What We’ll Need to do Better Next Year
Unfortunately, I was right about the Blue Jays losing this year’s ALCS. Even more unfortunately, I was wrong in predicting they’d at least put up a good fight. We certainly went down swinging in the wrong way. Encarnacion’s awkward 9th inning hacks in Game 5 certainly won’t be as fondly remembered as Bautista’s bat flip or either of Joe Carter’s iconic moments in 1992 and 1993.
While making the postseason twice in a row is fantastic, the boys in blue need to make some changes next year to have a real shot at a World Series. We have a great starting rotation, and some great players effectively locked down, but the team must address some shortcomings if we want to win the Pennant, let alone a World Series.
First, we need to resign the right players and leave others to test the free agent market. Obviously, R.A. Dickey is done as a Jay. Until this year, I would have called him one of the least appreciated players on the team, but he lost his ability to eat innings, and that was the main thing that made him a slightly better than average starter. He’ll probably sign with a National League team and end his career with dignity. I wish him the best too, because he’s a great human being and deserves it. He just won’t get it in Toronto. Josh Thole is also gone. Unless he’s willing to work for literal peanuts, I suspect we’ve also seen the last of Scott Feldman.
Beyond that, we have a number of free agents who could stay or go, depending on who is offered what—if anything. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are the big names, and I’ll be blunt: unless Bautista’s willing to play for less than $10 million a year, he’s not worth keeping. Even then, I just don’t see where he’ll fit. He’s still a great hitter, but his days as a fielder are numbered, and he’s lost significant time to injury in three of his last five seasons. If we have to choose between him and Encarnacion—and we do—I vote Encarnacion. We shouldn’t keep both, because we don’t need two designated hitters. And that’s what Bautista’s bound to become. He’ll go down as a Jays’ legend, but he’s almost certainly going.
That leaves Brett Cecil, Joaquin Benoit, Darwin Barney, Michael Saunders, Dioner Navarro and Justin Smoak. We should try to keep everyone except Smoak, who just doesn’t hit well enough for a guy who only plays at first base. Beyond that, Cecil’s been one of our best relievers for several years, and deserves at least a decent contract offer. Benoit was a huge help in the ‘pen this year, and not trying to resign him would just be foolish. Barney’s a good fielder at almost any position, and teams don’t win without defence. Navarro’s a solid choice of backup catcher with some defensive upside, and Russell Martin’s getting too old to catch more than a hundred and twenty games a season. Saunders certainly earned his spot on the roster, so unless he asks for something ludicrous like $15 million a season, he deserves to stay. I doubt we’ll resign all five of those players, but they’ve earned offers, at least.
Beyond that, the team has three glaring weaknesses: lack of speed, lack of a proper leadoff hitter, and no big bats on the bench. The first two issues are connected, since good leadoff hitters are generally supposed to be the best baserunners on the team. Devon Travis is starting to look like a reasonable choice at the top of the lineup, but with his injury history we need other options. We should make an offer for Dexter Fowler, provided he’s willing to play in right or left field. He gets on base, is always a threat to steal, and can turn singles and doubles into doubles and triples. Other bona fide leadoff hitters aren’t exactly jumping off Baseball Reference or Bleacher Report, but we should consider players like Rajai Davis or Jarrod Dyson, especially considering we’re likely to be short an outfielder. The entire Jays roster stole a total of 54 bases this season, fewer than Billy Hamilton or Jonathan Villar. We at least need to make an offer for a proper speed demon.
Finally, the Jays really need a good hitter on our bench, preferably a lefty or switch hitter. When the big bats went silent in the ALCS, we had no one to turn to who could be called above average on a good day. Carlos Beltran comes to mind, as it’s hard to imagine him being given a starting role at his age in this day and age. Adam Lind or Mitch Moreland could also be good fits, possibly at a solid discount. Both are left-handed hitters who probably won’t find work as starters, we could use someone other than Encarnacion at first base (even though he’s actually a passable first baseman), and both hit twenty home runs in limited playing time this year. We don’t need a Ted Williams: just a Matt Stairs. As long as we aren’t dumb enough to offer Ryan Howard a contract.
We have a good team with several legitimate stars, a solid rotation, and a bullpen that was mostly fixed by the end of the year (it certainly wasn’t the problem in the ALCS). All we need are a couple of key pieces that could probably be had at a discount. We were only two or three wins away from a Pennant for two consecutive seasons. Unless we gut our roster or waste an ridiculous amount of money on a fading talent, our first World Series since 1993 is within our grasp.