Playing Pepper 2017: Toronto Blue Jays

Back in 2009, I had the idea of doing a season preview of each team by asking bloggers that followed that club questions and posting the answers.  We’re back for the ninth edition of Playing Pepper!  We’ll cover one team a day from now right up until Opening Day (not counting weekends).  This series is brought to you by our new United Cardinal Bloggers podcasts site, where you can find all the info and new episodes you need to enhance your Cardinal fandom.  Now, let’s play some pepper!

Toronto Blue Jays
89-73, second (tie) in AL East
Last year’s Pepper

Even though you’ll see the Blue Jays listed third in the AL East divisional standings, they made a strong October run before being caught up in the buzzsaw that was the Cleveland Indians.  Even though Toronto lost four games to one, all of the games were close and they could have easily appeared in their first World Series since 1993.

That said, you wonder when the window is going to close for the Blue Jays.  The East isn’t getting any easier and they’ll have to make another attack run without the services of Edwin Encarnacion.  There’s no short of people interested in this club and we have eight bloggers–on par with the teams from New York in number–to talk all about them.  Give these folks a follow then settle in for a good read!

C70: Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?

BJH: I guess that depends on who you ask. Overall, I think the Blue Jays’ fan base kind of views this winter as a failed offseason. They didn’t follow their offseason mandate, which was to get more left-handed, younger and more agile. Admittedly, the market was incredibly weird this offseason, and the Blue Jays probably couldn’t re-signed Edwin Encarnacion had they waited a little longer.

Outside of bringing back Jose Bautista, the Blue Jays really didn’t make very many “sexy” offseason moves, but several of them were necessary. They still need to address the bullpen with additional relievers, and getting a left-handed reliever with experience is paramount for the Blue Jays right now. In retrospect, I might’ve liked them to be a little more aggressive in their pursuit of Dexter Fowler; he checked off a lot of boxes for the Blue Jays, but ultimately he opted to go to St. Louis.

Overall, I guess I’d give the front office a “C” grade for their offseason moves thus far. Not the best, but not the worst.

EB: It was definitely one of the more eventful off-seasons the Blue Jays have had in some time. Especially with both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion hitting free agency. For the most part, I think it’s been a pretty good off-season for Toronto. They addressed their needs in the bullpen by signing J.P. Howell and Joe Smith, which for me was a wonderful thing because for years now the front office has really neglected the bullpen, especially when compared to the offense and starting rotation. Obviously it would have been great to re-sign Encarnacion, but it just wasn’t meant to be. I don’t blame the team though, they extended a fair offer to Encarnacion.

BB: I think most Blue Jays fans, including myself, would classify the offseason as an alright one although it left a bit to be desired. It began with a lot of optimism as it was expected that the team would make a serious run at re-signing one of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. After offering Encarnacion around $80 million in early November, the Blue Jays gave him some time to mull it over before moving on to looking for a replacement. That search led to Kendrys Morales, who they signed in mid-November for three years and $33 million. This was a signal to most fans that Encarnacion likely wouldn’t be returning, although of course the front office said a reunion was still possible. Then in early December the team added another free agent infielder in Steve Pearce, which really slammed the door shut on fan-favorite Encarnacion returning.

After that saga was over the front office very slowly pivoted to taking another shot at Jose Bautista, as his market was a lot cooler than everyone expected. According to most reports, he wasn’t coveted all that much by the team’s brass but it would have been hard to face the fans in 2017 if they were outbid on the two legends of recent Jays history. This led to a one-year contract with a few options tied in, which seems to be mutually beneficial for both sides. The Jays save face and Jose gets a chance to re-build his value for another run at free agency.

In terms of doing what they needed to do, the Jays seem to have checked off almost everything on their shopping list. That certainly doesn’t mean they were all slam dunk acquisitions though. After the ALCS run in 2016, the team had a few obvious needs in the outfield along with first base and the front-end of the bullpen. To patch these gaps, the team signed the previously-mentioned Morales, Pearce, and Bautista along with veteran relievers J.P. Howell and Joe Smith. The problem is that only one of Morales or Pearce was probably necessary as the roster also features the strikeout-prone Justin Smoak, who most fans feel should have never been extended during last season. Bringing back Bautista compounded this logjam as the 36-year-old Dominican right fielder would be better served spending the majority of his time in the DH position or even first base. I don’t think too many people have any qualms with the reliever additions, although fans are obviously disappointed to have lost lefty Brett Cecil to the Cardinals in free agency on a big deal.

