The Toronto Blue Jays quest to return to the postseason starts today, with their season opener against the Yankees. They struggled mightily in 2017, but after a quietly elite offseason they’re hope to fair better in 2018. If all goes as expected, the Jays should be among those competing for the second AL wild card spot against the likes of the Angels, Twins, Athletics, Mariners, and others.
CATCHERS (Steamer600 Projections)
Luke Maile (.218/.270/.334, 58 WRC+, 0.2 fWAR)
Russell Martin (.230/.334/.412, 100 WRC+, 2.6 fWAR)
The starter behind the dish is veteran Russell Martin. Though his batting average has declined in previous seasons, Martin still produces solid OBP and power numbers with capable defense. Joining him is backup catcher Luke Maile, who provides little offensive value but passable defense. If Martin suffers an injury, expect Danny Jansen to get the bulk of the playing time, who’s going to start the season playing full time in AAA.
INFIELDERS (Steamer600 Projections)
SS: Aledmys Diaz (.265/.318/.433, 96 WRC+, 1.7 fWAR)
3B: Josh Donaldson (.274/.380/.536, 142 WRC+, 5.8 fWAR)
2B/SS: Gift Ngoepe (.196/.266/.309, 51 WRC+, -1.4 fWAR)
1B: Justin Smoak (.248/.337/.474, 113 WRC+, 1.8 fWAR)
IF: Yangervis Solarte (.272/.334/.442, 105 WRC+, 2.0 fWAR)
2B: Devon Travis (.273/.320/.435, 99 WRC+, 2.2 fWAR)
Starting at first base is former top-prospect Justin Smoak, who’s coming off a career year. After putting up replacement level production for the first 7 big league seasons, Smoak exploded for 3.7 fWAR and 132 WRC+ in 2017. Though few expect him to replicate the success he had last year, the Jays are optimistic that he can perform at a roughly average level. The talented but injury prone Devon Travis starts at second base, having put up 5.5 fWAR in 867 career PA over 3 seasons. Backing him up as injury insurance is the recently acquired Yangervis Solarte, replacing the poor-performing Ryan Goins. Troy Tulowitzki opens the season on the 60-day DL, meaning Aledmys Diaz opens as the clubs starting shortstop. Diaz struggled last season, though there should be positive regression towards becoming a useful middle infielder. Gift Ngoepe also joins the opening roster, a moderate surprise over Danny Espinosa. He shouldn’t appear in too many games except perhaps as a defensive replacement. At third base is perennial MVP candidate Josh Donaldson. In a contract year, Donaldson should have extra motivation to perform at an elite level, and without him the Jays playoff chances go out the window.
DESIGNATED HITTER (Steamer600 Projections)
Kendrys Morales (.256/.321/.466, 106 WRC+, 0.4 fWAR)
The Blue Jays designated hitter is the steady Kendrys Morales, who’s looking to bounce back from the worst full season of his career. Him being a useful middle-of-the-order bat could prove very useful to this seasons Blue Jays.
OUTFIELDERS (Steamer600 Projections)
LF: Curtis Granderson (.239/.340/.447, 108 WRC+, 1.8 fWAR)
RF: Randal Grichuk (.240/.291/.482, 99 WRC+, 1.9 fWAR)
LF: Steve Pearce (.253/.327/.458, 106 WRC+, 1.1 fWAR)
CF: Kevin Pillar (.269/.311/.411, 90 WRC+, 2.7 fWAR)
The Blue Jays revamped their outfield over the offseason, brining in Randal Grichuk to replace franchise legend Jose Bautista. Though Grichuk struggled somewhat in 2017, he should be an improvement over the gutwrenchingly poor performance the Jays got from Bautista. Light hitting defensive ace Kevin Pillar returns as the starting center fielder, hoping to play well enough to hold off top prospect Anthony Alford from taking his spot. In left field, the Jays are expected to employ a platoon with Steve Pearce and newly-signed Curtis Granderson, who’s recent numbers against lefties and righties respectively give reasons for optimism.
