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Toronto Blue Jays: The 2018 glass is half full

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 14: Aaron Sanchez
TORONTO, ON - APRIL 14: Aaron Sanchez /
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While 2017 was a disappointing season, there is still plenty to like about the Blue Jays’ roster. With an optimist’s view, how does the team look?

As I said in my article yesterday, I still can’t believe the 2017 Blue Jays were as bad as they were, but it happened and there’s no changing that. Moving on.

With that said, the same group is largely due to return in 2018, which has some fans believing that this group can have a much better year with a push of the re-set button, while others think this group is fatally flawed, and should be torn down. In this article, I’m going to look at the upside of the Blue Jays in 2018, doing my best to look on the bright side of everything.

Starting Rotation

We talked a bit about this yesterday too, but this is might be the department of the team that’s the most crucial to 2018. In 2016, the Blue Jays used just seven starting pitchers throughout the entire season, employing Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ, Marcus Stroman, and R.A. Dickey all season long until they traded for Francisco Liriano to make it six. Drew Hutchison was the seventh, and he made just a couple spot starts.

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2017 was a totally different story, as the Blue Jays had to trot out 14 different arms to start a ball game. If folks thought it was frustrating to watch R.A. Dickey’s inconsistent knuckleball, I don’t think they would have been a lot happier watching guys like Mat Latos and Casey Lawrence making starts.

2018 brings a new season however, and one that has a great deal of potential for the Blue Jays’ rotation. Marcus Stroman took another step forward in 2017, and looks ready to be the ace of the future for the ball club. Happ was mostly rock solid last year, but had to miss some significant time on the disabled list. Estrada had a tale of two seasons that saw him pitch like the arm we’ve come to know, and then have two months where he hardly belonged in the big leagues. He seemed to figure things out at the end of the year, and hopefully he’ll have a much more steady season.

The last two spots are where things get really crucial, and it all starts with Sanchez’s health. If he can be the type of arm that lead the American League in ERA, as he did in 2016, the Blue Jays are up a premium starter, and the value of that statement can’t be overstated. If Sanchez is healthy and dominant, the Blue Jays have one of the best rotations in the American League. If he sits on the DL again all year, they’re average at best.

They’ll still need to add an arm to be the 5th starter, or perhaps they’ll role with Joe Biagini after all. Whomever assumes the role will hopefully pitch adequately enough to bring up the rear of the rotation, and if the other four at healthy and performing, it should take a lot of pressure off of the spot.

Offence

I won’t deny that I’d like to see some tweaks to the lineup this offseason, but there’s more to like here than most people are willing to admit.

Let’s start with the infield, and pretend for a moment like we’ll have a fully healthy campaign from everybody (what, it could happen?). The corners are occupied by the two most dangerous hitters in the lineup, Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak. As long as Smoak doesn’t regress to his previous form, then the Blue Jays are more than set here. Check.

The keystone has been one of the most talked about spots on the roster this offseason, and that’s because Devon Travis and Troy Tulowitzki combined to play just 116 games last season. However, if they can find better health in 2018, they still have the potential to be one of the better middle infield in the American League. Travis is a sneaky good hitter who tore the league apart in May before he was injured, and has made steady improvements with the glove as well. Tulowitzki is a five time All-Star, and while he’s looked pretty brittle in a Blue Jays uniform, you know the talent is still there if his body cooperates.

Russell Martin played in 129 and 137 games respectively in 2015 and 2016, so people shouldn’t be surprised that he wore down a bit last season. After appearing in just 91 games, the Blue Jays would be well served to shore up the depth behind the plate and give their aging backstop a bit more of a breather. If they do that, he’s as good or better than anyone in the game, as he’s lead catchers in the AL in bWAR over the last three seasons.

The outfield could definitely use some work, but with Kevin Pillar returning they’ve got a solid foundation up the middle. Steve Pearce also struggled with health in 2017, and a year with more of him on the field should be a good thing for the lineup. It’s hard to say if the front office is going to roll with Teoscar Hernandez in right field or not, but whether they do that or bring in a new player, the outfield should be more athletic. Finally, while Kendrys Morales didn’t set the world on fire in 2017, he wasn’t as bad as everyone seems to think.

Bullpen

This is another area of strength, especially when you’re talking about right handers. A group consisting of no less than Roberto Osuna, Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes, Dominic Leone, Carlos Ramirez, and potentially others like Tom Koehler or Joe Biagini, make for a strong group.

The Blue Jays could use some help from the left side, but they’ve got a couple youngsters with nice upside in Matt Dermody and Tim Mayza. Both showed a great deal of promise in September, and with the bullpen being the most year-to-year position in the game, it wouldn’t be surprising to seem either or both thrive in 2018.

When you look at the roster for it’s upside, it feels like the team is a healthier year, and one or two tweaks away from being a true contender again. There’s still a lot that could go right for this group, and if they were a complete lost cause, you can bet that the front office would be willing to admit it.

Maybe you don’t care for this side of the perspective, but as my folks always told me, there’s always more than one way to look at things.

Next: Blue Jays Level of Excellence: Is Jesse Barfield worthy?

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