At the end of the day I’d give the Jays offseason a “B”, as they’re returning most of their roster from last season which took them to within a few games of the World Series. Jays fans have definitely had worse winters in the last few decades.

As for what move they could have made, this is a tough question as there’s always a few signings you see from other teams during the offseason that you wish your team made instead. I guess I’ll defer to the obvious one which is bringing back Edwin Encarnacion on the three-year deal at $60 million (plus an option) that Cleveland gave him. Looking back at last year’s post in this series, I said that Encarnacion would come back to the Jays on a four-year $80 million contract (the Jays rumored offer a few months ago), so maybe I’m especially sour that my prediction was so close to being correct.

To be clear, I don’t blame the front office at all for the way they handled the situation back in November. They gave the slugger their best offer early on in the process and allowed him a week to think about it before moving on to alternatives. I think a good portion of the blame lies at the feet of Encarnacion’s agent as he completely misread the market and cost his client (and himself) a boatload of cash.

I think if both parties could redo that situation, Edwin would be back in blue next year and the team would never have had to sign lesser players in Morales and Pearce during free agency. Jays fans can only hope that they don’t come to regret losing Encarnacion too much over the course of the next few seasons.

JFTC: The offseason was in interesting one if you’re a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays. It was a roller coaster of emotions with Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion hitting free agency. But, not only was management expected to replace those two, they were also losing Brett Cecil, a major part of their bullpen and R.A. Dickey from the rotation.

That said, they did a good job in bringing in JP Howell and Joe Smith to shore up the ‘pen and their rotation could sustain the loss of the knuckleballer thanks to having Francisco Liriano already in the fold.

The real focus of the offseason was on the departure of Encarnacion. Many feel the team rushed into signing Kendrys Morales, who would be a poor substitute for Encarnacion’s production. Though, closer inspection yields some solace. Morales could benefit nicely from playing in not just the Rogers Center in Toronto, but the entire AL East for the majority of his time. He could have a year that will make fans forget all about Edwin.

The real steal of the offseason could end up being Steve Pearce. The club inked him to a 2 yr deal even though he had just had shoulder surgery. But, they are banking on the defensive versatility he provides, as well as a reasonable bat. He’ll start the year chipping in at first base, but when fully healthy, he can be used in LF as well.

Overall, the Blue Jays had an offseason that appears underwhelming, but they went about the business of building depth and versatility – to raise their talent floor – in an attempt to repeat, and hopefully improve upon, their ALCS appearances of the last two seasons. It wasn’t a sexy offseason, but could end up paying huge dividends.

BPT: Good seems like a stretch, but it wasn’t bad by any definition that I know. Ross Atkins solidified the bullpen, brought back the greatest player in franchise history, and did a pretty bang up job of replacing Edwin Encarnacion. Steve Pearce and Kendrys Morales cost less than Encarnacion, and have the potential to make fans forget about his departure. I think bringing in Dexter Fowler would have been great for this team given its current construction, but I don’t think it’s a non-move that will hurt them that much in the long run.

500: It was decent. Not great, but decent. The obvious move that I wish they would have made was re-signing Edwin Encarnacion. He will be missed. But I think Kendrys Morales is a decent replacement (at least offensively), and I like the small moves they made to the bullpen. I think LF and 1B are still a bit of soft spot, so more work probably should have been done there.

JJ: The Toronto Blue Jays will be without the likes of slugger Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Saunders, Brett Cecil, Joaquin Benoit and R.A. Dickey who all signed free-agent contracts with other teams during the offseason. The Jays brain-trust has plugged the holes with Kendrys Morales, Steve Pearce, J.P. Howell and Joe Smith in an attempt to replace the lost production.  The Jays upper echelon had aspirations of getting younger and faster this past offseason however those goals were not met due to the unpredictability of the free agent market. The Jays made a play for outfielder Dexter Fowler before re-upping with Jose Bautista.

