Blue Jays: Not much will change with the roster before 2018

TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 17: Kendrys Morales
TORONTO, ON - AUGUST 17: Kendrys Morales /

The Blue Jays have had a rough season, but still have a great deal of talent on the roster. The front office and the fan base are hopeful that a couple tweaks and a healthy season from this core could find them in contention again next year.

The Blue Jays dropped their fourth consecutive game on Tuesday night, and all but sealed their fate as a team that will miss this year’s playoffs. Things looked good for awhile with a nice run in early August, but getting swept in Chicago was a big blow, and losing the first game to the Rays doesn’t help their cause either.

It’s been a snake bitten year for the roster in many ways, and yet it’s still hard to figure out how this team has underperformed as much as it has. Every team goes through their injury battles, but the Blue Jays had some significant ones that have really chased away a lot of momentum, and have left many fans wondering, “what if?”

By the sounds of it, we may get somewhat of an answer next year, when the bulk of this group is slated to return. Assuming there aren’t any major trades, the only significant pieces that are slated to go are Jose Bautista and Marco Estrada, with the latter having mutual interest with the Blue Jays in a return. The same likely can’t be said for Bautista, whose option is likely a little expensive, and many assume the team is ready to go in another direction in the outfield.

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Outside of Bautista though, it’s hard to imagine the roster looking a whole lot different in 2018, again, assuming there aren’t any major trades. Russell Martin has two years left on his contract and will return behind the plate, as does Justin Smoak at first if you count his contract option for 2019, which the team will surely exercise. Troy Tulowitzki is under contract until the end of the 2020 season, and Devon Travis won’t be a free agent until 2021 either. Josh Donaldson has just one year remaining on his contract, but it doesn’t sound like the front office is terribly interested in shopping him.

In the outfield they’ll have Steve Pearce in left field, who doesn’t really have anywhere else to go as long as Kendrys Morales is at DH, and Smoak is at first base. Kevin Pillar has had a difficult year, but considering the defence he brings to the table and the WAR he racks up, it’s hard to imagine the Blue Jays moving on from him until he gets more expensive, or is overtaken by a younger player who reaches the highest level.

The only real spot in the lineup would be right field, and the Blue Jays have a few options they could look at. As for in-house choices, they could retain Nori Aoki, who will be arbitration eligible for the final time in 2018. He made just 5.5 million this year, and isn’t expected to get a significant raise by any means. They could give the opportunity to someone like Teoscar Hernandez, who was acquired from the Astros in the Francisco Liriano deal. He’s been hitting very well in Triple A, and was “major league ready” when the team acquired him, so it’s possible he gets a shot. There are others like Anthony Alford, Dwight Smith Jr, or maybe even someone like Dalton Pompey if he can ever get healthy.

The front office could also take some of the money they save by passing on Bautista’s option, and putting it into the right field position. Perhaps they feel they can get value from one of the above options as well though and may choose to spend in other areas, including the salary increases expected for the likes of Donaldson, Marcus Stroman, Roberto Osuna, and more in arbitration.

Speaking of Stroman, he’ll lead a rotation that should include a healthy Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, and then a couple question marks. If they retain Estrada then he’ll fill one hole, and it looks like they’ll give Joe Biagini every opportunity to win the fifth spot in the rotation. They’ll likely bring in a couple low-cost veterans to complete for Biagini for the fifth spot, assuming they can retain Estrada. If they don’t re-sign the Mexican right-hander, then the Blue Jays will likely use some of their resources on a starting pitcher in free agency.

In the bullpen we can expect the returns of Osuna, Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes, and likely Dominic Leone as well. There are several others who have had decent seasons and will be in the mix too, but I would expect the Blue Jays to acquire a proven left-hander before 2018 begins. Aaron Loup has been decent, but it’s still hard to trust him in high leverage situations. Others like Matt Dermody or Tim Mayza will also fight to win a spot, among others.

The back-up positions could be some of the most important adds, as the team has a need for depth in several areas. Tulowitzki and Travis have both had a terribly difficult time staying on the field, so the front office would be smart to add someone who can start at either shortstop or second base. Ryan Goins and Darwin Barney have been okay, but with all due respect neither of them are starters. Maybe they have their answer with someone like Lourdes Gurriel Jr, or perhaps they look elsewhere at a proven commodity. They could also use someone to give Russell Martin more of a break next year, and it remains to be seen if anyone in the system will be ready for that role.

However, when you really break it down the Blue Jays will largely look the same next year, and that could be a good or bad thing. There will be a new right fielder, and possibly another starting pitcher added to the mix, as well as some likely bench pieces. All in all though, the lineup won’t be that different, and it’s a gamble that I believe is worth taking for the franchise, at least for the first half of the season anyway.

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If we see a repeat of 2017 where the infielders can’t stay on the field, or Sanchez can’t take a regular turn, then it won’t be surprising if the front office goes in another direction, especially with players like Donaldson and Happ set to be free agents at season’s end. But the way things are set up, there isn’t much room for significant change with the roster, so hopefully they can have a healthier and more productive 2018 season. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse with a re-set.