The 2016 season was full of ups and downs. Despite the fact that the Toronto Blue Jays returned to the ALCS yet again this season was a disappointment because of optics. The offense had a horrific year by their 2015 standards. The much-maligned pitching staff, which should have been average at best, however, ended up being arguably the best in the American League. It was an odd season, to say the least. So with a third of their regulars hitting free agency what are the largest off-season needs for the Blue Jays?
Re-Sign Edwin Encarnacion
The Blue Jays are on the verge of losing a lot of talent. Between Jose Bautista, Encarnacion, and Michael Saunders, the core of the Jays lineup will look significantly different next season. While Bautista has been, arguably, the heart of the team for several seasons, his decline over the past season has been noticeable. Saunders got off to a blazing start but his second half was awful. Beyond that, his defense is on par with Bautista’s, and that by no means is a complement. But he is, more or less, the only left-handed bat on the team.
Encarnacion, however, has been a rock. Whether he was the DH or playing first he just continued to hit. He finished this season hitting .263 with 42 home runs and a .886 OPS while showing the ability to play a serviceable first base. He continually managed to get big hits and his level of play rises as the season gets more intense. Beyond the on-field performance, Encarnacion offers something to the Blue Jays on a long-term extension that Bautista can’t possibly offer them, peace of mind.
Bautista was a source of constant headaches for the Blue Jays. He relishes the opportunity to have a microphone sprung into his face and rarely uses that time for much else than making excuses or calling out umpires. When he was at the peak of his game it was something that the team was able to digest, but at this stage of his career, it was a visible distraction. The Blue Jays can probably only get one of three back and Edwin makes the most sense on every level.
But what would Edwin require contractually to return? Could 3 years 70 million get it done? Does a team go all in on him and offer him a 5-year deal? In this day and age, it is entirely possible that happens.
Left Handed Bat
There are times when being very right-hand dominant has been beneficial for the Jays. With several excellent left-handed starters in the American League, it allows them to match-up very well. The problem is it makes them easy to pitch to. They have a lot of similar hitters with similar approaches. Adding a big lefty in the middle of the order could really change things up. People have obviously been proposing a Joey Votto to Toronto trade for the better part of a decade due to his roots in this country. In the past, he has been reluctant to play in this market, but lately, Votto has seemed to relax his stance on that. The only question remaining is what would it take and how do you manage that term when his production inevitably declines.
Whether it is Votto or another bat, this line-up needs versatility. Switching hitting or the ability to hit from the left side is desperately needed. The free agent market is a disaster this year, with very few everyday bats available. Look for the Blue Jays to be aggressive in the trade market. They must come out with something big to replace the holes that free agency will leave the team. The core of the offense is still excellent with Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Devon Travis, Russell and Kevin Pillar but one or two big pieces could turn this from good offense to a great one.
Roberto Osuna is an elite closer. Jason Grilli is an experienced veteran who can still get outs. Joe Biagini was lights out in his rookie season. After those 3 things get shaky fast. Brett Cecil is most likely gone and Joaquin Benoit is a free agent. Ryan Tepera, Bo Schultz, Aaron Loup, Chad Girodo and Danny Barnes are all unproven. While answers must come from some of these names, free agent or trade additions are undoubtedly required.
While no one should expect an Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman to be a Blue Jay next year. They need to find someone from the next tier down to shut down 8th innings for the Jays. If the Blue Jays are able to acquire that arm the late innings puzzle becomes easier to figure out.