Though they did not win the division last year, the Toronto Blue Jays made a deep playoff run; they beat the Baltimore Orioles in the AL Wild Card game and swept the Texas Rangers in the ALDS; however, their World Series aspirations were crushed by an ALCS loss to the Cleveland Indians. Game Five of that series was Edwin Encarnacion‘s last game in a Blue Jay uniform, as he took his talents to Cleveland. Yet, they’ve improved with his departure, and have established themselves as the team to beat in the AL East.
Morales and Pearce
Since being bounced out in the ALCS, the Blue Jays have been very active on the free agent market. They signed infielder Kendrys Morales to a three-year, $33 million dollar deal and inked utility man Steve Pearce to a two-year, $12.5 million dollar deal.
Morales is a force at the plate, as he’s driven in over 90 runs in each of the last two years and hit 30 home runs last year; however, he’s not viewed as a defensive asset, so he will likely serve as Toronto’s designated hitter. Signing Pearce helps mitigate his defensive woes.
Pearce will likely serve as the team’s first baseman, but he can play all around the diamond; he’s played the outfield, and third base as well. Pearce is also a contact, line drive hitter; he’s hit over .285 two of the last three years. His versatility and contact bat, combined with his bargain contract make him a great fit in Toronto. Morales and Pearce together are better than just Encarnacion, and if the Blue Jays can add an outfielder, they’ll only get better.
Bautista? McCutchen? Bruce?
While they’ve replaced Encarnacion very nicely, the Blue Jays must find themselves a replacement for their other other marquee free agent – outfielder Jose Bautista. While there have been reports stating that the Blue Jays and the power hitting right hander have engaged in contact discussions, nothing appears to be imminent at the moment; however, the Blue Jays appear to have some alternatives in mind.
They’ve also been linked to Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen and New York Mets outfielder Jay Bruce. Both would require the Blue Jays to offer up a prospect or two, if not more. By getting one of those two, Toronto would have themselves a very good, younger replacement for Bautista. It would also make them much better and more balanced than the rival Boston Red Sox.
Chris Sale doesn’t make Boston Formidable
The Red Sox, like the Blue Jays, had their World Series aspirations cut short in the postseason. They’ve also been very active so far this offseason. They acquired Chicago White Sox southpaw Chris Sale by giving up a package that included outfield prospect Yoan Moncada. Sale is considered one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, but he doesn’t make up for the loss of Boston legend David Ortiz.
After a Hall of Fame career at the plate, Ortiz hung up his Red Sox uniform for the last time in 2016. The impact of his loss will be hard to fathom. While Boston did sign Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland, he doesn’t make up for the loss of Ortiz. In fact, no one could. For that reason alone, Boston’s lineup is a tad worse than last year, and while Sale does give Boston a top of the rotation arm, he doesn’t make their rotation better than Toronto’s.
The Blue Jays have a Better Rotation than the Red Sox
Sale has recently had issues with team discipline, Porcello and Price both proved unreliable in the postseason, and Wright is mostly one dimensional with his knuckleball. Toronto’s rotation comes with fewer questions.
They have young stud Aaron Sanchez (who led the American League in ERA), reliable veteran Marco Estrada, youngster Marcus Stroman (who had a strong second half), and veteran lefty J.A. Happ (who recorded 20 wins in 2016). Their rotation is younger and more balanced.
The Blue Jays are the Team to Beat in the AL East
Despite losing Encarnacion and potentially Bautista, the Blue Jays have improved their club. They also have a very balanced, reliable rotation, and perhaps the game’s best left side of the infield, which features Josh Donaldson and Troy Tulowitzki. The Blue Jays have improved their team; despite Boston stealing the offseason headlines, Toronto is the team to beat in the AL East.