The Achilles heel of this team is first baseman Justin Smoak or left-fielder Melvin Upton. Both players are above average defenders but their inability to make consistent contact jeopardizes their value and they are instant rally killers anywhere in the lineup.  The Jays can use Steve Pearce at one of the two positions if completely healthy. The rumors of Angel Pagan have resurfaced after his decent showing at the World Baseball Classic; Pagan could oversee left-field while Pearce would slide over to first base and relegate both Smoak and Upton to bench roles.

ACB: I believe it was a mediocre offseason for the team. They did what they needed to do, no more no less. They added some depth to the bullpen by adding both Joe Smith and J.P. Howell to the mix. They also picked up a good utility player in Steve Pearce, a former Blue Jays crusher. I’d say the best acquisition of the offseason was Kendrys Morales (in replace of Edwin Encarnacion… more on that later). There were many rumours throughout the offseason for the Jays, related to Dexter Fowler and Andrew McCutchen. Obviously, Dexter Fowler would have been a fantastic acquisition because of his speed and hitting, but someone like Devin Travis can pick up those pieces over time. I felt myself waiting for a block buster trade to happen, or for a big name player to be signed, but that never happened, which made the offseason go by slowly. There was also quite a bit of disappointment when Encarnacion left to join Cleveland, and said “….but I made the decision to come here because here I have the opportunity to win the World Series.” I think that the Toronto Blue Jays front office did an OK job handling this past offseason, but we will have to wait until the next off season begins to evaluate it, after we see how the season unfolds.

C70: What are the expectations for Marcus Stroman this year? Will he be the staff ace?

BJH: 2016 was an up-an-down year for Marcus Stroman. He started the year as the Opening Day starter and ended it as the Blue Jays’ fourth best starting pitcher. I think he’s poised for a bounceback 2017, as his second-half peripherals looked a lot better (his ERA was over a run better after the All-Star Break).

I would say that Aaron Sanchez is the de facto “ace” of the Blue Jays right now and Marcus Stroman has a long way to go to usurp Sanchez, but he should make his way back up the ranks as the Blue Jays’ number two or three starter in the near future.

EB: I don’t see Stroman being the team ace, not now after what Aaron Sanchez has shown he’s capable of doing over a full season as a starter. Stroman needs to be more consistent and get back to what he was doing in 2014. I see him having a solid season…he has a lot to prove, to both himself and the league, that last season was just a minor setback in his development towards being a solid number 2 starter.

BB: This is a hot topic in Toronto these days as people were fairly disappointed in Marcus last year despite putting up a respectable 4.37 ERA in his first full season in the major leagues. The pessimism over Stroman’s performance isn’t entirely unfounded though as it’s looking more and more likely that the Duke product isn’t going to be the possible Cy Young winner that a lot of fans hoped for when he was making his way through the system in 2014. The strong-willed righty has struggled to consistently miss bats during his time with the Jays although an ERA in the 3.60-4.00 range is still a reasonable expectation. This coming season will be a big one for Stroman as he has to prove he can be a dependable rotation piece for a full year at the big league level. He hasn’t done that as of yet.

Stroman’s numbers may make him a staff ace on some teams, but the presence of Aaron Sanchez on the Jays roster means Toronto is not one of those squads. The lanky righty came up with Stroman through the minor leagues and in one season of starting, has already surpassed him for the crown of most exciting Jays pitcher. There’s another level to this story as the two young studs used to be extremely close friends and even roommates, but this offseason they had a falling out which made a lot of headlines up here in what has otherwise been a fairly slow winter for Jays news.

Obviously their personal relationship isn’t all that relevant to the on-field action, but it adds another layer to the ongoing competition for the top spot in the team’s rotation. It’s certainly something to watch as the regular season begins in a few weeks.

JFTC: Marcus Stroman came back from his ACL tear at the end of the 2015 season and was amazing. So, when 2016 was all said and done, you can’t blame a section of baseball fans for calling his season a disappointment.

But that is a tad short sighted. Stroman has the arsenal of a small army. He features a mix of 4-seam, 2-seam, cutter, curveball, slider and change, all of which he uses to maintain a groundball rate of 60%. He lives in the bottom half of the zone and has success there.

