Now that the Blue Jays have been eliminated from the 2016 postseason, it’s time to look ahead to the offseason. An offseason that will see significant turnover as the club has several significant free agents potentially leaving.
It was a dream lineup on paper, and for the most part in the win column as well for the Toronto Blue Jays the last couple of seasons. Manager John Gibbons was able to fill out a “murderer’s row” on his score card most nights, and watched his team pummel their opponents into submission, especially in 2015.
The 2016 lineup featured six current or former All-Stars (seven if you include Melvin Upton), and also seven sluggers who hit 20 or more home runs.
- * Edwin Encarnacion– 42 HR, 127 RBI
- Josh Donaldson– 37 HR, 99 RBI
- * Jose Bautista– 22 HR, 69 RBI
- Troy Tulowitzki– 24 HR, 79 RBI
- * Michael Saunders– 24 HR, 57 RBI
- Russell Martin– 20 HR, 74 RBI
- Upton- 20 HR, 61 RBI (16 with the San Diego Padres)
* = free agent eligible
Those numbers represent a step back in terms of production from 2015, but still show how dangerous a healthy Blue Jays lineup could be. Add in the contributions of Devon Travis, Kevin Pillar and others, and it was still a formidable lineup in 2016.
They also reflect how one dimensional the potent offence was, which is something that could be changing in the immediate future. Travis was the only player to hit .300 or higher, and he only played in 101 games.
Bautista, Encarnacion, and Saunders headline a list of free agents, which also includes R.A. Dickey, Brett Cecil, and others. The rotation, which flourished in 2016, should be fine without Dickey after the acquisition of Francisco Liriano, who joins arguably the AL’s best rotation. The bullpen will need some help, but it’s the lineup that will face the biggest turnover.
After being eliminated on Wednesday, Jays’ President Mark Shapiro indicated that John Gibbons would be back in 2017, and even the candid manager admitted that he didn’t know what the future would hold for his franchise sluggers.
What we do know is they won’t all be back. The trio of Bautista/Encarnacion/Saunders combined for 88 home runs and 253 RBI, and that won’t be easy production to replace. There is a strong possibility that they could look to bring back one or even two of the free agents, but it sounds like the Blue Jays’ brass is ready to move on where necessary.
Beyond any potential salary restraints, the offence has shown it is too redundant, especially in the playoffs. The free agent trio is very much in the same vain, offering plenty in the power department, but little elsewhere. Bautista regressed significantly in the outfield this season, and now 36, may be best served as a part-time/primary DH going forward. Encarnacion has played that role for several seasons already, and the Jays spent the latter half of 2016 trying to keep Saunders out of the outfield.
The expectation is that the Blue Jays will give the qualifying offer to Bautista and Encarnacion, but Saunders seems like a long shot given his regression in the second half. Gibbons already mentioned the need to bring better balance, including more left-handed hitters and possibly more speed. It’s entirely possible that signing one of the three could eliminate the possibility or “need” to bring back the others.
Encarnacion has made no secret of his desire to return, and it’s expected the club will try to retain him in free agency. Saunders and Cecil have said the same, but there are no guarantees.
The only guarantee is that change is coming, and that the 2015-2016 teams will always have an element of “the one that got away”.