Toronto Blue Jays
2017 Record: 76-86
4th Place, AL East
Team ERA: 4.42 (14th)
Team OPS: .724 (25th)
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What Went Right
Justin Smoak finally looked like the hitter that so many expected him to be when he was one of the best prospects in baseball in the early part of the decade. He hit 38 homers, walked 83 times and was worth 4.2 offensive wins in 2017, easily the best total of his career. Even while missing significant time in the first-half of the year, Josh Donaldson still was one of the best third baseman in all of baseball by the end of it, hitting 33 homers with a .943 OPS. Marcus Stroman looked like a legitimate top-of-the-rotation starter this year. Bad luck/bad offense resulted in only 13 wins, but he deserved better with a 3.09 ERA and 164 strikeouts in 201 innings. Roberto Osuna looks like he could end up being one of the best closers in baseball. He posted a ridiculous 83-to-9 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and he saved 39 of the Blue Jays 76 wins. Acquired for Francisco Liriano from Houston, Teoscar Hernandez showed impressive offensive upside in his time with the Jays; slugging .602 and hitting eight homers in just 26 games for Toronto.
What Went Wrong
Jose Bautista wasn’t great in 2016, but he completely cratered in 2017. He hit .203, struck out 170 times, and his slugging percentage (.366) was over a hundred points lower than his career average (.480). Toronto has already declined his option. Aaron Sanchez was able to pitch in only eight games because of blister problems, and he struggled to throw strikes in his limited time, walking 20 batters in 36 innings. Troy Tulowitzki once again missed a majority of the season with injuries, and even when he was healthy, he was only able to put up an OPS of .678, and he hit just seven homers in his 66 games with the Blue Jays. Marco Estrada what was easily his worst year with the club, walking 71 batters and posting a sizeable 4.98 ERA in his 186 innings.
** Can Smoak do this again? Calling this a career year for Smoke was an understatement. He’s also shown this kind of raw power, but he had never hit more than 20 homers in a season before 2017. It was also the highest walk rate of his career, and one has to wonder how much pitchers will pitch around him if he’s not a 35-to-40 homer threat. It could be a mistake to count on Smoak to provide these type of offensive numbers again, especially considering he’ll turn 31 in December.
** You can ask the same question of Stroman. That ERA is sure pretty, but his FIP was nearly a full run above (3.90). He also had his strikeout rate drop, and the walks went up. Stroman is just 26-years-old and is going to induce a lot of weak contact because of his ability to generate movement with his pitches, but there could be some regression coming in 2018 if he doesn’t miss more bats.
** Who is going to be in the outfield? One spot will certainly go to Kevin Pillar, who offers just a little fantasy relevance because of his ability to steal bases. Outside of that, there are lots of questions about who will play on the corners. As good as Hernandez was, it was a small-sample size, and he didn’t show that kind of power potential in the minors. One player to keep an eye on is Anthony Alford; a talented prospect who has battled injuries, but has tremendous speed and has improved his on-base skills.
** How the Blue Jays rotation will stack up next year will probably be the biggest story to watch. Stroman is clearly going to be the “ace,” but after that, there’s a lot up for debate. JA Happ will turn 35 next week, and was only able to throw 145 innings. Sanchez might be the most talented pitcher on the staff, but counting on him to start and give you 180-200 innings is probably asking too much. There’s certainly talent in the Toronto rotation, but there’s an awful lot of volatility, too.
** Can you count on any of these hitters up the middle? The days of Tulowitzki being a first-division fantasy shortstop are almost certainly gone, and with how little he's played and how unsuccessfully he performed in 2017, you have to wonder if he's even worth a roster spot outside of specialty leagues. Then there's Devon Travis; a hitter who has shown flashes of brilliance, usually followed by a trip to the disabled list. You can't help but wonder if both of these players are buy-low candidates, but you also can't help but wonder if you're better off looking anywhere else.
Team Needs: The Blue Jays probably need to add a starter or two to the rotation as insurance for Sanchez/ability to compete, and they could use a bat or three to add to the lineup as well. Pretty much the only thing the Jays are set with is the infield corners and the bullpen. With the Yankees and Red Sox leaps and bounds ahead of Toronto right now, they’ll need to either spend big or trade prospects to have any chance of catching those two.