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Blue Jays will improve 2016 lineup with health alone

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The Toronto Blue Jays don’t need any help on offense. Their 891 runs scored in 2015 topped the big leagues by an absolute landslide, with a star-studded order producing a whopping 232 home runs. Still, the Blue Jays could get a positional boost in 2016 without making a single move.

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Both Michael Saunders and Devon Travis are due to return at full health in time for spring training. Travis likely has the inside lane on Ryan Goins for the starting job at second base while Saunders will quickly become part of the crowded picture in left field, but each will bring a noticeable improvement to the Toronto lineup with their health alone.

Travis was a revelation after coming over from Detroit in exchange for outfielder Anthony Gose. Despite being ranked as a top prospect in the Tigers’ system at the time, some ‘experts’ described him as a “non-prospect”, noting that his average defense would not carry his bat in the majors. I beg to differ.

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Across 239 plate appearances in 62 games, Travis posted a fantastic triple slash of .304 / .361 / .498 with eight home runs and 35 RBI. He’s not Ryan Goins in the field, but Travis was fundamentally impressive and exceeded any defensive expectations. Keep in mind that his offensive numbers include a stretch where he played well below 100%, so any projected regressions may be overzealous.

Returning Travis to the bottom half of the order would make the starting nine somewhat unfair to opposing pitchers. He could be slotted into an 8/9 role with Kevin Pillar to help flip the lineup over, or even re-enter the conversation as Toronto’s leadoff hitter.

In Saunders, the Blue Jays will have an outfielder that, in some way, should help to complete the roster. The left field landscape involving Ben Revere, Dalton Pompey and himself still needs to shake out, but even in the worst-case scenario of a reserve role, Saunders holds great value.

His 2015 season was a write-off following a freak knee injury, but in an abbreviated 2014, Saunders hit .273 for the Seattle Mariners and has topped 20 stolen bases in his career. That same season, in 2012, Saunders set career highs with 19 home runs and 57 RBI. The launching pad Rogers Centre should be kind to him.

Many have already begun to push the trade of one of Toronto’s outfield chips, but the 2015 season showed how valuable MLB-calibre depth can be. Shall I remind you of Chris Colabello fielding fly balls or the 91 games Ezequiel Carrera appeared in?

There will be player movement this offseason, and assuming Alex Anthopoulos is still calling the shots, we’ll be blindsided by something along the way. This team will still improve by default, however, which should allow the front office to dedicate 100% of their focus to the pitching staff.

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