But, does that make him an ace? Likely not. He will likely see an ERA of 3.50-4, but will get his 200 innings in. The real issue with calling him the team’s ace is that he shares the mound with Aaron Sanchez, who many expect to take his game to the next level. Though, if there is anything that can get Stroman to follow suit it is people doubting him.

BPT: Expectations might be pretty low for Stroman just because he had a couple of rough months last year and he is surrounded by four fantastic pitchers, but that doesn’t mean he won’t exceed his expectations in 2017. As for being the staff ace, it’ll be hard to top Aaron Sanchez and Marco Estrada, and for that matter J.A. Happ and Francisco Liriano, but he definitely has the talent to do it.

500: I don’t think he will be the staff ace and I think that will actually help him have a much better year. He pitched better than his number last season, but now that you can slot him behind Sanchez, and maybe even Happ and Estrada, it really takes the pressure off. He just finished up dominating the World Baseball Classic, so that bodes well. I expect a big season.

JJ: Marcus Stroman showed the world what he is capable on the International stage at the World Baseball Classic. The “Stro-Show” loves the spotlight and thrives on pitching in big games, he was also on the bump for the Blue Jays wild-card victory over the Baltimore Orioles. Stroman will be looking to rebound from a disappointing 2016 campaign where he boasted an inflated 4.37 earned run average in 204 innings of work. If Stroman can live up to the hype he solidifies this rotation into one of the very best in the majors.

While I am confident Stroman will reassert himself as a top notch arm this year, my pick to click as the ace of the staff is Francisco Liriano. The veteran has had an incredible spring and a full season with his old Pirates battery mate will pay huge dividends. Liriano not Stroman or Sanchez will be this year’s staff ace.

ACB: After his latest WBC performance (aka a no hitter into the seventh inning, leaving the game with only one hit in the WBC championship game AND becoming the WBC MVP), I’d say the expectations are pretty high. Every Jays fan who appreciates not only his pitching but also his social media presence and attitude, hopes that Marcus Stroman will have a bounce back season after last year’s mediocre performance. Obviously, the Jays have the pitchers that can pick up where he leaves off if he has a bad start, but I think that Stroman is going to be great this season. As I have said in my own blog posts, I don’t really think there is an ace of the pitching staff… they all could be aces! This is probably one of the strongest pitching rotations the Blue Jays have had in their team history, so I think that the overall pitching will be exceptional (as it was last season).

C70: Who picks up the slack from the loss of Edwin Encarnacion or does anyone have to?

BJH: The clear comparison is going to be Kendrys Morales. At onset, swapping out Encarnacion for Morales looks like a downgrade, but combined with a healthy Jose Bautista, the Blue Jays should be able to make up the difference. Many believe that moving Morales to a hitter-friendly park like the Rogers Centre can only do wonders for his numbers; you can probably pencil him in for 30 home runs and 100 RBI’s. 

EB: Someone will have to pick-up the slack, the offense can’t be carried solely by Donaldson and Bautista. What made the Blue Jays offense so formidable back in 2015 when they won the division was that they had Donaldson, Bautista, and Encarnacion hitting 2, 3, 4 in the order, and all three of them were on top of their game. That part of the line-up proved almost impossible to get through without being touched up, and if Toronto wants to regain that form, they’re definitely going to need Kendrys Morales to step-in and fill the offensive void left with the departure of Encarnacion. I think Morales (like any big leaguer) has a lot of pride, and the thought of him being Encarnacion’s replacement will be a good challenge for him. I feel he’s more than capable of being a great fit in the clean-up spot for Toronto.  

BB: The eventual answer to this question may also provide insight into how the Blue Jays season progresses in 2017. The loss of Encarnacion is a massive blow to the team’s offense and without a suitable replacement, the team will definitely struggle to score as many runs in 2017 as they did last year. As I mentioned earlier, some combination of Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce is expected to pick up the slack but they are not Edwin Encarnacion by any stretch.

That being said, I don’t think anyone has to individually pick up the slack on their own, but all the players will have to meet expectations if the team wants to have any chance of making the playoffs for a third straight season. This includes the aging Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Bautista along with Russell Martin behind the plate.

