most recent success was in 2015 with the Dodgers where he went 10-9 with a 3.69 over 180.1 innings. This really wasn’t that long ago.
Ryan Borucki (P): Borucki was 15th round pick in 2012 and underwent Tommy John surgery in 2013. The 6’4”, 23 year-old left-handed starter has been able to return to form and is slotted as the #14 Blue Jays prospect. He began the year with the Class-A Dunedin Blue Jays but earned a promotion to the AA Fisher-Cats earlier this summer. He’s actually pitched better so far in AA than he did with Dunedin with a 2.29 ERA and 0.92 WHIP in just under 40 innings.
Roemon Fields (OF): It’s too bad the Jays aren’t going to be a playoff team this season, because it’d be very interesting to see how they’d utilize this guy. Fields has no power, but he has at least 44 stolen bases in all four of his pro seasons. He’d be the perfect pinch runner. He’s also managed to put up an impressive .362 OBP in his 319 AAA at-bats this season. He’d be exciting to watch as a Blue Jay.
Teoscar Hernandez (OF): The prized piece in return for Francisco Liriano in the trade with the Houston Astros at the non-waiver trade deadline. The 24 year-old from the Dominican Republic is the 5th ranked Jays prospect according to MLB.com. He’s actually had 42 games of MLB experience with the Astros (41 of which came in 2016) so the Blue Jays are sure to give him a big-league look in spite of a sluggish start since joining the AAA Buffalo Bisons.
Sean Reid-Foley (P): Another AA pitcher, but unlike Borucki, Reid-Foley has been much more hyped and written about. He was a 2nd round pick back in 2014 and possesses a fastball that can touch 97mph. He is currently the Blue Jays #7 ranked prospect via MLB.com. After a few years of looking like a prized pitching prospect he’s had quite a rough year with a 5.18 ERA in 24 starts with the New Hampshire Fisher-Cats. The clock hasn’t run out on Reid-Foley by any stretch, but maybe it’s time to just throw the kid in there and see if he’s got what it takes.
Michael Saunders (OF): Remember him? It was just last year Saunders was an All-Star for the Blue Jays before the wheels fell off in the second half of the season. As bad as last season’s second half was, he still got a contract from the Phillies in the offseason, only to then be released within three months. The Jays scooped him up on a minor league deal back on June the 28th. In 120 at bats with the AAA Bisons he’s hitting an unimpressive (for a player with MLB experience) .267. But Saunders has a track record of big league success, and once again was an ALL-STAR just LAST YEAR. Maybe the Canadian gets another shot.
Dwight Smith Jr. (OF): Smith Jr. was up earlier this season with the Jays and the 24 year-old fared well with a .414 OBP in his 29 plate appearances. Obviously that’s an unsustainable number and small sample size, but he’s also posted an impressive .349 OBP in his first full season at the AAA level with the Bisons. The 2011 1st round pick may be the closest to a lock of the players on this list to get the call to the bigs.
Rowdy Tellez (1B): Tellez has received a lot of buzz since last season. He’s an intriguing story because back in 2013 he fell all the way to the Jays in the 30th round in the draft. He slid because teams feared he wouldn’t sign with them due to him already having accepted a scholarship to USC. He was the 59th ranked player entering that draft so the Jays took a chance, he ended up signing, and it has worked out perfectly as the 22 year-old power bat has become their 13th ranked prospect. He broke out in AA last year with 23 HR, 81 RBI and a .297/.387/.530 slash line. Unfortunately he hasn’t fared nearly as well this season with the AAA Bisons, but it’d still be nice to see if Rowdy can make the jump.
Happy soon-to-be-September everyone. Let’s hope we’re in a better position this time next season.
Now I’ve taken some heat for my old Justin Smoak bashing ways.
I’m not going to sugar-coat it. I was wrong. But as a Jays fan first, and a former Justin Smoak hater second, I’m glad I was wrong. So far this season, Justin Smoak has gone and hit his way into the All Star conversation. His emergence as a lethal bat has been especially important for a Jays team that has been riddled with injuries and overall terrible play, yet somehow find themselves 3 games back of a wild card spot.