Playing Pepper 2015: Toronto Blue Jays

It’s one of the annual traditions here at C70 At The Bat, our trip around the majors in blog form.  Since 2009, I’ve been asking bloggers from other teams about what’s going to happen with their squad in the coming season.  It’s always fun to see what the opposition is thinking and how optimistic some of their most devoted and intelligent fans are.  This year, the Pepper series is brought to you by Out of the Park Baseball 16, coming soon for PC.  Order this outstanding baseball simulation today!

Toronto Blue Jays
83-79, third in the AL East

It took a little longer than expected, but Toronto finally saw some results from that big offseason trade a couple of years ago.  With a power vacuum at the top of the division, given the less-than-potent Yankees and the roller coaster that is the Red Sox, Toronto looked to capitalize and get to their first postseason since Joe Carter touched ’em all in 1993.  While they weren’t able to quite get there, given a resurgent Orioles squad, they put themselves in prime position to take the next step this year.

Of course, things don’t always work out the way you expect.  The Jays are going to be without stellar pitching youngster Marcus Stroman for the entire season, which might be enough to keep them from contending in what looks to be a very tight division.  To talk about that, we’ve got a good selection of Blue Jay bloggers for you today.  First up in Jeremy, who writes over at 500 Level Fan.  Jeremy shares his thoughts on Twitter @500LevelFan.  Next up is Gideon from Blue Jays Plus.  You’ll find him on Twitter @BlueJaysPlus.  Finally, we have a long-time Pepper player in Ian from The Blue Jay Hunter.  His Twitter musings can be found @BlueJayHunter.

C70: What are your thoughts on the team’s offseason? Did they do what they needed to do?

500: To be technical, no they didn’t at all do what they needed to do. Toronto went into the offseason needing help in the bullpen, one more starter, and a starting 2B, and came out with none of the above. However, Alex Anthopoulos more than made up for it by shocking everybody and signing Russell Martin, and trading for Josh Donaldson and Michael Saunders. Those moves give the Jays quite possibly the best hitting lineup in all of baseball. The acquisition of Devon Travis from Detroit might also give the team their 2B of the future. Because there is still a gap in the bullpen and the team is depending on a lot of youth in the rotation, I can’t give the team an A, but I’m comfortable giving them a B.

BJP: I actually like it a lot. A second baseman was acquired in Devon Travis to fill that hole (whether he is able to do that right away is the big question), a replacement for Melky Cabrera was acquired in Michael Saunders, and the team was improved in positions that everybody thought they were well off in after signing Russell Martin and trading for Josh Donaldson. A right handed reliever able to handle the late innings is still needed, but as always with relievers, I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody came out of nowhere and was able to handle that role. My money is on Chad Jenkins doing that if no move is made by the time the season starts.

BJH: This offseason by the Blue Jays was a bit of an unorthodox one; instead of filling holes on the roster at second base, the bullpen and the outfield, they went out and upgraded at two key positions. In that respect, it didn’t pigeonhole them into getting the best second baseman on the market or the best closer on the market; they simply got two of the best overall players in Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin.

As far as the other deficiencies on the roster, I think they have a lot of internal depth to determine whether those positions can be filled from within the organization rather than spend even more money on a free agent.

C70: So how will the offseason GM drama affect the team, if at all?

500: Technically the drama was around the President and not the GM – Anthopoulos is going nowhere. But I don’t think it will have any impact on the team. Those events are so far removed from the field that the players won’t care. I’m just glad it never happened because of the rumoured names that Toronto would be trading away.

BJP: I don’t think it will at all. President Paul Beeston will be retiring after this year, and then the search will begin anew, but if anybody came out damaged from this whole saga, it has been the Orioles.

BJH: I don’t think it will really have an impact when it comes to the team. By all indications, Paul Beeston will finish out the season as the team’s president, and they will find his successor at some point during this year.

C70: What’s the strength of this team?

500: The offense, without a doubt. The Jays might have a lineup consisting of Jose Reyes, Russell Martin, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Josh Donaldson, and Michael Saunders as the top-6, plus promising youngster Dalton Pompey and last year’s catcher Dioner Navarro. Piling up runs shouldn’t be a problem.

BJP: The offense, for sure. There isn’t a better top 6 in baseball, and if Dalton Pompey and Justin Smoak can be at least average with the stick, and whoever plays second base isn’t a complete sinkhole, they should easily be a top 3 offense in the game.

BJH: Ideally, the Blue Jays shouldn’t have any trouble scoring runs … or at least, the top half of their lineup shouldn’t. The combination of Reyes, Martin, Bautista, Encarnacion and Donaldson appears to be one of the most formidable in baseball.

With the season-ending injury to Marcus Stroman, the starting rotation has definitely taken a big step backwards. Luckily the Blue Jays have a lot of depth in the pitching department and there are a lot of intriguing options to fill out the back end of the rotation – Daniel Norris, Aaron Sanchez and Marco Estrada among them.

At the very least, there’s always the perennial innings-eaters in R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle who can be tabbed to throw 200 innings and make 30 plus starts.

C70: What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?

500: He didn’t play much last year in his September callup, but a lot is being expected of Dalton Pompey. He is currently penciled in to be the starting CF, and I expect to see him have a nice season.

BJP: I’m expecting big things from Drew Hutchison this season. He changed his slider in the second half of last season and the results were incredible, so it will be interesting to see if the league is able to adjust to him.

BJH: I might be going out on a bit of a limb here, but I think Drew Hutchison could emerge as a power arm in the Blue Jays rotation. FanGraphs had a great article on his latest weapon (his slider), and if he employs that pitch with consistency, Hutchison just might find himself supplanting Marcus Stroman as the next great starter in Toronto’s rotation.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and where will they finish in the division?

500: The Jays have set me up for failure year after year. The high expectations and ensuing last place finish in 2013 (after acquiring Dickey, Reyes, and Melky) is still too fresh in my mind. But this year 95 wins might not be necessary. I think Baltimore, New York, and Tampa Bay all took a step back, and Boston has a long way to go after last year’s disaster. I might wind up regretting this, but I think the Jays will win 90-92 games and take the AL East.

BJP: I’ll go with 83-79. I think that is enough to come in 2nd place and maybe even fight for the wild card, but not by much. Originally I had them at 87-75 and winning the division, but the Marcus Stroman injury will really hurt.

BJH: It seems like the AL East is going to be a wide open division this year, so it may not even take 90 wins to vault into the playoffs. So somewhere in the neighborhood of 88-74 just might be enough for the Jays to not only secure a playoff spot, but also take top spot in the division.

C70: What do you like best about being a Blue Jays fan?

500: I think the thing that sets the Jays apart from the rest of MLB is the fact that the team is the only major league team in Canada. While it may not have been true in the early years of the franchise, Toronto has now become Canada’s team, with fans all across the country. It’s almost as if all Canadians cheer for the Jays. This is especially obvious when the team visits Seattle and tens of thousands of fans invade Safeco Field. I recently took a vacation to Jamaica, and came across literally hundreds of people wearing Jays shirts and caps. To be a part of that is pretty cool.

BJP: The losing. Eventually, this team will make the playoffs, and after so many years of failure, it will be incredible. I’m looking forward to that day. For now, I just hope it comes sooner rather than later.

BJH: With the Blue Jays now having the longest playoff drought in all of baseball, I think it’s the chase of the postseason. That is the eternal flame of hope for any Blue Jays fan – just to simply get into the playoffs and perhaps rekindle some of that magic again from 1992 and 1993.

My thanks to Jeremy, Gideon and Ian for their look at the Blue Jays.  It would seem like the AL East is going to be a heck of a battle this season!


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