Clock Ticking as Inevitable Blue Jays Rebuild Looms

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ST. PETERSBURG, FL - APRIL 9: Josh Donaldson #20 of the Toronto Blue Jays celebrates his home run with teammate Jose Bautista #19 during the first inning of a game against the Tampa Bay Rays on April 9, 2017 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)

Fans will hate to hear it, but a Toronto Blue Jays rebuild is right around the corner, and it will come sooner than most fans think. If the Jays don’t look like contenders by the end of July, they should start their rebuild at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. It’s early, and right now the Jays are back on track, sitting only one game under .500, but the wheels could easily fall off over the next two months, just like they did at the start of the season.

Clock Ticking as Inevitable Blue Jays Rebuild Looms

In the case that the front office decides that it’s time to begin the slow process of a rebuild, it wouldn’t be wise for the Jays to completely tear everything apart immediately. Gradually selling valuable players, while also keeping some veterans around to guide the rookies, would be the right way to do it. Bandwagon fans that joined the Blue Jays hype that has engulfed Toronto over the past two Octobers might drop their allegiance to the team, but the true fans would see it as a smart and gradual process. The Jays missed the playoffs for over 20 straight seasons, so fans can stomach watching a mediocre (not bad) Jays team take the field for the next few seasons.

The Jays would have the perfect men for the job with Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins at the helm of the ship. Keep in mind it was Shapiro who spent 24 seasons in Cleveland and helped build the majority of the team that was one win away from a World Series ring in 2016. Regardless, let’s take a quick look at some of the moves the Jays could make in the near future to kick start their rebuild if they choose that route.

Big-Name Players Would Command Big Returns

Marco Estrada is a big part of the Blue Jays rotation, however his time in the Great White North could be coming to a close. Estrada is a free agent after this season and would be a major addition to the rotation of a club looking for a boost going into the postseason. The Colorado Rockies would benefit greatly from an Estrada rental, and they could even sign the 33-year-old in the offseason. Coors Field in Denver has always been tough on pitchers, as the thin air and high altitude makes the ball fly 14% further than ballparks at sea level (fact courtesy of my Coors Field tour guide). It wouldn’t help Estrada’s stats going into free agency, but he would be a solid addition to the Rockies rotation.

Estrada would, hopefully, excel in Denver, providing a high strikeout rate and consistent pitching to a young Rockies rotation who will need more experience to make a legitimate playoff push. The Rockies have a number of notable prospects they could dish out to acquire Estrada’s services, most notably Brendan Rodgers (#10 on MLB.com Top 100 prospects), Jeff Hoffman, and Raimel Tapia. Rodgers was drafted third overall in the 2015 Draft, and the only two players selected before him were Dansby Swanson and Alex Bregman.

Boston Could be in for Some Rainy Weather

The “Bringer of Rain”, as Josh Donaldson is known in Toronto, is arguably the Blue Jays most valuable player; however, the 2015 AL MVP will be a free agent after the 2018 season. If the Jays won’t be able to contend this year and decide to start their rebuild, it might be wise to deal Donaldson at the deadline, or possibly in the offseason. A number of teams would froth at the mouth if Donaldson was available. One club that comes to mind is the Boston Red Sox. They’ve been searching for a solid third baseman in Beantown all season, and JD might be the answer.

Realistically, Pablo Sandoval might not be the answer for the Red Sox, and Donaldson would provide unbelievable defense at third and an All-Star bat. The Red Sox went all-in this offseason when they gave up four prospects to the Chicago White Sox to acquire ace Chris Sale. The main prospect sent to the south side of the windy city was Yoan Moncada, ranked first on MLB’s Top-100 Prospects list. It was a high price to pay, but the Sox still have some top prospects that they could send to Toronto, and they’ve shown that they’re willing to give up top prospects for the right price.

Andrew Benintendi‘s name would be tossed around, but that would likely be too rich for the Red Sox. On the other hand, they would be getting a year-and-a half of service from one of the best third basemen in baseball, and could try to re-sign him after 2019. The fanbases would hate it at first, but it could prove to be an advantageous deal for both sides. A star-studded roster consisting of All-Star caliber players like Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, David Price, Sale, and Donaldson would wreak havoc in the AL East. Other names that could go to Toronto include prospects Rafael Devers and Jason Groome.

Other Names that Could Depart Toronto

The Jays could also look to deal J.A. Happ, who’s a free agent at the end of next season, as well as upcoming free agents Darwin Barney, who would provide all around depth, and Joe Smith, a solid depth reliever. The Rockies could target Happ, but the Jays would need to eat up some of his $13 million contract, and Barney and Smith could go just about anywhere. The Jays also just signed Kendrys Morales to a three-year deal, but he could provide some offence for a contending team and bring some prospects back for the Jays. Again, the Jays could eat up some contract money.

Toronto could also try to deal Jose Bautista, but if they can’t find a good deal for him it might be wise to just let him try to mash away at the Rogers Centre for the near future. Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin both have $20 million deals for the next few years which is a lot for players who are declining, meaning teams might not be willing to give up much even if the Jays ate a bunch of cash. Realistically, it might be wise to deal one of them in a year or two and keep one of them to help mentor up-and-coming players. Having Tulowitzki’s experience in the clubhouse for the next five years will work wonders for young prospects.

Build for the Future

A rebuild would see a lot of players departing Toronto; however, some of the younger players on the Jays roster would play key roles in the front office’s rebuild plans. Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman would be players to build around and help shape the Jays rotation, which would include Joe Biagini, who isn’t a free agent until 2022. Devon Travis is only 26 and isn’t a free agent until 2021, along with Kevin Pillar. The Jays could also look to keep Ezequiel Carrera, Luke Maile, Ryan Tepera, and Danny Barnes for depth, and to play regularly during the rebuilding phase.

In terms of current Jays prospects, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Anthony Alford, Richard Urena, Sean Reid-Foley, and Rowdy Tellez will all play integral parts for the Jays in the future, if they continue down the path they’re headed. Guerrero Jr. is definitely the headliner. Signed in 2015, the 18-year-old son of Vladimir Guerrero is ranked as the 28th prospect in baseball, and he’s only getting better. He’s hitting .328 in Class-A Lansing and continues to impress with his monster bat. Based on MLB.com’s projections, Guerrero Jr., Urena, Reid-Foley, and Alford (who appeared in four games for the Jays this season) will all arrive at the MLB level in 2018, while Tellez is projected to make his debut this season.

The Jays have a lot of time to get back in contention this season, but they’re an aging team that won’t be a contender for much longer. The Blue Jays front office may be forced to start a rebuild very soon if they don’t look like contenders by the end of July. Although it might not be popular with some fans, it would be necessary, and it would hopefully set the team up for a brighter future.

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