2015 was a magical year for Blue Jays fans. It was marked by an unprecedented run down the stretch that followed the acquisition of a ton of big league talent (at a high price) at the trade deadline. The Jays won the division, won a playoff round and several iconic moments burned themselves into the fanbase’s collective memory. Yes, the fans came back and Rogers Centre (née Skydome) was packed and loud.
The 2015 season has brought about a real shift in the mindset of Blue Jays fans. We were contenders and that ability to contend would be sustainable, despite the upheaval wrought by the departure of Paul Beeston and Alex Anthopoulos, right? With spring training approaching and the Blue Jays set to start the season as defending AL East Champs, is the optimism that the end-season run misplaced?
Who did the Blue Jays acquire at the trade deadline last year? Only one of the players who the Blue Jays blew up the farm for remains with the club. Yup. Troy Tulowitzki, he who was often injured and underperformed in a Blue Jays uniform. The good news is that he’s likely going to regress to his career level production and put up better numbers than he did in a Jays uniform last year. David Price? Gone. Ben Revere? Gone. Mark Lowe? LaTroy Hawkins? Cliff Pennington? Gone. In the process of making room for the new guys, the Jays also lost Danny Valencia on waivers.
What remains on the Blue Jays’ major league squad in the wake of Alex Anthopoulos’s magic wand waving? Troy Tulowitzki. In fact, many of the same questions remain about the 2016 Blue Jays’ opening roster as there were going into the 2015 season. And some new questions have arisen. Let’s compare, shall we?
2015 Starting Rotation (Opening Day)
2016 Starting Rotation (Projected)
In 2015, there were three real question marks in the starting rotation. In 2016, the situation is much clearer, with no spots going to rookies (as opposed to two in 2015) as well as only one spot really being up for grabs. The rotation is automatically stronger with Marcus Stroman in it but there are still questions as to whether Estrada can replicate his 2015 form, whether Aaron Sanchez can put it all together as a starter, whether J.A. Happ can be more than a mediocre pitcher in the majors and whether Drew Hutchison can rebound from a horrible season.
The starting rotation is definitely a place where the Blue Jays have added depth but I think most people are still mourning the loss of David Price. While the projected 2016 rotation is probably weaker than the rotation that closed 2015, it’s much stronger and deeper than the one that started the season.
2015 Bullpen (Opening Day)
2016 Bullpen (Projected)
One or two of Jesse Chavez, Aaron Sanchez and Drew Hutchison
One or two of Arnold Leon, Ryan Tepera, Pat Venditte, Ben Rowen, Chad Jenkins, Steve Delabar and Joe Biagini
I’d say, on the surface, these two bullpens are about even. Once again, we’re remembering the strong bullpen at the end of the 2015 season with four big, consistent arms (Osuna, Sanchez, Lowe and Cecil) but at the beginning of the year there were a ton of question marks. Could Osuna and Castro make the jump to the majors without having even pitched at Double-A (Osuna, yes; Castro, no)? Could the guys at the bottom of the list make an impact? Redmond and Hynes didn’t, Hendriks did. We’re obviously going to have a similar weeding-out process to arrive at what the working bullpen is going to look like in 2016 but there are a lot of unfamiliar names there and a few guys who could either boom or bust.
2015 Infield (Opening Day)
2016 Infield (Projected)
In the case of the infield, we’re also improved with the addition of Troy Tulowitzki (and subtraction of Jose Reyes). Things are a little more fleshed out for first base but it still remains to be soon who will get more playing time, Colabello or Smoak. Goins improves defense at second base but we’ll see when and whether Devon Travis can return to action after his shoulder surgery this offseason. Can Ryan Goins replicate some of his success with the bat that he had last year (although, with an 86 OPS+, an 84 wRC+, “success” is somewhat of a relative term)?
2015 Outfield (Opening Day)
2016 Outfield (Projected)
One of Dalton Pompey or Michael Saunders
Ok, pretty much the same here but is Kevin Pillar going to regress from his outstanding year last year? Will Dalton Pompey progress from last year and find himself? Will he get any playing time with an anticipated return from Michael Saunders? If Saunders is the everyday left fielder, how will he do?
2015 Bench (Opening Day)
2016 Bench (Projected)
Here is where some of the lack of depth could come to bite the Blue Jays. Without a solid backup catcher (even below Thole on the depth chart), the Blue Jays don’t have any real cover behind the plate. Until the return of Devon Travis, Darwin Barney is really the only option on the 40-man roster on the infield. I like Carrera as a fourth outfielder so I’m not really going to complain there and at least it looks like the Jays will actually have an extra outfielder on the 25-man roster unless they go with eight pitchers and keep both Smoak and Colabello.
Overall, the Blue Jays are in better shape than they were at the start of 2015 but if you remember, that 2015 roster featured struggles from at least three of the rookies who opened the season on the squad (Norris, Pompey and Castro) and a major injury to another (Travis). The Jays weren’t even at .500 when they went on their post-Tulo tear and so we can’t really pronounce that roster a strong one.
Still, while the projected 2016 Blue Jays are in better shape than the Opening Day 2015 Blue Jays, they’re not nearly at the level of the Post-Trade Deadline Blue Jays of last year. For those fans thinking that the Jays are going to cruise to another AL East title, I think they’re setting themselves up for disappointment. This club, as it stands now, is probably somewhere in between those two poles.
What do you think? Will the 2016 Jays compete for another division title as they’re built now?
If you like us here, “like” us on Facebook!
The 2016 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook is coming this spring! Stay tuned for more information coming!
All photos are copyright Blue Jays from Away (2013-2015) and may not be used without permission.