As we head into the 2019 season, Toronto Blue Jays fans have a lot less to be excited about with the overall team, and how it is being managed from the top down. Despite the growing concerns after two consecutive failed seasons, the Blue Jays do have a special diamond in the rough that’s well worth the wait.
The Implosion Continues
Firstly, let us dive into what Blue Jays management did not do during this off-season. Following a 73-89 record that resulted in finishing 10th in the American League, and 4th inside their division, the Blue Jays top brass decided to stand pat and do nothing. With over 90 free agents left to be signed, general manager Ross Atkins’s biggest moves was nabbing oft-injured veterans Matt Shoemaker and infielder Freddy Galvis to 1-year deals. Shoemaker hopes to make the team out of spring training and fit in as the team’s 3rd or 4th starter, while Galvis joins a slew of names that fill up a very saturated infield list. Last year, the team struggled out of the gates and Atkins wound up trading Josh Donaldson to the Cleveland Indians and J.A. Happ to the New York Yankees. For both, they got little in return and the team on the field continued to suffer.
This year they needed to show some renewed faith to the players on the field and the people paying money to see them. Instead, they decided to PAY Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin 20 million dollars to NOT play for them this season. Martin was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, while “Tulo” would wind up later signing with division rival New York. To put it bluntly, the entire thing has gone so far off the rails that it feels like were playing Australian Rugby at the Rogers Centre sometimes. None of the moves make sense from any vantage point, and it’s becoming quite clear that the blind are leading the blind.
*Aside: Following a Blue Jays pre-season game against the New York Yankees, Tulowitzki hit a first inning homerun to opposite field against Marcus Stroman. When asked about it he said” No doubt about it, that was a meaningful home run. It’s extra special because that was the team that basically told me I couldn’t play any more. It’s spring training and I just hit a home run. It is what it is but it was a big day for myself”
The Harsh Reality
Gone is manager John Gibbons after he guided the team to back-to-back playoff appearances in 2015 and 2016. Two out of six years in the playoffs is a pretty great footnote, including an AL East title, but most of the work was done when Alex Anthopoulos was running the ship. In the few seasons since his departure, Atkins and president Mark Shapiro have seen a huge decline in the overall team’s performance, and most of it is self-inflicted.
Toronto was given an absolute gem in Josh Donaldson and for three and a half seasons he was the heart and soul of this team. Heading into last season, there was even talk about the former MVP having another outstanding year! Sadly, an early calf injury in May derailed the Bringer of Rain, and sidelined him for most of the season. The biggest problem was how management dealt with his injury. The way in which Atkins and Shapiro looked after one of their own was a big concern. They treated Donaldson like a piece of garbage. A player who brought Toronto baseball back into the spotlight was growing increasingly frustrated in contract demands was essentially scuffed at by management. If you don’t think players around the league saw this and took notice you are sorely mistaken. A destination that is already tough to lure free agents has now become uninhabitable.
The Current State
The current state of the bluebirds is not a fun one. I could some up the entire 2019 season in one word before it begins; Struggle. They are going to struggle to get runs on the board, and struggle to get quality innings from their starters. They will struggle mightily with their bullpen and with competing with the rest of the AL East, the only division that had 2 x 100-game winners last season including the defending champions Boston Red Sox. Their current pitching rotation consists of a struggling Marcus Stroman and a blister-felled Aaron Sanchez, and a few guys from the movie The Sandlot. We have already mentioned Shoemaker’s addition; he will be joined with fresh faces Ryan Borucki and Sean Reid-Foley. I personally like Borucki and Reid-Foley but I simply cannot imagine more then 125 innings for both of them.
The bullpen is arguably the worst in the MLB. Ken Giles and his temperament are expected to do the closing duties. The only other players returning from last season are Ryan Tepera and Joe Biagini, with the other four men having yet to be determined.
The batting lineup will not be the home run-laden reality you have seen in the past, in fact they may have to adopt the Tampa Bay Rays method of creating runs on the basepaths. The meat of the lineup will consist of outfielder Teoscar Hernandez, first-baseman Justin Smoak are DH Kendrys Morales. Outside of that it is hard to speculate what new bench manager Charlie Montoyo will do. The other six spots will likely be filled with guys who can hit for average and possess speed. Which means Kevin Pillar, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Billy McKinney should all see consistent usage.
A Star Is Born
Despite all the doom and gloom there is a bright spot for this organization. His name is Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and he is the most elite and exciting prospect this organization has ever had. He demolished his way through the Blue Jays farm system, cruising through Single-A and Double-A ball before showcasing his talents last season in Buffalo with the Triple-A squad. He hit .336 over the 30 games with the Bisons, which makes it another bizarre move by management general manager Ross Atkins who felt it was necessary to come out and say publicly that he did not think his top prospect was “baseball ready.” Why he did this is baffling to Jays fans, especially when you see his work ethic.
The Jays are not going to dazzle teams like New York and Boston with the big names; they are going to have to rely heavily on their homegrown talent to produce. It starts with Guerrero but there are others in Bo Bichette, Danny Jansen, and Cavan Biggio that could all make an impact this season. Jansen was brought up in September last season and is expected to be the team’s starting catcher. You could read this article and think “well this is going to be a disastrous season, why even bother supporting the team” and it very well could be. Instead you can get excited about all the young talent that will be pouring in throughout this season into next. If Atkins and Shapiro can hit on some of these prospects, all will still not be forgiven but at least it gives the future a bright outlook. Once Guerrero gets called-up he will be a ticket-selling machine. People will come just to see him play, win or lose, and right now that’s exactly what the Toronto Blue Jays need.