The 2016 Blue Jays – Hitting for the Cycle

on March 2016 | in Sports | by Dario Passarelli | @PapaDart | with No Comments

With the off-season being almost as eventful, these Blue Jays are a lot of things, but boring sure isn’t one of them. To see what has happened and what to look for in 2016, let’s take a trip around the bases as we hit for the cycle.

Single – Starting Rotation is Price-less

Will the starting rotation be good enough without David Price? The lover of popcorn is no more as the superstar garnered a ton of money ($217M over 7 years) from divisional rivals the Boston Red Sox. He will be difficult to replace and considering they traded 12 pitchers last season, depth could also be an issue. For now though, the Blue Jays have their own superstar in the making, Marcus Stroman. He is the ace of the starting five and is looking to provide a full year of excellence after missing most of last season to a freak leg injury. Joining him on the rotation is veteran knuckleballer R.A. Dickey; their most consistent starter in last year’s playoffs Marco Estrada; and left-hander J.A. Happ who returns to the Jays as a free agent after being traded in 2014.

The fifth and final spot was fought over during spring training and it has just been awarded to Aaron Sanchez. The 23 year-old struggled with control last season and was moved from the rotation to the bullpen where he became a reliable setup man to Roberto Osuna. This spring however, he has shown much better control having a 19:3 strikeout-to-walk ratio. To start, his innings will be restricted as he builds his arm strength back up. Last years opening day starter Drew Hutchison will start the season for AAA Buffalo Bisons in the minor leagues. After being squeezed out of the rotation, this will give him the opportunity to earn his way back to the majors. Whether or not that comes in a Blue Jay uniform remains to be seen.

Double – Need to clone a catcher

Canadian catcher Russell Martin was a very important piece of the Blue Jays success. Not only was his timely offence helpful, but also his defence and how he managed young pitchers. The free agent signed with the Chicago White Sox and left a gaping hole behind the plate. Fans didn’t realize how big a hole that was until this past weekend. Minor-league catcher Tony Sanchez made a couple of errors in the ninth inning that allowed the Yankees to score the go-ahead run, and then on Sunday A.J. Jimenez was responsible for this errant throw.

The Jays could be in some serious trouble if something happens to Russell Martin.

Triple – Trainer may need to be MVP

Right-fielder Michael Saunders played only nine games all of last year after injuring his knee when he tripped over a sprinkler while catching fly balls. Yes, that wasn’t a typo, it was a sprinkler. He did come back towards the end of April but continued to feel discomfort and was on the disabled list for the rest of the year.

Finally, as dangerous a hitter as Edwin Encarnacion is (39 home runs in 2015), he is also as injury prone. Encarnacion didn’t miss a lot of time, but always seemed to be dealing with a nagging injury. He hasn’t had a single at bat this spring due to an abscessed tooth and a strained oblique muscle. Management still believes he is ready for opening day but with his declining defensive skills and what looks like a declining body, it may be difficult to believe he can provide a full season as designated hitter, let alone first base. The Blue Jays are only one of two teams that still play on artificial turf. With evidence showing that there are more injuries on turf than natural grass it becomes easier to see how valuable a good trainer will be.

Home Run – New Boss, not the same as the Old Boss

Apart from worrying about his body, Encarnacion is also worried about his contract. Both he and Jose Bautista will be entering free agency and how the new President and GM deal with this could impact the team not only for this year, but for many more to come. Bautista approached management and said I want this much money over this many years and I am not negotiating. Encarnacion took a different route and said let’s negotiate only until a specific date so it doesn’t interfere with the regular season. We have passed that date and since neither has been signed, the fans are none too pleased with the execs. As unhappy as fans are, it may have been the wisest thing for this new regime to have done. These are both aging veterans and a long term deal could handcuff this team. With Bautista being the face of this franchise, it will be interesting to see how the players, management and fans react as this progresses.

Although Mark Shapiro’s role as President and CEO has only been a few months, it has been a rocky few months. First and foremost General Manager Alex Anthopoulos did not re-sign with the club. The reason given was that it was not the right fit and that makes sense if you believe that under former President Paul Beeston, Anthopoulos was given some Presidential duties. With Mark Shapiro coming in, he would have to relinquish that part of his role and it is assumed he did not want too. Not bad for him. He gets the title he wants, the money he wants and the weather is so much better. This wasn’t Shapiro’s fault but he was the one blamed.

Then came the handling of all-star pitcher and free-agent David Price. It wasn’t that he signed elsewhere that bothers the average fan, but that he wasn’t even given an offer. Shapiro is seen by fans to have let Price walk away and therefore not willing to spend the money needed to win a championship. Truthfully, having Price on the team would help the rotation greatly, but it might not allow the team financial flexibility to fill the many other holes they have. This becomes infuriatingly maddening for fans who strongly believe that Rogers, who owns the Blue Jays, does have the money to spend since they are a billion dollar corporation.

Despite how pessimistic this all sounds, the Blue Jays should still find themselves playing meaningful baseball in August and September and have a lineup, if healthy, to make the playoffs.

Exciting times are just about to start my friends and as a fan, what more could you want? Play ball!

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