With the trade of Josh Donaldson to the Cleveland Indians for a player to be named later (as well as the trade of Curtis Granderson to the Milwaukee Brewers for Canadian prospect Demi Orimoloye), the Blue Jays have effectively announced that the rebuild has begun.
It was obvious that the Blue Jays were going to “retool” or something like that as they traded J.A. Happ and Seung-hwan Oh and the closer and Aaron Loup and John Axford but the real stake in the heart of the Blue Jays’ playoff teams of 2015 and 2016 was the trading of Josh Donaldson whose arrival ignited the spark that sent the Blue Jays to the postseason for the first time in 22 years.
We all knew this was coming. With free agency looming, Donaldson’s contract was going to be up and it appears that the Jays never really made any earnest effort to discuss a long-term deal for the Bringer of Rain, leading most to believe that his days in Toronto were numbered. Donaldson’s poor health and depressed production (likely due to his health) made the job of the Blue Jays’ front office even more difficult. Without having traded him in the offseason, the Jays (and Donaldson) were likely counting on the slugger’s returning to the spectacular form he showed at the end of 2017 (again coming back from leg injuries) in order to drive up his value approaching 2018’s non-waiver trade deadline. When Donaldson lingered on the DL through July 31, the Jays had him playing rehab games at the end of August, enabling them to clear him through waivers before trading him August 31.
Rob Longley of the Toronto Sun had the story chronicling Donaldson’s frustration with the team, their handling of his injury and likely the (lack of) contract negotiations. But with Donaldson gone, the Blue Jays are turning the page and embracing the next generation that has been trickling up to the major leagues over the past month or two (which has started somewhat early due to several injuries).
First, the Jays got a look at Lourdes Gurriel and he was followed by Ryan Borucki when the club needed a pitcher. Borucki had best pal Danny Jansen on his heels and Sean Reid-Foley made his major league debut pitching to Jansen the day the catcher got his first big league look. Thomas Pannone made a splash in his first big league start and Billy McKinney has also gotten lots of playing time in the outfield. Justin Shafer also made an appearance and, since the rosters expanded today, lefty Jose Fernandez and righty Taylor Guerrieri were promoted (with Reid-Foley getting recalled).
The shift to a younger lineup will continue as September progresses. Expect to see Anthony Alford back in Toronto after the Buffalo Bisons’ season ends on Monday along with Shafer and the possible recall of Richard Urena, Reese McGuire, Dwight Smith and Dalton Pompey.
The Blue Jays will likely get the players who get called up their first tastes of the major leagues and hopefully they’ll respond in a way that will lead to more playing time and a central role on a team that will see some young stars follow, likely in 2019. The Jays are hoping that Alford will develop into an everyday player after seeing some regression in Triple-A this year.
Still, it’s not going to be a seamless transition. The Blue Jays still have Russell Martin‘s and Troy Tulowitzki‘s sizable contracts to deal with. Will Martin accept a lesser role (while making $20 million a year) as Jansen’s performance forces him into more playing time? When Vladimir Guerrero Jr. arrives next year, Martin won’t be able to play third base often and other infield positions are looking like there are players coming who will make strong claims. What about Troy Tulowitzki? If he’s able to play again, will the Jays sit Lourdes Gurriel on the bench and keep Bo Bichette waiting in the wings if Tulo doesn’t give up his position willingly? With Tulo also sucking up a huge proportion of the team’s payroll in 2019, if he plays well, there really isn’t a huge problem but at what point is the line below which the Blue Jays will sit Tulo on the bench?
What about the pitching staff? The bullpen will be a great place to break in the young arms as the club has ample room to maneuver since the trade of four relievers. But in the starting rotation, will Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman both remain Blue Jays and be able to turn things around from this year in which both injuries and struggles on the field have marred what was supposed to be a tremendous starting rotation.
Remember the last time the Blue Jays tried to field a team of rookies to start the season? That was back in 2015 and the beginning of the year was a disaster as Daniel Norris, Dalton Pompey, Devon Travis, Miguel Castro, the former closer, and Aaron Sanchez, all rookies at the time, opened the season with the Blue Jays. While Norris, Sanchez and Travis have established themselves as regulars (when healthy), only Sanchez and the closer were particularly effective that first year. If the Blue Jays open 2019 with Guerrero (who will probably join the club in late April rather than coming right out of the gate with Toronto), Gurriel, McKinney, Reid-Foley, Borucki, Pannone, Jansen, and possibly Alford (not to mention the plethora of young bullpen candidates), there’s a very good chance that the Jays will have a very rough season.
Hold on tight folks. We’re now in the thick of The Rebuild and things are going to get rockier (at least in the win column) before they get better.
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