Blue Jays: No need for any drastic trades this deadline to compete in 2018
In a season full of unfulfilled expectations and players playing below their career norms, the 2017 Toronto Blue Jays are likely to look different come 2018. How different? Who knows. But one thing is for sure, the Blue Jays don’t necessarily need to make any drastic moves in order to be competitive and potentially a postseason team again in 2018.
Francisco Liriano, Marco Estrada, Jose Bautista, Joe Smith and maybe Steve Pearce are all strong candidates to be moved. A move involving anyone else would be a shock to me and something that doesn’t need to happen. Let’s take a look at why.
For the purposes of this article, I am comparing the 2017 Blue Jays directly to the 2016 Kansas City Royals. The Royals made the post-season in 2014 and 2015. After winning the World Series in 2015, they missed the playoffs in 2016 going 81-81. They did finish strong, but the downfall of the Royals was a combination of injuries and core players performing well below what they did in the previous two post-season appearances. Below are tweets comparing the qualified Kansas City Royals hitters from 2015 to 2016.
As you can see, comparing the two seasons from 2015 to 2016 there are some big contrasts between the two. Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas, two of the Royals best position players by fWAR were not even qualified batters due to lack of plate appearances and major stints on the disabled list. Alex Gordon was not qualified in 2015 but posted the same fWAR of 1.2 in 2016. Eric Hosmer had a dreadful season and Salvador Perez was the lone improvement by fWAR in 2016.
Now, let’s look at the Blue Jays qualified batters from 2016 to 2017.
Like the Royals, the Blue Jays made the playoffs in two straight seasons. The Blue Jays made the post-season in 2015 and 2016 but are all but finished for playoff hopes in 2017. Why? It’s quite similar to the 2016 Royals. The Royals lost Cain and Moustakas in 2016 to major DL stints. The Blue Jays in 2017 have lost Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki to major DL stints. Jose Bautista has been worse. Kendrys Morales has been worse from his 2016 Royals season. Kevin Pillar has much worse from 2016 (mainly defensively). Combine the regression of key position players and the loss of Edwin Encarnacion and you have a large reason why the Blue Jays have been terrible in 2017.
Why else can we compare the 2016 Royals and 2017 Blue Jays aside from injuries and poor performances from key position players? The Kansas City Royals did not decide to blow up their core from a season ago despite Cain, Moustakas, and Hosmer all going into contract years in 2017. Many thought the Royals could blow it up at the deadline and start over. Many think the Blue Jays should make major moves by moving core pieces like Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak.
The Royals decided to hold on to their core to retool for one final go at a post-season run in 2017. The only major move made was trading Wade Davis to the Chicago Cubs for Jorge Soler knowing they had Kelvin Herrera to close coming off a 2016 injury. They also moved Jarrod Dyson to the Seattle Mariners for starter Nate Karns. The Royals added Brandon Moss to replace Kendrys Morales. They also signed Drew Butera and Jason Hammel to fill some roster holes going into the 2017 season.
Instead of blowing it up after a down year that was filled with injuries, the Royals decided to re-tool. It did not look good to start the 2017 season after just 7 wins in April. Once the calendar flipped to May, the Royals got hot and currently find themselves 1.5 games back of the Cleveland Indians for 1st and a half game up on the Tampa Bay Rays for wild card #2. They’re in a position to add to the team this deadline and have already started doing so with the addition of Trevor Cahill, Brandon Maurer, and Ryan Buchter.
Below is a screenshot of qualified Kansas City Royals batters for 2017.
Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain are healthy and performing at a good enough level to each provide 2.0 wins. Eric Hosmer has improved on his 2016 and Salvador Perez has remained around the same. Jorge Bonifacio has provided decent value for a rookie who replaced Jarrod Dyson in the outfield. Players improved on 2016 and the tweaks the Royals made over the off-season have paid off to the point where they’ve positioned themselves for a potential playoff run this season.
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What does this mean to me? It means the Blue Jays do not need to make any drastic moves to the core of the team in order to compete in 2018. It’s quite obvious that Josh Donaldson has not dropped from a 7.6 fWAR player in 2016 to a 1.3 fWAR player in 2017. One can expect Josh Donaldson to improve nicely in 2018 and get back to the elite level talent that he is. I would like to think Troy Tulowitzki isn’t a 0.3 fWAR player. Perhaps closer to his 2.8 fWAR in 2016. Even if he can be around 2.0 in 2018, that will be a solid improvement. Justin Smoak’s changes to his approach at the plate do appear they can be sustained. The proof is here courtesy of Matt Gwin at BP Toronto.
Based on what Devon Travis did in his brief 2017 appearance, the Blue Jays may decide to give Travis another shot at 2nd base in 2018 unless they find a suitable replacement. Russell Martin should continue to be a solid catcher in 2018 for the pitching staff and his ability to get on base. Your 2018 Blue Jays infield is set. Martin, Smoak, Travis, Tulowitzki, and Donaldson. I also feel Kendrys Morales will improve closer to his career norms. A healthy infield with spikes in production close to their Blue Jay career norms should at least provide a boost of close to 5-7 wins or more.
The re-tooling the Blue Jays can do to win with this core is in the outfield and the bottom 2 of the rotation. Pillar is set for center field for years to come. He isn’t going anywhere. Jose Bautista will not be back. Perhaps Anthony Alford, Dwight Smith Jr. or Dalton Pompey will replace Bautista in right. If Steve Pearce is not moved, Pearce and an added outfielder could man left.
If the Blue Jays are able to finally solve the mystery of Aaron Sanchez‘s blister and combine him with the dominant Marcus Stroman and steady hand of J.A. Happ, the top 3 of the Blue Jays rotation is very good. Joe Biagini may end up being a full-time starter in 2018, and he showed enough at the beginning of the experiment to be counted upon every time out. 4/5th’s of the rotation is solved.
The bullpen emergence of Ryan Tepera and Danny Barnes (assuming his should impingement is not worse), you have Osuna, Tepera, and Barnes at the back end of the bullpen. You can throw Dominic Leone in the bullpen and you have 4/7th’s of a bullpen, which looks quite solid.
Based on the above, the Blue Jays have a few holes to fill for 2018. They still will continue to get younger, left handed, and more athletic. With the money of Bautista, Liriano, and Estrada coming off the books, after raises in arbitration, the payroll should have close to $40 million to play with. That can be spent on adding to the outfield, bullpen, and rotation.
To wrap up this long winded article, I am 100% okay with a drastic trade as long as it makes sense and the haul benefits the Blue Jays as soon as 2018. However, for the same reasons the Kansas City Royals didn’t blow up their core, I don’t feel the Blue Jays need to blow it up in order to compete again in 2018.
Next: Blue Jays’ Francisco Liriano garnering interest from Royals
There does need to be better speed and approaches at the plate for 2018, something that can be rectified over the course of a single off-season. If the Blue Jays decide to make a drastic move, wait for the off-season. A drastic move does not need to be made at this trade deadline and may not need to happen in the off-season for the Blue Jays to compete for a playoff spot again in 2018.
In Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins we trust!