JFTC: As mentioned previously, folks should expect Kendrys Morales to fill those shoes quite nicely. Moving from the expanses of Kansas City and the AL Central to Yankee Stadium, Fenway Park and Rogers Centre will fit quite nicely for the switch hitting slugger. Let’s also remember that Encarnacion is as streaky as they come, where Morales tends to be a tad more consistent.

That said, the Blue Jays will need to hope that age related regression doesn’t hit them heavily with guys like Russell Martin and Troy Tulowitzki. As well, they’ll also need Devon Travis to stay on the field for a full season, where his quality bat can actually help them. And, if Kevin Pillar can take his game to the next level by, say, only swinging at pitches in his zip code, this lineup is that much better.

BPT: I think everybody is expecting Kendrys Morales to have a bit of an offensive pick up with the move to the hitter friendly AL East from Kansas City, but it’ll be hard to do it all himself. The Blue Jays front office seems to believe there is offense somewhere deep inside Justin Smoak waiting to come out, so he can have a big role to play, as well as Steve Pearce if he is healthy.

500: It will have to be Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce. The Jays run totals fell pretty significantly from 2015 to 2016 so somebody will need to at least somewhat replace Edwin’s production. The real strength of the team is the pitching staff, so as long as ¾ of Edwin’s numbers are replaced Toronto should be OK. (should, of course, in italics)

JJ: Initially, Blue Jays nation were poised to jump off the proverbial bandwagon after the loss of fan favorite Encarnacion and his home run induced imaginary parrot. However, Kendrys Morales has had a great spring and a healthy motivated Jose Bautista will fill the power void and then some this season. Morales is going to benefit from playing his home games at the homer-friendly Rogers Centre and other AL East parks.

ACB: I assume that the player who would pick up Edwin Encarnacion’s slack would be Kendrys Morales, and that’s the main reason why the Jays acquired him. Personally, I am not a big fan of pinpointing a certain player to pick up the pieces for a former one. The Jays will have to come together as one team to pick up the slack of a player that added a lot of versatility (hitting wise) to this lineup, and I am unsure if that will be a problem for them or not. I do think that Kendrys Morales will have a great season with the Jays. Hitting 30 home run in Kauffman Stadium last season (with the Kansas City Royals) is a harder task than most fans would assume, and because of that I think he will be a monster hitter for the Jays this season.

C70: Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?

BJH: I’ll give you two names to keep your eye on: Devon Travis and Francisco Liriano. If healthy, a full season worth of Devon Travis can play a huge part of setting the table for the Blue Jays lineup. And I say Francisco Liriano because he seems like an under-the-radar candidate to put forth a solid 2016 season. He projects as the Blue Jays’ fifth starter, but on any other team, he might be their number three starter.

EB: Devon Travis. This team is getting old and they need one of the younger guys to step-up and play a key-role with the offense. The big thing for Travis is whether he can stay healthy. He’s had a couple of fluky injuries the past two seasons and it’ll be great to see what he can do at the plate if he can manage to stay healthy for a full season. 

BB: Most of the Blue Jays roster is well-known by now, but the one unheralded player who is receiving a lot of buzz this offseason is hometown kid Dalton Pompey. The former highly-rated prospect has been stuffed in the minors for a few seasons but may finally get a chance in left field this year to break into the major league team. Currently a sub-optimal platoon of Melvin Upton and Ezequiel Carrera is expected to see most of the time out in left, but the speedy Pompey will be waiting in the wings for any chance to show he can provide more value, which shouldn’t be too difficult to be fair.

With Upton and Carrera both unlikely to be starting for the Blue Jays in 2018, a lot of fans are expecting Pompey to be given an extended shot at some point in the year to show what he has to offer. If the Canadian puts it all together, you will definitely be hearing his name a lot more south of the border.

JFTC: Aside from Steve Pearce? Sure. Watch out for Pillar. He has been putting in a lot of work on his approach at the plate. He has also altered his swing (by eliminating his leg kick). The idea is to avoid swinging at balls and to get on base at a higher, more consistent rate. It is paying off early this spring. So, if he can improve his bat, maintain his speed on the basepaths AND continue to play stellar defense in CF, this could be a rather nice season for him.

BPT: Kevin Pillar, usually just known around the baseball world for his defense, has always been a good hitter, but never a good offensive player. He’s been working on his plate discipline in Spring Training, and if the early results carry over to the regular season, he’ll be in the conversation for being one of the better outfielders in baseball.

