Mark Brubacher (05/22/16)
Coming into 2016, the Jays were the talk of the town. Many experts picked them to win the World Series, while most picked them to make the playoffs at the very least. After a slow and inconsistent start to the season, the Jays have been hovering around the .500 mark for the past few weeks. The team currently stands at 21-24 (0.466 winning percentage). Let me be upfront and say that I expect this team to turn it around and I still see them as a playoff team.
We’ve all heard the phrase “it’s still early”, which is true in some sense. All one needs to do is look at last year when the Jays were 50-51 at the end of July before going on a tear to finish the season and win the AL East. It’s not realistic to expect the team to go on that type of run again. The 43-18 record they had to close the season was a 0.704 winning percentage. Over a full season, that would give them 114 wins. For reference, only 3 teams have ever won 114 games or more in a season (Cubs 1906, Mariners 2001, and Yankees 1998). You can see why this late season surge isn’t the most realistic scenario to happen again in 2016.
So while it’s still early, the team also needs to start winning on a consistent basis to avoid falling further behind the 8-ball. To reach last year’s 93 wins, the team would need to go 72-45 (.615) in their remaining 117 games. That type of winning percentage is a tall task, but not out of reach with the type of potential this team has. The team’s juggernaut offence has struggled out of the gate. With the type of quality starts the rotation has supplied up to this point, a slightly better offence would have this team in first place.
There are three scenarios that can happen from this point on: 1) The team realizes it’s potential and makes a big run, 2) The team continues hovering around .500 and has ups and downs, or 3) The team struggles and finishes 4th or 5th in the division. Of these scenarios, two of them would be good news and one would be bad.
The good? Obviously the number one situation would be a first place team that makes the playoffs and goes on a long run to the World Series. The other positive situation would be the team loses and they trade their impending free agents at the deadline for reinforcements in future seasons.
The bad? The worst situation would be for the team to hover around .500 again and try and go for it. The huge deadline acquisitions of 2015 wont be coming again in 2016. This is the team that will live or die in 2016.
Let’s dive into each situation a little further:
Beginning with the obvious, the best would be for the bats to heat up and this team goes on a run. Everyone likes a winning team, and this one has the potential to do a lot of winning. The AL East is normally loaded with talent, but this season has been a down one for the Yankees (age) and Rays (lack of offence). While Baltimore currently leads the division, they are likely to fall off at some point due to the lack of rotation talent and depth. That leaves the Boston Red Sox as the lone rival to a sleeping giant Toronto Blue Jays team.
Where the Jays stand now (MLB Rank):
3.60 Rotation ERA (7th)
3.83 Bullpen ERA (15th)
183 Runs Scored (14th) – 4.07 Runs/Game, on pace for 659 runs for the season. This pace would give them 232 runs fewer than in 2015 (1.43 fewer runs/game).
0.984 fielding percentage (19th), including the 8th most errors committed (27).
It’s easy to see the Jays cleaning up their offence and defence moving forward, as both were huge reasons for last year’s late season surge. Three of the slumping bats have shown signs of heating up in the past week: Bautista is hitting .333 (7/21), Encarnacion .308 (8/26), and Tulowitzki .296 (8/27). The other two categories (rotation and bullpen) will be the reason this team either succeeds or struggles moving forward.
While there may be some regression in the superb pitching of Estrada (2.61), Happ (3.43), and Sanchez (3.20), it’s also realistic to expect Stroman (4.23) and Dickey (4.50) to pitch more consistently moving forward. I think the rotation will continue to pitch well.
In the bullpen, Cecil and Storen were expected to anchor the 2016 Jays bullpen along with Osuna. While the closer has done his job (Osuna Matata means no worries for the rest of the game), the two setup men have struggled. The saving grace for the bullpen has been the play of Floyd, Biagini, and Chavez. Chad Girodo has shown flashes of being a useful piece moving forward as well. If even one of Storen and Cecil can rebound, the bullpen will be fine.
Team hovers around .500 all season. This would be the worst scenario as it would likely mean that the team holds onto all 9 of their impending free agents at the trade deadline in hopes of competing in the second half. For reference, the impending free agents are: Bautista, Encarnacion, Saunders, Smoak, Dickey, Storen, Cecil, Floyd, and Chavez.
Not only will the team not be winning on a consistent basis, but they won’t receive much compensation for the players leaving at season’s end (beside draft picks for Bautista and Encarnacion). The holes left by these players will make winning in 2017 that much harder.
The team is too far out of the race and trades multiple players at the deadline (July 31). This is the second best scenario as it means that the team is re-tooling for 2017. The Jays have a strong core for the next few years and trading the impending free agents will help retool with reinforcements that were depleted from previous trades.
Likely 2017 roster as it stands today (with players in the organization) assuming none of the free agents are brought back:
As you can see, there are lots of building blocks, but help would be needed. The Jays offence would still be average, but not nearly the power alley we’ve seen the past few years. The rotation would still be basically intact, with the substitution of Hutchison for Dickey. The bullpen would be slightly gutted. I estimate the Jays would also have around $40M to spend in free agency/trades.
Most (if not all) of the Jays impending free agents would be valuable on the trade market. Bautista and Encarnacion would both bring in massive returns, including players likely to have an impact on the 2017 roster. Saunders, Smoak, and Dickey would bring back a modest, but valuable return, while bullpen pieces like Floyd, Chavez, Cecil, and Storen, would likely bring in a few pieces. After losing loads of prospects from all of the trades made by Anthopoulos the last 3-4 years, bringing in some high end young players will help sustain long term success.
For comparison, here are impending free agents who were traded at the deadline for highly rated prospects now contributing for their new team:
2015: Yoenis Cespedes was traded for SP Michael Fulmer + other.
2015: David Price was traded for SP Daniel Norris + others.
2015: Ben Zobrist was traded for SP Sean Manaea + other.
2015: Johnny Cueto was traded for SP Brandon Finnegan + others.
2014: Andrew Miller was traded for SP Eduardo Rodriguez.
It’s safe to assume that at least a few of the players might resign with the Jays (my money is on Saunders and Smoak), but from a trade perspective, there’s lots of value here.
I’ve mentioned previously that I don’t see the Jays resigning aging players Bautista (will be entering age 36 season) and Encarnacion (entering age 34 season) unless their contract demands soften. If either accepts a lower term (say 2 or 3 years), then the chances increase heavily. At their current 4-5 year requests, both seem likely to seek contracts elsewhere.
I’ll be watching no matter what happens for the remainder of the season, but there are two things I’ll be rooting for: winning heavily or losing heavily.