The Jays may soon be shifting focus from 2018 to 2019 and beyond. What might the 2019 Blue Jays look like?
Despite high hopes (remember how, pre-season, fangraphs projected the Jays to take the second AL wild card?) the 2018 season is rapidly looking like a lost cause. As a result, many people are looking forward to 2019. Here – just for fun! – is one possible scenario.
Danny J continues to rake in Buffalo in 2018, and does well in the bigs in a call-up when the rosters expand. Luke Maile continues to play well defensively in 2018, but is unable to maintain his breakout offense, reverting to something close to his career 50 wRC+. So in the offseason Maile is waived/traded and the backup catcher job goes to Dan-Jan. The plan is for Jansen to study under Russ for the last year of Martin’s contract, then move into the #1 role in 2020. Riley Adams and Hagen Danner are both progressing in the minors, and the Jays are optimistic that by 2020 one of them can move up into the backup catcher role.
Toronto Blue Jays
First Base – Justin Smoak
Justin finishes 2018 with a 120 wRC+ – not the 132 he put up in 2017, but more than enough for the Jays to pick up his $6m team option for 2019. Rowdy Tellez plays decently at Buffalo in 2018, and is given a look in spring training, but is never a serious risk to Smoak’s job.
Second base – Devon Travis
The first of three big spring training battles. Cavan Biggio continues to rake in AA, and continues in Buffalo after a late-season promotion. But Travis recovers and (!) stays healthy, and puts up a strong 2018 as well. In 2019 spring training, Cavan and Devo fight it out for the starting second base gig. Devo wins, but Cavan is knocking on the door in Buffalo.
Shortstop – Bo Bichette
The original plan for 2019 was to give Troy Tulowitzki another year at short, and to give Bo Bichette another year in the minors to work on his defense at SS. But Bo continues to work his buns off in 2018 , to the point where his defense is generally conceded to be a ~45 (i.e. marginally-below-average, but acceptable). His hitting continues at an elite level, so by the end of 2018 he is clearly big-league ready.
Meanwhile, Tulo continues to battle injuries in 2018. When he is on the field, the rust and lingering effects of the injuries limit both his offence and his defence. In the 2018-19 offseason, it becomes clear that Bo is the future at short, and the Jays trade Tulowitzki (eating a large portion of his remaining $38m)
Third base – Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Vladdy recovers from his injury, and proceeds to light up Buffalo the way he did New Hampshire. Like Bo, he continues to work hard at 3B defense, to the point where he becomes adequate by MLB standards. Calling him up to replace a departed Josh Donaldson becomes a no-brainer, despite Vladdy’s age.
Left field – Teoscar Hernandez
Teo continues to struggle defensively, but he works hard and is progressing. He continues to hit at a 125 wRC+ clip, however, so he is close to a 3 WAR player in 2018. The Jays leave him in left in 2019 to give him a chance to further refine his defense.
Centre field – Kevin Pillar
“Superman” maintains his almost-league-average hitting in 2018 which, combined with a career 13.6 drs/1200 makes him an almost 3 WAR player in 2018. There is some trade interest at the 2018 trade deadline and in the offseason, but not enough for the Jays to pull the trigger.
<alternate scenario: the Jays do trade Pillar, and move Grichuk into the CF spot in 2018. In spring training, Grichuk (and his career 13.9 drs/1200 in CF) and Anthony Alford battle for the starting CF gig. Grichuk wins, but (like Biggio and Travis) Alford is in Buffalo pounding on the door>
Right field – Clint Frazier
At the 2018 trade deadline, the Jays trade J.A. Happ to the Yankees for Clint Frazier. The Yanks have no room for Frazier, with Stanton, Judge and Hicks ahead of him for corner outfield innings. The Jays initially ask for Justus Sheffield, but the Yanks refuse to part with any of their young pitching prospects.
Randal Grichuk gives Frazier a run for his money in the battle for right field, but Randal does not step it up strongly enough with the bat in 2018, and loses out in 2019 spring training. Alford and Frazier battle it out for the starting RF spot (the second big spring battle), and Frazier wins. Grichuk stays on the Jays as the bench OF and Alford shuffles back to Buffalo.
Designated Hitter – Kendrys Morales
The Jays try to trade Morales at the 2018 trade deadline, but without success. As 2018 is rapidly becoming a lost season, they decide to keep KenMo rather than waive him. Morales finishes the season as he has done in the last 30 days: a .297/.321/.429 line with a 110 wRC+. Decent, but not spectacular. The Jays consider dumping or waiving him in the 2018-19 offseason, but there is no strong candidate to take his place (the Jays want Bo and Cavan and Alford to be playing the field every day, not DH-ing). But the Jays are increasingly open to using Grichuk or Solarte in appropriate matchups, and leaving KenMo on the bench for those games for use as a pinch runner*
There is considerable trade interest in Sanchez and Stroman, both at the 2018 trade deadline and in the offseason, but the Jays choose to keep both to anchor the top of the rotation.
The Jays trade Happ to the Yankees for Frazier, but re-sign him when he becomes a free agent at the end of 2018.
Josh Donaldson come back strong, and puts up good numbers in June and July. The Jays trade him to Alex Anthopoulos and the Braves at the 2018 deadline for Luiz Gohara (ranked #41 by mlb.com and #26 by fangraphs). The Jays initially ask for Mike Soroka, but the Braves refuse. Gohara pitches well in Buffalo in the second half of 2018, and in an expanded roster call-up in September, so the Jays give him the #4 spot to open 2019. (It is a reflection of the strength of Atlanta’s system that you could replace Gohara with Kyle Wright, Kolby Allard or Max Fried and leave this paragraph otherwise intact)
Garcia improves to a 4.50 ERA over the remainder of 2018. The battle for the 5th starter position in 2019 spring training is pleasantly intense – both Sean Reid-Foley and Ryan Borucki make a strong case, Thomas Pannone (back from suspension) pitches well, and Sam Gaviglio sabotages his own case by proving to be even more valuable as a swingman/longman out of the bullpen. The Jays ultimately start the season with Garcia, but like Travis and Grichuk he is “hearing footsteps“.
Osuna has his hearing and is suspended by MLB for most of the remainder of 2018. The Jays decide to give him a second chance, and bring him back as the closer in 2019.
The Final Boss’ option for 2019 vests with 70 innings pitched.
Tepera, Barnes and Loup pitch well enough in 2018 to be brought back in 2019. The Biagini starting experiment ends, and Joe becomes a longman and the second swingman in the bullpen. Gaviglio becomes the primary swingman and the 6th starter.
Bench – Jansen, Grichuk, Solarte, Diaz
Grichuk makes a good bench OF, as he can play all three outfield positions and has above-average baserunning skills. Solarte can play every infield position, and Diaz’s fielding at short – which has improved so dramatically so far this season that he is now a (marginally) above-average defensive shortstop – continues at this level.
The bottom line
Clearly, this is only one possible scenario. And even under this scenario, there would be many questions marks about the Jays’ potential in 2019. They would be fielding six rookies – Jansen, Bichette, Guerrero, Frazier and Gohara. The kids might excel, but then again they might not. But the thing I find most enheartening about this scenario is the depth in the system. With players like Alford, Reid-Foley, Biggio, and Borucki waiting in the wings, and with players like Grichuk, Diaz and Solarte on the bench (all of whom could well deserve to be starters), the Jays’ ability to withstand injury or just plain bad luck should be far higher than in the past.
* I just say this to see if you are paying attention.