Toronto Blue Jays: Can they get back to contending in 2018?

BOSTON, MA - JULY 20: Roberto Osuna
BOSTON, MA - JULY 20: Roberto Osuna /

After a dreadful stretch leading into the trade deadline, the Toronto Blue Jays will need to do whatever they can to salvage the trade value of their expiring contracts and try to improve for 2018.

If there was any doubt about what the Toronto Blue Jays mindset should be with a week before the trade deadline their recent 10-game road trip should have cleared that up. They went 3-7, were outscored 61-35, lost Aaron Sanchez to a blister again, and, as Sportsnet Arden Zwelling pointed out, Toronto has posted double-digit strikeout totals in six of their last 10 games.

The team’s front office believes that they can get back to a contending position next season, which may be a tough sell given how this season has gone. What management sees is a team that has  three top quality starters in J.A. Happ, Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez signed for next season, and some potential from Joe Biagini, who is under team control for the next four seasons.

Then there is Roberto Osuna, who is an elite closer that does not get a lot of chances to be in closing situations. If they can add two more arms to the rotation and find some options for the bullpen the team will be in a position to compete next season, but that depends on who they bring in.

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The biggest hurdle that the team has to overcome is improving an offence that has been dreadful. Zwelling noted in his article that the Blue Jays have a run differential of -65 this month, the worst since they had a -69 in July of 1977. Almost 30 per cent of the teams payroll is being paid to Jose Bautista, Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin.

It is those veterans who are not performing to the level they have been accustomed to as the trio have combined for 32 home runs and 88 RBI. Granted Martin and Tulowitzki were also brought in for their defensive ability, but even that has tailed off for both of them.

Only Bautista is without a contract for next season and it is unlikely to expect the Blue Jays to move on from Martin and Tulowitzki given their high-priced contracts. So what they will likely try to do is improve on the areas that will be open at the end of the season.

Right now the Blue Jays do not have many enticing rental options with Francisco Liriano, Marco Estrada, Jose Bautista, Joe Smith, and J.P. Howell. What it should mean is that Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins should consider lowering their price tag of some of these players so that they get something rather than lose an opportunity to improve the team going forward. What may help is taking back money on Liriano and Estrada, but it starts at finding a team that would take a chance on them turning things around.

So how do the Blue Jays try to put themselves back in a position to compete in 2018? Do they move off of controllable assets like Happ, Justin Smoak, Steve Pearce or Kendrys Morales to try to get some younger pieces in return. It would be unlikely to see Smoak moved because he is on a team friendly contract, and Happ is a player they would probably want to have around next season, especially with a thin free agent market.

Next: Jose Bautista’s future up in the air

If the Blue Jays are unable to determine who will be a part of the long-term picture, contending is probably not a realistic option next season. Free agency has proved to be a tough method of improvement for the team. Unless they get a healthy Devon Travis and are able to get an upgrade on their outfielders, it is going to be tough to see this team compete in an AL East with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees getting back to their dominant form.