MLB: Spring Training Report – Toronto Blue Jays

Credit: Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP

By: Adam Pasternak

After an incredibly eventful offseason, Spring Training is finally here! The players have all reported to their respective Spring Training facilities and the 2016 MLB season is only a month and a half away. Over the next couple of weeks we will cover all 30 MLB teams and talk about what’s in store for the coming season. This week, we start with the Toronto Blue Jays.

After uniting Canada and taking its fans on the emotional rollercoaster of a lifetime, the Blue Jays are back in reality and preparing to prove their success last season was no fluke. With the departures of Executive Of The Year, Alex Anthopoulos, and Ace, David Price, the Jays are hoping to overcome their losses and compete for a World Series title. The “New Regime” has taken over the front office, lead by new President Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins, and they have the Jays poised for another year of success. Some fans are still sour over how the offseason started out. They lost Price to the Red Sox after the GM, the “Hometown Kid” who built it all – rejected a record breaking contract offer to work for the Dodgers- and some people blamed Shapiro for that. Whatever the case, Shapiro and his friends in the front office will have to make some big decisions regarding Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, and this will be where they can win back the Blue Jays fans.

Yesterday, Jose Bautista came out and said that there is “no negotiation”, that he has set his price, reportedly 5 years, $150M, and the Blue Jays will just have to match it. This doesn’t make me feel good about the situation. The Jays were the team who gave him his chance in the MLB and he has thanked them with many successful seasons. One has to wonder why he is being so firm on his price, and not at least considering budging from his asking price. He is getting older and after suffering a few injuries over the last season or two, his days of playing productive baseball are getting slimmer by the season. Is Jose not happy with the change in front office personnel? Are there chemistry issues in the clubhouse? It will be interesting to see how this situation plays out over the course of Spring Training and if necessary, the season.

Edwin Encarnacion is in a similar boat as Bautista. His contract is also due at the end of the 2016 season, but he is also younger and honestly – more valuable to the Blue Jays. Yes, Jose had that clutch home run in Game 5 of the ALDS, but Edwin has had three huge seasons in a row and actually hit for a better average then Bautista last season. He is also younger, and is extremely dangerous out of the DH spot. I mentioned earlier that Bautista isn’t getting any younger, which means if the Jays re-sign him to a multi-year deal his skills in the outfield will diminish over time and he will have to start DH’ing as well. The Jays can’t have both of those guys sharing a DH spot in a few years, I think they will have to choose one of them and that one should be Edwin Encarnacion. I am very intrigued to see how that situation plays out this spring as Edwin and the Jays have agreed on an Opening Day deadline to sign an extension.

With the loss of David Price, came the re-addition of J.A Happ – a signing that many thought to be plain crazy. Coming off a career year finishing the 2015 season with the Pittsburgh Pirates, J.A Happ got a hefty 3 year, $36M contract to come back to Toronto for a second stint with the Jays. I wont lie, I was confused when I first heard that the replacement for David Price was going to be J.A Happ, but after really thinking about it, it started to make more sense to me. Yeah, the Jays overpaid a little bit, but it isn’t the worst move they could have made. Happ will give them quality outings, and keep his team games more often then not. He’s also the Jays only lefty in the rotation, with the retirement of “Papa” Mark Buehrle. He will never replace David Price, and he really doesn’t have to. That is where the new ace, Marcus Stroman, will step in.

Stroman, all 5’8 of him, is the new face of the Blue Jays rotation. After pitching in elimination games for the Jays in last season’s magical playoff run, he is poised for even more success with his first full year in the Majors. There are many people around the MLB who think “Stro-Show” will be the face of baseball in a few years, which is huge for the Jays and the game of baseball in Canada. The rest of the rotation will be filled by Marco Estrada, R.A Dickey, and one of Jesse Chavez, Drew Hutchison or Aaron Sanchez. The battle between the latter three for the fifth spot in the rotation could be the most interesting and entertaining battle in all of Spring Training. They are all solid pitchers who can all also come out of the bullpen. In my opinion, Sanchez has the most upside and in the long-term will be the better pitcher, but unless he blows my mind this spring, I think he is better off coming out of the bullpen. That leaves the Jays with Hutchison and Chavez. Hutchison had a weird season last year that saw him go 13-0 at home, but also have an incredibly high ERA. The newly acquired Chavez (starting his second stint with the club) is, in my opinion, the safest and best option for the fifth spot in the rotation. He’s got a solid arm and a wicked cutter, and he has had success in the MLB in parts of the last three seasons with the A’s. I think in the end, the Jays will have to go with the safest option, and in my opinion, that’s Jesse Chavez.

There was news yesterday of a possible three-team deal between the Jays, Angels and Reds, which would have seen outfielder Jay Bruce come north of the border, but that deal has apparently gone dead due to a failed physical. The Jays would have had to give up Michael Saunders, who has been injured since essentially last spring, but it wasn’t him who failed the physical. Regardless, the Jays seem adamant on adding another lefty bat to the already potent lineup. Bruce would be a huge addition, and he would round out the outfield. It seems like GM Ross Atkins is still interested in making a deal, and so it will be interesting to see what happens in the coming days. Regardless, it’s nice to see the Jays are still looking to add talent, as I still think they need to add a few pieces to push them over the edge. The AL East has improved a ton over the offseason, and the Jays are going to have a target on their backs all season after coming out on top last year. It will be an entertaining season, that’s for sure!

What did you think about the Jays offseason? Were the right moves made? Do you trust Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins? Comment below!

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