With the free agent loss of Edwin Encarnacion, and the likely pending departures of Jose Bautista and Michael Saunders, the Blue Jays offence could take a step back in 2017.
We knew it couldn’t last forever. The Blue Jays have had an embarrassment of riches in their lineup for the last couple of seasons, boasting as many of six current or former All-Stars in their everyday lineup. In 2015, they had an MLB-leading 232 home runs, boasting a Canadian version of “Murderer’s Row” (*- I’m aware only Russell Martin was actually Canadian).
With Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and Michael Saunders all free agents this year, change was inevitable. Encarnacion is now in Cleveland, and the Blue Jays have signed Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce to help fill the void at DH and first base. Bautista and Saunders remain on the free agent market, but their ties to Toronto have been fairly limited at this stage.
Whether the Jays look to bring one or both of their former outfielders back or not, it’s likely they’ll look to improve their outfield picture. Currently, Kevin Pillar is the lone guarantee, with some mixture of Ezequiel Carrera, Melvin Upton, and Dalton Pompey set to battle for the corner outfield jobs. The market is getting to a stage where there are dwindling upgrades to be had, so the front office will likely continue to explore the trade market as well.
There is a school of thought that the Blue Jays can’t, and shouldn’t, look to match their offence of 2015, and even 2016. After all, the greatest strength of last season’s roster was the starting rotation, and pitching has become a bigger focus for most of the MLB in recent seasons. If Encarnacion’s free agency proved anything, it’s that teams aren’t as willing to fork out big-money, long-term deals to power hitters anymore. Guys like Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder (injury) may have ruined it for bat-only power hitters.
So if the Blue Jays were to roll with what they currently have (relax, I don’t actually think they will), what would that look like? It’ll ultimately be John Gibbons’ decision, but I would imagine it would look something like this:
- Devon Travis– 2B
- Josh Donaldson– 3B
- Kendrys Morales- DH
- Troy Tulowitzki– SS
- Russell Martin- C
- Steve Pearce- 1B
- Ezequiel Carrera/Melvin Upton- LF
- Kevin Pillar- CF
- Dalton Pompey- RF
There are those that would argue there is enough offence in that lineup to win, provided the pitching staff performs at an elite level. That said, it may be a lot to ask at this stage, as the bullpen is still badly in need of upgrade prior to spring training. The rotation looks to be strong again, but it would be unrealistic to expect the kind of health the Blue Jays were blessed with last year.
The problem may even run deeper than that though, as the Blue Jays may have to pray for good health for their lineup as well in order to contend. Their biggest vulnerability could end up being their offensive depth.
As things stand, the top five hitters listed above are all capable offensive weapons, but their responsibility in the offence shifts slightly with the lineup changes next year. The problem could be injuries and/or maintenance, as the key weapons also play key positions. Russell Martin will be 34 years old next season, and won’t be (and shouldn’t be) in the lineup every day. Travis has battled shoulder and knee injuries throughout his young career. Tulowitzki’s injury history is well-documented as well, and he’s now 32.
It remains to be seen if Morales can contribute at first base, thus freeing up the potential for others to get a “rest day” at DH. If he struggles in that role, it means he’ll have to sit in order for Martin to DH, or Martin would have to sit outright in order to rest his legs. Either way, it’s another useful bat removed from the equation.
Let’s look at another scenario. Let’s say Pearce gets banged up and needs a couple days off, Tulowitzki is on the DL, and Martin needs a maintenance day. Then the lineup looks like this:
- Travis- 2B
- Donaldson- 3B
- Morales- DH
- Justin Smoak– 1B
- Upton- LF
- Pillar- CF
- Darwin Barney– SS
- Pompey- RF
- A.J. Jimenez (or free agent, back-up catcher)
Not exactly imposing, is it?
The first lineup example isn’t so bad, and would look even better if you brought back Bautista, or added a Brandon Moss type. The second example is downright scary (not in the good way), and would have opposing pitchers licking their chops.
With a lineup set to lean heavily on the likes of Travis, Tulo, and Martin, “offensive depth” could be as important as anything when rounding out the roster for next year.