Toronto Blue Jays
2016 Record - 89-73
Second place, AL East
Team ERA: 3.78 (6th in MLB)
Team OPS: .755 (9th in MLB)
What Went Right:
You more or less needed to bring an umbrella to Jays games, lest you be rained upon by home run after home run. As a team, Toronto swatted 221 long balls. Only Baltimore, St. Louis and Seattle finished with more in the regular season. Their propensity for the home run resulted in a slew of fun individual seasons, none more filled with gooey fantasy joy than that of Edwin Encarnacion. The 33-year-old slugger not only led the team with his 42 dingers, he finished tied with Brian Dozier and Khris Davis for third most in the bigs. In addition to that slew of home runs, Encarnacion rocked a .263/.357/.529 triple-slash and drove in 127 runs, tied with gold-encrusted retiree David Ortiz for the most in the American League. Only Nolan Arenado (133) drove in more. The regular season fireworks were remarkable, but Encarnacion’s most memorable moment came when he launched a three-run home run to left off of not-Zach-Britton in the bottom of the 11th inning of the AL Wild Card Game. That walkoff blast sent the Blue Jays to the ALDS to face off with the Rangers. They dispatched Texas in three games before falling to the Indians in Game 5 of the ALCS. While Encarnacion led the club in dingers, he was far from alone in hitting the ball to the moon. Five other Jays rapped at least 20 home runs, with Josh Donaldson mashing 37 to keep Encarnacion within sight. Troy Tulowitzki (24), Michael Saunders (24), Jose Bautista (22) and Russell Martin (20) also joined the fun. The Jays’ pitching proved no less impressive, headlined by one surprise season and one that signals for the future. First, the surprise. J.A. Happ took to the mound in a cloud of mist and vapor to magically win 20 games in 2016. His previous season-high for wins was just 12, back in 2009. He also posted a 3.18 ERA with a career-best 163 strikeouts. All of this in his age-33 season in a career that has seen him roll to a 4.16 ERA over 1,207 2/3 innings. Harry Houdini would blush at this illusion. Aaron Sanchez was in no need of a house of mirrors, though, registering a 3.00 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 161/63 K/BB ratio over 192 innings. His first full season as a starter at the major league level was so successful that the Jays scuttled a midseason plan to limit his innings by shifting him to the bullpen. They skipped him over several starts to keep him under 200 innings. Unless an injury concern emerges, he shouldn’t have a leash in 2017. No Blue Jays starter had an ERA over 4.50 in 2016. Out of the pen, Roberto Ozuna secured 36 saves and punched out 82 batters in 72 innings.
What Went Wrong:
It wasn’t even that anything went outright “wrong” for the Blue Jays to drop from a 93-win, division-conquering 2015 to an 87-win, Wild Card campaign in 2016. Instead, a series of natural regressions hit the team. Among those, Jose Bautista might finally be showing his age. The then-35-year-old (he turned 36 on October 19) slashed .213/.366/.452 with 22 homers and 66 RBI in 116 games played. Toe and knee injuries kept him out of action for large chunks of the season, resulting in one of the worst average campaigns of his career. Those 22 dingers were the fewest he has hit in a season since he joined the Blue Jays in 2008. Bautista was not alone in taking a dip into disappointing waters, though. Russell Martin joined him for a swim. Martin did hit 20 home runs, but his .231/.335/.398 triple-slash was notably down from the .240/.329/.458 mark he logged in 2015. As a team, the Jays just weren’t much on hitting for average -- which makes sense given their propensity to swing for the rafters. Of batters who saw at least 400 at-bats, only Devon Travis (.300) and Josh Donaldson (.284) finished with averages north of .270. Both R.A. Dickey (4.46 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 126/63 K/BB over 169 2/3 innings) and Marcus Stroman (4.37 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 166/54 K/BB ratio over 204 innings) pitched fine, but offered little legitimate punch to the back of the rotation. This marks the second consecutive season that the Jays have reached the ALCS without cashing in their chips for the World Series.
**Aaron Sanchez represents the Blue Jays most appealing fantasy pitching target by a fair margin. The question is whether he has done enough to represent a top tier fantasy option in the spring. Maybe not quite yet. While Sanchez posted a career-best ERA+ of 142 in 2016, his K/9 mark of 7.5 doesn’t necessarily portend a slew of 200-plus strikeout seasons in his future. That isn’t to say that Sanchez won’t ever ascend to true fantasy ace-hood. More that we might need another season or two to truly gauge Sanchez’s true fantasy outlook.
**Troy Tulowitzki turned in a respectable, if somewhat unspectacular campaign in 2016, hitting .254/.318/.443 with 24 homers and 79 RBI over 492 at-bats. Those 24 homers gave him 20-plus dingers for the seventh season in his 11-year career in the majors. In terms of fantasy, though, Tulowitzki has dropped off from his gig as Offensive Deity with the Rockies. In eight seasons over in Denver, Tulo slashed .299/.373/.517. Now 32 years old and still an injury risk (he missed 31 games last season) it probably isn’t realistic to expect him to ascend back to those prime Colorado numbers. 2016 at last served as a bump from his first half-season with the Jays -- following the initial trade to Toronto two summers ago, he hit only .239/.317/.380.
**Just how many bat flips remain in Jose Bautista’s bat? Not only was his 2016 campaign muddled by injury concerns, Bautista needed to swing through quite a few pitches to swat his 22 homers. He struck out 103 times in just 116 games played, a sign that he is probably cheating on the fastball at this juncture. Those 22 homers were his fewest since 2009. To play Devil’s Advocate in Joey Bats’ defense, he had cracked a combined 75 homers over his previous two seasons prior to tripping up in 2016. Toronto offered a perfect offensive spot for Bautista. Should he opt for a different squad as a free agent, that could certainly dull some of his fantasy shine even beyond the questions about a swing-happy outfielder in his mid-30’s. Buyer beware.
**Where does Devon Travis stand heading into 2017? He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery after being diagnosed with a bone bruise and cartilage damage in his right knee in October, and while the expectation is that he will be ready for spring training, the words “cartilage damage” are somewhat concerning given that Travis is just 25 years old. He was sidelined by shoulder surgery in July, 2015, too. When healthy, though, there is an allure, here. In 410 at-bats last season, Travis hit .300/.332/.454 with 28 doubles, 11 homers and 50 RBI. His injury history makes him a draft risk, but he could pay that back and then some if he can keep upright.
**Which Marcus Stroman shows up next season? For the sake of interested fantasy parties, the Marcus Stroman who pitched to a 3.68 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and 83/21 K/BB ratio in 14 second-half starts this past season. Compare that to the 4.89 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 83/33 K/BB ratio in 18 first-half starts. Stroman’s K/9 jumped from 6.4 in the first half to 8.5 in the second half. This late push portends well for an under-the-radar rebound candidate in drafts.
Key Free Agents: Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Saunders, R.A. Dickey
Team Needs: About 88 home runs? That is what would be walking out the door if Bautista, Encarnacion and Saunders all decided to say “sayonara.” The Blue Jays are said to be making a push to re-sign Encarnacion before their exclusive window expires on Tuesday at 12:01 AM EST, so that is something to keep an eye on while you are watching Brian Williams give play-by-play of the end of days on MSNBC. Bautista is looking less likely to re-up with the Blue Jays. Both Encarnacion and Bautista received qualifying offers, something that cannot be said for Saunders. At the very least, the Jays will have to fill one outfield hole, if not two. A back end starter would also prove helpful, particularly if Dickey takes his knuckleball elsewhere.