Really, how bad are the Jays’ going to be in 2019? Rotochamp has the Blue Jays at 77 wins in fourth place in the AL East (and they say they use a composite of Fangraphs (whose win total for the Jays is 73 wins), Baseball Prospectus (who have the Jays at 76 wins) and Davenport). CBS Sports is much more pessimistic about the Jays, pegging them at 67 wins and finishing fourth in the AL East. Bleacher Report has the Blue Jays at 68 wins, again in fourth place in the AL East. ESPN has the Blue Jays as the #20 ranked team in the big leagues and give the Jays 60-1 odds on winning the World Series. Caesar’s, reported on by Sporting News, has the Jays at 76.5 wins. Oddsshark also has the Jays at 76.5 wins.
So what are all of these predictions saying about the Blue Jays’ and their chances for 2019? Well, they’re probably going to run the gamut from “not as bad as last year,” when they won just 73 games, to really bad but not even close to “Baltimore bad” (the Orioles won just 47 games last year).
Will the Jays play .500 baseball in 2019? I wouldn’t think so but weirder things have happened with young teams. I haven’t been able to find the article where I saw it mentioned but one writer commented that Kendrys Morales was one of the few veterans on a KC Royals team that won the World Series in 2015.
The question of veteran leadership or even the necessity for veterans to help show the way (as questioned by Marcus Stroman recently and written about by John Lott at the Athletic) is a big one that is probably trumped by talent and a way of players being able to contribute. Is it overrated? There are already veterans on this team and there are younger veterans but when the decks are cleared of the veterans who weren’t helping the Blue Jays win in 2018 (like Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ, Russell Martin, Troy Tulowitzki, Josh Donaldson, Curtis Granderson, et al.) the Blue Jays are going to more accurately see where they stand and what their needs are heading into 2020.
The Blue Jays are in a situation now where they would likely benefit from the players listed above playing healthy, but could they afford them? The Jays are paying about $37 million for Tulowitzki and Martin to not play for them which, in Martin’s case may be better for the club. Will the group of middle infielders that include Freddy Galvis, Lourdes Gurriel, Devon Travis and Brandon Drury be any worse than what they got last year from the shortstop and second base positions? A healthy Tulo could definitely improve that production but bygones are bygones and the fact is, the Jays aren’t trying to replace or improve on the production of a healthy Tulo. They’re trying to get more production out of the same guys who were the stopgap last year, plus Freddy Galvis.
In the outfield, the Jays are trying to get improvement out of their guys and a more consistent season out of Randal Grichuk. While they may not get anything better out of Kevin Pillar offensively, they probably won’t get much worse. There’s room for improvement in Teoscar Hernandez and the addition of Billy McKinney could spark that but it will also help the Jays see what they have in McKinney in a more extended audition than he got in September, and it will give Teoscar probably one last chance to show that a) he can play left field without giving his younger manager heart attacks, and b) that he can get on base at more than a .300 clip (or thereabouts). If they can’t be what the Jays need them to be, I have a feeling someone like Cavan Biggio (or even Dwight Smith, Jr., who I think deserves another chance) will be ready to take over by midseason.
Can Danny Jansen produce more this year than Russell Martin did last year? Yup.
On the mound, while the Jays could probably use J.A. Happ and the return for him will probably not come all that close to making up for what they lose without him, the Jays will have some room to allow the younger pitchers to step up or not. Both Stroman and Sanchez have something to prove and it’s going to be hard to be worse than they were last year. Matt Shoemaker and Clayton Richard are wild cards who may be good or may not be. Neither are large risks. Then it’s the young guns. Borucki, Reid-Foley, Pannone, Merryweather, Thornton, and Waguespack. One or two of those guys is a major leaguer for sure, maybe three or four. We’ll probably get some kind of idea this year. Will they be able to do something better than the Jays got from Estrada, Sanchez and Gaviglio last year? Um, yes.
So then there’s the bullpen. A huge wildcard with a lot of effect over whether the Blue Jays will be able to hold onto leads late in games or stay in them long enough to catch up. Maybe there’s a five-game swing if the bullpen is excellent, but more likely two or three games one way or the other. I think there’s the raw talent and more than enough arms to equal what they did last year.
And I’ve saved the best for last. While Josh Donaldson could have a huge year this year for the Braves, the Jays are trying to replace the production they got from mostly Yangervis Solarte, Aledmys Diaz and Russell Martin at third base from last year. Who’s going to do it? Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of course (after the third week of April, or so) and Fangraphs has some very tasty projections for him. They think .306/.368/.511 with 22 home runs and a 4.7 WAR. I’ll take that, thanks.
So? Will the Jays win 67 games? Will they win 77 games? I think it’s somewhere closer to the 77-game mark but much will depend on the Jays getting what they expect, and probably more from their pitching staff. The hitting doesn’t bode well outside of a couple of guys like Smoak, Vlad, possibly Kendrys with hopefully better contributions from Grichuk and the infield conglomeration. I think if Danny Jansen does what he did last year in the majors and nothing more (or even a little less) he’ll be just fine.
The final verdict? The Jays will be bad. But probably not as bad as they could be. And 2019 will go a long way to seeing what is coming in the Jays’ future and what they’ll need to do either at the trade deadline or in the offseason.
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