Toronto Blue Jays: The Offseason Blues

Feb 24, 2017; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista (19) warms up during the spring training workout at Bobby Mattix Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 24, 2017; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista (19) warms up during the spring training workout at Bobby Mattix Training Center. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports /

Fresh off another trip to the American League Championship Series, the Toronto Blue Jays needed to make tweaks to get over the top, but they went in the opposite direction.

The offseason blues of the Toronto Blue Jays, right? Well, personally, I kind of have to think so.

One reason — the most obvious — is because it’s winter… and summer seems far away. So does baseball.

But as spring training takes off, it offers the first hint of warmer weather… and that the boys of summer are coming.

The Blue Jays are fresh off another trip to the American League Championship Series, and trips to baseball’s final four in two consecutive seasons is very good. However, that also means the Jays are right there, on the cusp.

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So now they needed to make just a couple of tweaks to get over the top. (Right?) Well, they have tweaked things, but I’m afraid the Jays have gone the other way. Of course, I’m a critical fan, but still… I don’t know that they’ve done enough.

The exclamation mark is a loss… and that is the major loss of franchise linchpin first-baseman / designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion, who signed in Cleveland with the team that beat the Jays in the ALCS (some parallels occur to me with Kevin Durrant leaving Oklahoma City to join Golden State, a team that was already amazing). This stings for the Jays.

This loss is certainly enough to give any Jays’ fan the blues, and the brass clearly botched that situation. How they could just pull their offer off the table to me is ludicrous – because of Encarnacion’s stature with the franchise and since they let his contract expire, let him test the market.

Let’s be clear, Encarnacion signed with the Indians for less money than the Jays offered, but called Toronto his “first-choice” in free agency. That shouldn’t add up. (Shake my head.)

(A major mistake in hindsight is signing Justin Smoak to an extension mid-season. Smoak can field well, yes — Encarnacion is an underrated fielder — and Smoak will hit the odd homerun… but he can’t be counted on for much more than a strike out every at-bat. I foresee not being able to see Smoak whiff and think: “That is the guy taking some of the money that should be Edwin’s.”)

In a clear panic mode move to avoid being left with nothing, the Jays landed free agent Kendrys Morales. No knock on Morales (he is good and the Jays needed some lefty bats regardless), but these aren’t easily-filled shoes. Morales appears to just be a less-good Encarnacion, one who is limited to DH.

Jays’ GM Ross Atkins and Encarnacion’s camp both misjudged the free agent pool, as Edwin was somehow the last hot girl at the dance without a partner (and Cleveland appears to have lucked out). How the Jays didn’t have money in reserve in case Encarnacion didn’t sign right away is beyond me.

In another saving-face move, to preserve the Jays from losing both franchise heroes (not to mention the team’s identity and many fans as consequence), Atkins signed Jose Bautista, who clearly was second option after Encarnacion. I’m not pleased by losing him, but I take some solace in knowing some of the team’s identity is maintained with an aging Joey Bats.

Toronto Blue Jays
Nov 8, 2016; Scottsdale, AZ, USA; Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins during the MLB general managers meeting at the Omni Scottsdale Resort. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

“You can’t predict the free agent market,” said the GM, Atkins.

“Isn’t that like your job?”, I wonder to Atkins, whose face looks too smart, arrogant, and maybe a bit evil.

Then, perhaps in attempt to save more face, Atkins said the notion that the Jays came to Bautista reluctantly after not finding anything else satisfactory out there “isn’t fair”. But it is, no matter what Atkins tries to spin, pretty much true. He said Bautista was “a key target.” We’re not gullible, Ross…

Signing Bautista does address one need, a corner outfielder, and the hope is that his health can allow for him to play a whole season. But, this does not address two primary goals of the club this offseason, which was to get more athletic and more left-handed (which Encarnacion would not have addressed either).

The loss of Brett Cecil, a lefty out of the bullpen, was a major one. While this need was not adequately addressed, the Jays did sign sidewinding veteran reliever J.P. Howell.

This move has potential — Howell has an ERA under 2.40 in the last three of four years — but it looks to be like throwing mud against the wall and hoping it sticks. But it could.

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The good news?? Overall, the pitching looks stout. The rotation looks to be one of the best in baseball.

While the Jays do not quite have the Cy Young-winning arms the division-rival Red Sox do, it still looks very good one through five. ERA-leader Aaron Sanchez, 20-game winner J.A. Happ, change-up guru Marco Estrada, confident Marcus Stroman, and the mid-season acquisition Francisco Liriano make a dazzling-looking rotation.

The Jays should be able to count on Melvin “Bossman Junior” Upton as the third outfielder with the committee of Ezekiel Carrera and Dalton Pompey ready to fill in (all of whom are athletic players with speed). Also, new signee Steve Pearce is among the committee.

I’m not concerned that the Jays will be bad. What I am concerned about is that Boston will be so good and the young Yankees a year better… and let’s not forget the pesky Baltimore Orioles who we needed a monumental extra-inning blast from Encarnacion just to enter the real playoffs. Competition gets heavier this season… and that competition could make the Jays look worse.

Next: 3 Reasons the Jays Will Win AL East

The team’s needs were not addressed enough. And instead of progressing past the ALCS, it looks like getting back to that point is the ceiling for this team… if not a pipedream. The Jays hope the summer and fall are painted blue for different reasons than it has been for the winter.