The 2017 Toronto Blue Jays season was disappointing to say the least. They entered the year with hopes of again contending as they did in the two previous seasons, but in the end, finished a mediocre 76–86.
The biggest reasons for the Jays lack of success in 2017 was injuries and under performance, and GM Ross Atkins definitely took steps to improve in both these areas. Although they didn’t get as much attention as teams like the Angels or Yankees, they were able to improve their club significantly without overspending on free agents, or losing significant prospect capital.
One of the Jays biggest needs entering the off-season was the need to acquire middle infield depth, given the frequency of injuries for current Jays infielders Devon Travis and Troy Tulowitzki. They first addressed this need by trading outfield prospect J.B. Woodman for former Cardinals infielder Aledmys Diaz. Woodman currently projects to provide 40-grade future value per Fangraphs, and had a WRC+ of just 98 in A ball last season. Given Woodman’s apparent lack of potential, acquiring Diaz has the potential to be a steal, as he’s projected to slash .265/.318/.433, with a 97 WRC+ and 1.8 fWAR according to the Steamer600 projections.
Later on, the Jays managed to trade for Padres infielder Yangervis Solarte, in exchange for minor league outfielder Edward Oliveras and minor league reliever Jared Carkuff. Oliveras is now the 20th ranked prospect in the Padres system, with 45-grade future value per mlb.com, while Carkuff put up a 4.48 ERA across A+and AAA in 2017. Without giving up significant prospects, the Jays were again able to acquire another solid infielder. Solarte himself projects to slash .272/.334/.442, with a 105 WRC+ and 2.0 fWAR per Steamer.
Despite the acquisitions of Solarte and Diaz, the Jays starting middle infield was still expected to consist of Travis and Tulowitzki at the beginning of spring training. But even if the pair are injured as much as they were last season (they combined for just 457 PA last season), the Jays should still be covered by very good backups. Assuming Solarte and Diaz split time evenly, and combine for as many PA as we saw from Jays middle infielders not named Tulowitzki and Travis last season (521 PA’s each), then the Jays should expect a 5.3 fWAR improvement, which should also be made up if Travis and Tulo are healthier.
The next need the Jays addressed was by signing free agent Curtis Granderson. Granderson split last season between the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers in 2017, and should form a solid left field platoon with Steve Pearce. Since 2016, Granderson has a 118 WRC+ against right handed pitchers, while Pearce has 133 WRC+ against lefties. This platoon should prove to be an offensive upgrade on a team which saw Steve Pearce starting everyday (when healthy) and Ezequiel Carrera as the primary fill in when injured. If Granderson and Pearce both evenly split 700 plate appearances, the Jays can expect about 1.8 fWAR from their outfield next season per Steamer600 (and this should theoretically also be higher since Granderson will have more PA then Pearce in a strict platoon, and projects as the better overall player). This is a considerable upgrade over the 0.7 fWAR produced by various left fielders last season, and is an especially good move given that Granderson cost the Jays just 5 million dollars over one year.
Replacing Blue Jays legend Jose Bautista in the opposite outfield corner is former Cardinals outfielder Randal Grichuk, who was acquired in a trade for reliever Dominic Leone and pitching prospect Conner Grenne. Despite Bautista’s legendary status in Toronto, the current free agent struggled mightily in 2017, slashing .203/.308/.366 with a WRC+ of 80 and -0.5 fWAR in 686 PA. If Grichuk receives as much playing time, Steamer sees him as a considerable upgrade, projecting 99 WRC+ and 2.2 fWAR. This 2.7 fWAR improvement is especially noteworthy when you consider the Jays gave up nothing but a prospect who’s struggled in AA for consecutive seasons, and a reliever who’s just one year removed from back to back seasons with an MLB ERA above 6.50.
Moving on to the pitching side, the 2017 Blue Jays saw 14 different starters take the mound thanks to various injuries and poor performance. Still, the Jays entered the offseason with Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ, and Marco Estrada all projected for at least 1.6 fWAR in 2017 by Steamer600. However, there remained a hole in the 5th rotation spot and despite decent peripherals from part-time starter Joe Biagini last season (5.73 ERA, 4.36 FIP, 4.23 xFIP), it was obvious that a considerable upgrade was still likely. The Jays ended up addressing this with Jaime Garcia, who pitched for the Braves, Twins, and Yankees in 2017, and projects to put up a 4.47 ERA in 2018. Assuming he pitches as many innings as the Jays saw from non-regulars in the Blue Jays 2017 rotation (165 IP) (regulars include Stroman, Happ, Estrada, Biagini, and Francisco Liriano), then the Jays should expect a 1.9 fWAR improvement from the starting staff.
Lastly, the Jays addressed the departure of Leone by signing former Cardinals reliever Seung-hwan Oh to a one year, 2 million dollar deal. Unlike the previous players, Oh is projected as a replacement level reliever and is a 1.5 fWAR downgrade from 2017 Leone. However, Steamer600 sees Leone’s 2017 success as something of a fluke, projecting just 0.5 fWAR in 2018. Given that this downgrade is not particularly significant, the slightly inferior performance shouldn’t hurt the Jays too much in 2018.
If we assume everyone acquired performs as Steamer projects, then the Jays look to be considerably better in 2018, having managed to improve by 9.5 fWAR without losing any significant prospects or committing to any free agent for more than one season. To summarize, here’s a table displaying the magnitude to which the Jays have improved in 2018.
The Jays might not have made any flashy moves this off-season, but they’ve certainly done quite a lot to improve their club in 2018. If they do end up improving by 9.5 wins in 2018 and manage slightly better health for players like Josh Donaldson, Aaron Sanchez, and Devon Travis, then they could be looking at a win total in the high-eighties, probably competing for a wild card spot. It might not have been the eventful off-season a lot of Jays fans were hopeful for, but it’s still been an incredibly productive one which should pave the path for them to contend this season.
Featured Photo: sportslogos.net