Although the Blue Jays have already lost Edwin Encarnacion to free agency, and may still see Jose Bautista in a different uniform, they are still well equipped with veteran leaders
Whether we like it or not, the Blue Jays are going to look a little different in 2017. Over the past 8+ years, we’ve gotten used to seeing the likes of Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista in the middle of the Blue Jays lineup. We don’t need to beat a dead horse here, but in case you somehow missed it, Encarnacion signed with Cleveland, and Jose Bautista remains a free agent.
Inspired by a few things going on personally, I got thinking about the Blue Jays next season, and how much one or two people can impact an organization. “Edwing” and “Joey Bats” had very different personalities, and certainly had their impact on teammates throughout their tenures in Toronto. Things will be a little different next year, even if Bautista does return to Toronto in free agency.
Bautista is well documented as a strong personality, and no doubt had an impact on the clubhouse, for better or for worse. There have been unconfirmed reports that the Blue Jays may want to move on from his influence, which could be the reason for a perceived lack of interest in bringing back the longtime Jay. As for Encarnacion, his softer personality was rarely, if ever, complained about in the media, and he was often referenced as a source of hitting instruction, especially for youngsters.
Most teams would struggle to lose that type of influence in one offseason, but the Blue Jays may be well set in that regard. They also lost R.A. Dickey in free agency to the Atlanta Braves, which, whether you liked him or not, might impact the rotation in ways that don’t show up on the stat sheet.
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Toronto undoubtedly needs to add pieces before opening day, with the greatest needs being in the outfield, in the bullpen, and likely at backup catcher. That said, the presence of veteran leadership on the remaining roster certainly eases the transition. The presence of Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson, and Troy Tulowitzki is a luxury most teams don’t get to enjoy, and is an enviable foundation to build on.
In Martin’s case, his leadership of a pitching staff and his playoff acumen were big selling points when he was brought in as a free agent prior to the 2015 season. The Canadian backstop has been to the playoffs in 9 of his 11 seasons split between the Dodgers, Yankees, Pirates and Blue Jays. He has been north of the border for two seasons, and not so coincidently, the Jays have qualified for the playoffs in both campaigns. How much credit he should receive is debatable, but it’s hard to deny the results. The Jays had the AL’s top rotation in 2016, despite losing ace David Price in free agency, and closer Roberto Osuna has become one of the best in the AL, despite being just 21.
Josh Donaldson has yet to miss the postseason, since he became a regular with the Oakland A’s in 2012. In a vaguely similar fashion to Bautista, Donaldson has a fiery personality and isn’t afraid to use both his actions, and his words in order to spark his teammates. He wasn’t afraid to make statements like “I think some people need to evaluate their approach”, boldly calling out the clubhouse without pointing fingers at anyone in particular.
Tulowitzki doesn’t have the string of playoff success of the other two, but he led the Rockies to the playoffs twice before joining the Blue Jays and has returned the last two seasons as well. He was long known as a strong presence and leader in Colorado, and has no doubt made an impact since arriving in Toronto.
With the presence of the aforementioned veterans, Tulo didn’t have to “take the reigns” in his first season and a half with the Blue Jays, which may change slightly going forward. He’s certainly capable, and has already developed a solid rapport with Devon Travis, and the rest of the keystone options he has been paired with.
None of this is to say that “leadership” will replace the 64 home runs and 196 RBIs by Encarnacion and Bautista last season. The Blue Jays badly need to add to their MLB roster prior to opening day if they want to keep up with the rest of the AL, as several teams including Boston, Houston, and Cleveland have made significant additions.
The good news is, whomever joins the MLB roster (surely there will be someone), will be joining a strong group and a fairly established clubhouse culture. There will be differences, especially if Bautista signs elsewhere, but it won’t be as drastic as it could have been without the presence of these veterans that the Blue Jays have added over the past two seasons.
Change isn’t comfortable or easy, especially when it comes at the loss of a beloved leader(s), but with a strong remaining core there are plenty of reasons to remain optimistic. Let’s try not to hit the “panic botton” just yet.