Toronto Blue Jays offseason outlook: A team of two cores
The sudden arrival of the 2016-17 MLB offseason has pushed several big-picture conversations about the Toronto Blue Jays to the forefront.
In the broadest scope, the Blue Jays are now challenged with adding or developing supplemental pieces to complete a roster made up of two distinct cores.
On one side the Blue Jays have a trio of large salary commitments in Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, and Russell Martin. Donaldson is due to earn $17 million in 2017 before entering another arbitration year, a number that is very easy to digest for the Blue Jays front office. Tulowitzki comes in just north of that at $20 million, a salary he’ll stay level at for the next three seasons.
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Russell Martin, on the other hand, will be challenged to match his $20 million salary — also locked in for the next three seasons — after a postseason that saw him go just 3-for-33 with 14 strikeouts. Martin will be 34 when the 2017 season opens, and limiting him to 120 games or less at catcher to keep him physically fresh could be a priority.
Toronto’s second core, of course, is their youth. Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman are positioned to lead the rotation long-term while Roberto Osuna is one of the best young closers in all of baseball at just 21. Joe Biagini has been a revelation alongside him in the bullpen, and could transition back into a starter should the Blue Jays choose.
Kevin Pillar turns 28 in January but has still yet to reach his arbitration years. Devon Travis is locked in as Toronto’s second-baseman of now and tomorrow should he stay healthy, and Dalton Pompey has an opportunity to win a job in spring training. Even slugging first base prospect Rowdy Tellez could steal a spot on the 25-man roster should Edwin Encarnacion not return.
These players are key not just for their youth and remaining development ahead, but also for their price tags. Having such value from players on a league minimum salary (or close) allows the Blue Jays to be much more flexible elsewhere and softens the blow of certain $20 million annual salaries.
The Blue Jays’ challenge now comes in filling the gaps. Encarnacion and Jose Bautista may well be gone. Michael Saunders could very well leave in free agency himself, while Brett Cecil, R.A. Dickey, and others are hitting the open market.
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A year with record attendance should help to pad Toronto’s offseason budget slightly — though we can’t be certain how much — and the front office will need to address at least some of these holes via the free agent market. Do some of Toronto’s younger assets become trade chips? Will the Blue Jays attempt to fully reload for one more championship window with Josh Donaldson in town? How much time are we going to spend talking about Joey Votto? Don’t answer that last one.
One thing is now clear: Toronto Blue Jays fans should feel confident that their team has the proper front office in place to take the correct path. Besides, the only team that could stop the Blue Jays in the American League was the team that Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro just finished building.