500: Not sure he still qualifies as unheralded, but Devon Travis. If he can stay healthy he could become one of the top second basemen in the AL.

JJ: Kevin Pillar seems to have recognized his offensive deficiencies from last season and has implemented a new approach that has paid dividends so far this spring. Pillar is my position player to keep an eye on. I already let the cat out of the bag with my Liriano prediction as far as pitchers go.

ACB: As I had mentioned in a blog post last week, I think that Francisco Liriano is the player that Jays fans should watch this season. He was a spectacular acquisition for the Jays in the trade deadline, and was a fantastic pitcher for them during the second half of the season (the entire time he played for the Jays). The Pittsburgh Pirates did not have a good season last year, and barely gave Liriano any run support, which led to him having a 5.46 ERA for the first half of the season. Once he arrived in Toronto, he only had a 2.92 ERA, thanks to the run support that was given to him and the quality of his pitches. I honestly think that Liriano is overlooked and underappreciated by most fans because of the fantastic starting rotation he is a part of. He is going to be a huge weapon for the Jays, and I am looking forward to seeing how he will play for the Jays during an entire season.

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

BJH: The AL East looks to be a dogfight once again, but I think the Blue Jays should be able to grab one of the Wild Card spots with a record somewhere similar to where they finished last year: 89-73. 

EB: It’s going to be tough to take the division. Even with Boston losing David Ortiz to retirement, they still gained Chris Sale and that team is scary good. That being said, Toronto still has the potential of being a 90-92 win team. For that to happen though, they need a lot of good things to take place. Bautista needs to remain healthy and have a bounce back season, the rotation needs to pitch every bit as well as they did in 2016, and most importantly the team needs to come together like they did in the final two months of the 2015 season when they ended up going 40-16 after the trade deadline. Something was off with last year’s team…far too many players were swinging for the fences and striking out, and if it wasn’t for the solid starting pitching, last year’s team wouldn’t have won 80 games. 

BB: Last year in this post I predicted the Jays to win 87 games, two less than they actually did. Entering this season I feel just about the same about the team’s chances and therefore will predict 87 wins again. Boston will need to have a lot of misfortune to lose the division meaning the rest of the AL East is chasing down a Wild Card spot. The Yankees are probably the Blue Jays closest competition for second place and it should be an exciting race to keep an eye on throughout the season. I think it could come down to the slimmest of margins so I’ll summarize my prediction by saying the Blue Jays will finish either second or third in the AL East in 2017 behind the mighty Red Sox. Another deep playoff run from the Wild Card spot certainly would be fine with me.

JFTC: This is a tough call. With the Boston Red Sox having “won the offseason” the Blue Jays look to have an uphill battle in an already tough division. Even though Boston seems to have the injury bug working its way through their pitching staff, they’ll be tough again this season. Heck, every team in this division has a chance to compete every night. Even the Rays seem to find a way to give Toronto trouble.

That said, look for the Blue Jays to finish 2nd in the division, in a Wild Card spot at right around 87-90 wins.

BPT: 91-71. First place. David Price’s arm will sink the Red Sox.

500: I’m not as down on the Jays as many. Yes a lot needs to go right (health of the rotation, rebound years from a few guys), but I think they can still reach 90 wins and secure 2nd place and a wild card spot.

JJ: I personally think the Blue Jays will be better in 2017 with a healthy Jose Bautista ready to prove all his doubters wrong. Joey Bats has been locked and loaded since the first pitch of Grapefruit League action. The flexibility Steve Pearce affords John Gibbons as a first baseman or an outfielder will be extremely valuable with the question marks surrounding those positions.  The starting staff is second to none now that Liriano replaces Dickey and the bullpen is no worse than last season.  Devon Travis needs to find a way to remain healthy as he could be an integral part of the offence getting things started in the leadoff spot for the big guns.  If the Blue Jays are healthy they win the American League East with the Red Sox a close second.

