The Blue Jays were bounced from the ALCS in two consecutive years in 2015-16, and entered the offseason with some stated goals on how to try to take the next step.
The Blue Jays have had a great deal of success in the last two seasons. For as disappointing as their finishes have been, there is nothing to sneeze at when it comes to an ALCS berth, especially for a playoff-starved franchise.
For as exciting as those two playoff runs have been, they’ve left Blue Jays players and fans alike with a hunger for just a little more.
As the Blue Jays entered this offseason, they knew they would be returning an elite core, while also losing some significant pieces to their lineup. As most of us know, the free agent list included Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Michael Saunders, R.A. Dickey, and Brett Cecil, among others, clearing over 43 million from the payroll, but also 89 home runs and valuable innings from the pitching staff.
Soon after the season, speculation began about who might return, and what other pieces could be brought in to push the club to the World Series. The consistent answer we heard regarding the offence was, “more balance”, or the need for speed, defence, and preferably more left-handed bats in the lineup.
So, how did the front office do in pursuing these goals? (Looking just at the offensive side)
Defence: With Bautista returning to right field, and Pearce’s position unknown, it’s hard to say the Blue Jays improved in this area. Pearce will likely spend the majority of time at first, but could also see time in left field, or at second base. While he’s not a terrible fielder, he’s not an improvement either, nor is Bautista. Swapping Salty for Navarro as the back-up catcher keeps things pretty much status quo back there.
Speed: While the Jays didn’t lose any speedsters, they certainly didn’t address this area either. Bautista is another year older, Morales is among the slowest runners in baseball, and Pearce is average at best.
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Left-handed bat: Both Morales and “Salty” are switch-hitters, so they can at least bring a left-handed bat against right-handed pitchers. Otherwise, no lefty swingers were signed, despite Toronto’s efforts on several guys including Dexter Fowler.
So was the offseason a success? Using this as a measuring stick, the answer is an obvious no.
However, free agency isn’t as easy as identifying a need and acquiring it. In the case of someone like Fowler (who was a perfect fit), there were more than 10 teams who inquired about his services. The Blue Jays made a strong bid, but he ultimately decided to sign with the Cardinals, leaving the Blue Jays with available payroll, and roster needs.
For as frustrating as the offseason was in many ways, the front office deserves some credit for what they were able to accomplish, after their initial plans didn’t work out as they intended. They tried to address their desired needs, and when it didn’t work out they didn’t try to force the issue, but instead grabbed the best available players.
They missed on Encarnacion, but signed Bautista to a one year deal, which didn’t seem possible at the beginning of free agency. They could have spent 20+ million annually on one player, but instead took 20 million and turned it into Morales, Pearce and an extra arm for the pen. While it hurt to watch Eddie go, the front office deserves credit for salvaging a tough situation.
So no, they didn’t achieve the offseason goals of “better balance” in the form of added speed, defence, and balancing the batting order.