STARTING PITCHERS (Steamer600 Projections)
Marco Estrada (8.04 K/9, 3.37 BB/9, 5.00 ERA, 5.08 FIP 1.6 fWAR)
J.A. Happ (7.95 K/9, 2.91 BB/9, 4.31 ERA, 4.33 FIP, 2.7 fWAR)
Jaime Garcia (7.03 K/9, 3.27 BB/9, 4.47 ERA, 4.50 FIP, 2.2 fWAR)
Aaron Sanchez (7.39 K/9, 3.75 BB/9, 4.45 ERA, 4.44 FIP, 2.3 fWAR)
Marcus Stroman (7.53 K/9, 2.71 BB/9, 3.89 ERA, 3.84 FIP, 3.6 fWAR)
Opening the Jays season is J.A. Happ, who’s put up ERA’s of 3.18 and 3.53 in 2016 and 2017 respectively, thanks to a dominant for-seam, two-seam fastball combination. Joining him is high-upside starter Aaron Sanchez, who’s looking to move beyond the blister issues he had in 2017 and return to his 2016 form, when he led AL starters in ERA. Sanchez’s former best friend Marcus Stroman also joins the rotation, though he’s expected to regress somewhat from 2017, but should still be a very good major league starter. Marco Estrada also hopes to bounce back from his worst season with the Blue Jays, hoping to avoid the same problems — such as personal issues and pitch tipping — which plagued him in 2017. Fifth starter Jaime Garcia joined the Jays as a free agent, and they’re hopeful that he can provide passable production at the back end of the rotation.
RELIEF PITCHERS (Steamer600 Projections)
John Axford (8.41 K/9, 4.65 BB/9, 4.49 ERA, 4.60 FIP, 0.0 fWAR)
Danny Barnes (8.79 K/9, 3.13 BB/9, 4.52 ERA, 4.60 FIP, 0.2 fWAR)
Tyler Clippard (8.89 K/9, 4.05 BB/9, 4.81 ERA, 4.97 FIP, -0.1 fWAR)
Aaron Loup (8.84 K/9, 3.70 BB/9, 3.82 K/9, 4.02 FIP, 0.4 fWAR)
Seung Hwan Oh (8.50 K/9, 2.78 BB/9, 4.63 ERA, 4.67 FIP, 0.0 fWAR)
Roberto Osuna (10.42 K/9, 2.52 BB/9, 3.51 ERA, 3.46 FIP, 1.0 fWAR)
Ryan Tepera (9.05 K/9, 3.65 BB/9, 4.17 ERA, 4.26 FIP, 0.3 fWAR)
The Blue Jays bullpen is led by 23-year-old closer Roberto Osuna, who hopes to build on career highs in fWAR, FIP, strikeout rate and walk rate set during 2017. Though the rest of the bullpen projects to produce seemingly unspectacular numbers, many in the Blue Jays community expect various relievers to outperform expectations. For example, Ryan Tepera has a career 3.42 ERA in 129 big league innings, and Danny Barnes has a career 3.62 ERA in 79.2 innings. Beyond these 3, Seung Hwan Oh could be a difference maker, coming off a solid spring training and with considerably better projections from ZiPS, and depth charts (Fangraphs), among others compared to the Steamer projections above. Aaron Loup is the lone lefty of the group, and is looking to improve upon his best season since 2014. The bullpen is closed out by recently signed minor league free agents John Axford and Tyler Clippard, both of whom could be expected to provide the Jays with decent middle relief.
The Toronto Blue Jays may appear mediocre on the surface, though there’s a lot of reasons to be more optimistic with a more in depth look at the roster. The rotation is solid, the bullpen is underrated, and the lineup has more depth and balance then the Jays have had in awhile. And if all else fails, at least the Jays can still look forward to top 15 prospects Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette! Overall, the Jays should be in the wild card hunt for most of the season, though they could sell and rebuild if they fall out of contention early. In terms of a prediction, I’d say the Jays probably win roughly 85 games in 2018.
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