Whether the Blue Jays are competitive or not in 2018, it should be a season that leads to positives for the direction of the organization.
I’ll admit it, I’ve gotten a little caught up in the frustration surrounding the Blue Jays these days, namely that they haven’t made any significant free agent signings or trades other than an early swap with the Cardinals for Aledmys Diaz. The patience was admirable for awhile, but I’ve found myself with the section of the fan base that wants to scream out for a move, any move to give this team some direction for next season.
However, as the calendar turns to 2018, I intend to work harder on focusing on the positives in life, rather than dwelling on the negatives. I’m not going to get all philosophical on you or anything here, but I’m going to start early on this goal (I loathe the whole resolution thing), and apply it to my beloved Blue Jays in my last article of 2017.
I could rant about what needs to happen in the next month or two before spring training begins, but instead I’m going to focus on the positives that 2018 will bring for John Gibbons‘ ball club. Even if you’re the biggest naysayer there is about the Blue Jays, there are positives to their future, both in the immediate, and longer term.
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The DL became a comedy of errors for the Blue Jays at times in 2017, and maybe I’m jinxing them by saying this, but… it’s hard to imagine it being worse next season. I’m not talking about Troy Tulowitzki or Devon Travis here, as even the club doesn’t expect 160 games a piece from them. I’m thinking more of the plethora of time that was missed by the likes of Josh Donaldson, Russell Martin, and Steve Pearce (in addition to Tulo and Travis) on offence, and also Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, and Francisco Liriano.
The most laughable moment of that ridiculous stretch of injuries had to be what knocked out Darryl Ceciliani not long after he was called up as an injury replacement. It wasn’t funny by any means, but you had to laugh to keep from crying at the site of Ceciliani mashing a home run to right field, and simultaneously suffering a partially dislocated shoulder. Nothing bad happened to him, he hit the bat and hit it well, and yet somehow he joined the lineup on the disabled list at that point.
Sure, the Blue Jays were a 76 win team last year, but if you added a healthy Sanchez, Happ, and anything more than 116 games between Travis and Tulowitzki, is it that hard to imagine them as at least a .500 team?
The Division has changed
If you haven’t heard, the New York Yankees have made some pretty significant improvements to their roster, and they’re probably not done adding. The Red Sox have been rumoured on a few key free agents themselves to compliment their talented roster, and look poised to make another run at the playoffs. It’s not a great thing for the Blue Jays to be staring at the return of an arms race between the Yankees and the Red Sox.
On the other side of the coin though, the Tampa Bay Rays and Baltimore Orioles are seemingly going in another direction, which theoretically makes them a less difficult opponent. When you’re talking about 19 games against each of those two teams, it would greatly to the Blue Jays benefit if neither planned on contending in 2018. The Rays have already traded their franchise face in Evan Longoria, and the Orioles are still rumoured to be talking about a Manny Machado trade, among other things.
Granted, you still have to beat the “super-teams” in the playoffs, but once you get there then I really do believe anything can happen. In the era of two Wild Card teams, the Blue Jays could be contenders for a playoff spot next year, even if the Yankees look poised to run away with it.
In a worst case scenario
Some might view this as the best case scenario, but whatever you want to call it the Blue Jays have a great opportunity in 2018 if they aren’t in playoff contention. So far they’ve still got Josh Donaldson on their team, and assuming he does start the season with the Blue Jays, he’ll most certainly become trade bait if they’re out of the playoff race. He won’t fetch what he could have with a full year or two of contract control, but that’s still a big piece that will bring some significant minor leaguers back.
It’s not just Donaldson either, as both Happ and Marco Estrada are on expiring deals, as is Steve Pearce, and they could become trade candidates as well if the Jays aren’t in contention. There are others that would have a year and a half of control left by July as well, including Russell Martin, and Justin Smoak.
The front office has resisted a tear down/”soft reset”/rebuild/whatever you want to call it, but you have to think that if this roster isn’t showing promise by the deadline that they’ll shift course. The Blue Jays have some extremely talented pieces in the minor leagues like Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Bo Bichette, Anthony Alford, Nate Pearson, and more, so adding to that stable by selling off veterans could speed up the rebuild and bring the next exciting generation of Blue Jays to the forefront in shorter order.
Which means that the season will go one of two ways: They’ll compete and bring excitement back to the Rogers Centre like we saw in 2015-16, or the front office will commit to the future, even if that means making a few unpopular moves. Either way it’s better than where they were in 2017, stuck in last place while also believing they could pull out of it and sneak into a Wild Card spot. I don’t think that’ll happen again.
So for all of these reasons and many more (I didn’t even get into guys like Stroman, or the talented bullpen), there’s a lot to look forward to about the 2018 season, whether you’re trying to be positive or not. This doesn’t mean that I have blind faith, or that I won’t get upset about the Blue Jays from time to time, but with a fresh slate, a new year, and a bountiful free agent market (I can’t believe it’s still this full), there’s a lot to be excited about with the the future of this team.