ACB: I honestly think that the Jays have the chance to win the American League East, but only if they meet certain requirements. Something that destroyed the Jays last season was all of the injuries the 25-man roster players experienced/had. Whether it was Jose Bautista’s freak accidents, Josh Donaldson’s calf, or Devon Travis’s knee, there were always major injuries that hurt the Blue Jays. If they can somehow limit injuries (possibly by monitoring everyone’s health very closely, or telling them to make smart plays, no “show-boating”), the Jays will be in the first place race during the majority of the season. They also have to “show up to play” in April and September. April is the “first impression” phase in baseball, and the Jays need to prove that they are major postseason contenders at the very beginning of the season. For a team that has postseason expectations, it is important for them to win as many games as possible in September, if the 2016 Jays would have won more games in September, they would have surely beaten the Boston Red Sox for first place. Therefore, they need to keep the offence and motivation alive, as well as supporting the pitching staff. If the Jays can limit injuries and play to their expectations for every month of the season, they can win the American League East.

C70: Who is your all-time favorite Blue Jay and why?

BJH: This is so difficult and it’s incredibly hard to narrow it down to just one player. I could probably give you four different players from four different eras: Dave Stieb, Roberto Alomar, Roy Halladay, Jose Bautista. Each of them were instrumental to the Blue Jays, but all four were distinctly different. Stieb was a bit of a curmudgeon off the field, but he was the consummate perfectionist on the field. Alomar was arguably one of the most dynamic overall baseball players of the 90’s. Halladay approached pitching with a robot-like efficiency. And Bautista is not only a polarizing figure, but he’s incredibly talented.

EB: Devon White. I grew up playing center field and for me White was the best. The fact that he played for the Blue Jays made it that much better. He was so graceful as an outfielder and seemed to run down everything. The funny thing about White is that he rarely had to dive to make a catch, his speed and range was so great, that even the hardest of catches he’d just end up catching on shoelaces.

BB: I think my all-time favorite Blue Jay would have to be middle infielder Aaron Hill who played for the team from 2005-2011. Although the team didn’t do much when he was around, the 1st round pick of the Jays in the 2003 draft always played extremely hard and seemed to be a quality person off the field as well. I think the reason he’s my favorite player is that he made his debut for the team around the time I was starting to get into the sport as a child and his triple to center field during that first game is one of my earliest memories of baseball that has stuck with me.

After his time in Toronto, Hill went on to the Diamondbacks where he hit for the cycle twice in one season. Then he split the 2016 season between the Brewers and the Red Sox (ew). Last I read he was fighting for a spot this spring with the Giants as a utility infielder.

JFTC: This is an easy one. I’ve always been a sucker for bats. The Blue Jays have a long history of sluggers. My childhood was full of favorites like George Bell, Jesse Barfield, Lloyd Moseby. But, my all time favorite is Carlos Delgado. That guy had such a pretty swing from the left side. He made power look so easy. And, he had such a contagious smile.

He still leads the Blue Jays organization in just about every offensive category, even though he hasn’t played there since 2004. He was a one-and-done on the Hall of Fame ballot, which I still decry as a travesty. He finished with 473 HR, 1512 RBI, he was a career .280 hitter with a total 44+ WAR. His numbers mightn’t have been HoF worthy, but to me, he was.

BPT: We spell it f-a-v-o-u-r-i-t-e in Canada, and it would have to be Jose Bautista. He’s not just a good ballplayer, but he is a fantastic entertainer, and a very decent human being. He cemented his legacy in hearts of Canadians everywhere with his home run and subsequent bat flip in 2015, and returning to Toronto for at least one more season will allow him to create even more memories with the team for us to cherish him with in the future.

500: Tony Fernandez, by a mile. Always loved the way he played SS, especially the little underhand flip throw he made from deep in the hole. 

JJ: My favorite Blue Jays would be Past- Reed Johnson and Present- Russell Martin. I really appreciate the body of work from those gritty, gamer type players who would run through a wall to make an out.

ACB: My all time favourite Blue Jay has to be José Bautista. I was born after the back-to-back 1992-1993 World Series wins, therefore José Bautista is my generation’s version of Joe Carter and/or Roberto Alomar. I always have “current favourite players”, and ever since last season I have been a big fan of Jason Grilli. Not only is he a great pitcher, but he seems to be a great teammate. Grilli’s energy and love of the game are infectious!

Lots of great stuff there from our Blue Jay friends!  Should be another exciting year north of the border!

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