Last season, the Toronto Blue Jays saw their streak of back-to-back playoff appearances and three straight winning seasons come to an end. In 2018, they'll be looking to rebound despite the fact that they share a division with the souped-up Yankees and Red Sox (they'll play those two teams a combined 38 times), the latter of whom has won the last two AL East titles.
Now let's have a closer look at the 2018 Blue Jays ...
- 2017 record: 76-86, 4th place in AL East (minus-91 run differential)
- 2018 Depth Chart: Click here
- 2018 Schedule: Click here
- 2018 Fantasy outlook: Click here
- Curtis Granderson, LF
- Devon Travis, 2B
- Josh Donaldson, 3B
- Justin Smoak, 1B
- Russell Martin, C
- Kendrys Morales, DH
- Randal Grichuk, RF
- Kevin Pillar, CF
- Aledmys Diaz, SS
Probable bench: Teoscar Hernandez, OF; Luke Maile, C; Steve Pearce, INF/OF; Yangervis Solarte, INF
Troy Tulowitzki will of course be the Jays' starting shortstop when healthy, but he won't be ready for Opening Day because of bone spurs in his right heel. Once Tulowitzki returns, he'll likely force Diaz to the bench and take Hernandez's spot on the active roster (even with Tulowitzki out, Hernandez is not a lock to make the Opening Day 25-man).
- Marcus Stroman, RHP
- J.A. Happ, LHP
- Marco Estrada, RHP
- Aaron Sanchez, RHP
- Jaime Garcia, LHP
Stroman is the staff ace, but he's sidelined with shoulder inflammation and won't be on the Opening Day active roster. Right now, though, it appears Stroman will still be able to take his first turn, just not in the season opener.
Closer: Roberto Osuna, RHP
Setup: Ryan Tepera, RHP; Seung hwan Oh, RHP
Middle relief: Danny Barnes, RHP; Aaron Loup, LHP; John Axford, RHP; Tyler Clippard, RHP
Long relief: Luis Santos, RHP
And a rotation shall lead them
Just by eyeballing the names above, you can probably tell the Blue Jays potentially have a strong rotation in place for 2018. Last season, Toronto ranked a respectable seventh in the 15-team AL in rotation ERA and rotation WAR, and that was despite getting just eight starts from Aaron Sanchez, who was limited by serious blister problems. (Thus far, Sanchez has been blister-free in camp.) The addition of Jaime Garcia, provided he's healthy, should stabilize the fifth spot in the rotation.
Speaking of all that, let's have a look at what the CBS Sports fantasy projections say about the Jays' rotation in 2018 ...
Projected 2018 innings
Projected 2018 ERA
If you're a Jays fan, then this is encouraging stuff. For context, the average ERA for an AL starting pitcher last season was 4.54, and every Jays starter is projected to best that mark by a wide margin. Once you consider that Rogers Centre plays as a hitter's park, those projected numbers become even better. In all, they're pretty much in line with those pitchers' established levels of ability.
The key, of course, will be health. There's a big drop-off from those five names to the other in-house options for the rotation. Last season, the Jays gave 53 starts to guys outside their top four. Garcia will eat up some of those in 2018, which is of course by design. Overall, though, Toronto's fortunes in 2018 will in large part hinge on how healthy these five starters are. If they're generally able to answer the bell, then you're probably looking at one of the best rotations in the AL.
Improved infield depth
Injuries in 2017 hit the Toronto infield pretty hard. Troy Tulowitzki was limited to just 66 games because of hamstring, groin, and ankle problems. Devon Travis continued to be beset by injuries, as he played in just 50 games thanks to a bone bruise in his right knee. On top of all that, MVP candidate Josh Donaldson was laid up for roughly a month and a half with a calf injury.
Donaldson raked upon his late-May return to the lineup, but the Jays struggled to get adequate production from the middle infield all season. Consider ...
- Toronto shortstops in 2017 -- Ryan Goins had the most PAs at the position -- combined to hit just .240/.287/.368.
- Toronto second basemen in 2017 -- Darwin Barney had the most PAs at the position -- combined to hit just .241/.291/.367.
Those bestowals are both very similar and very terrible. By trading for Aledmys Diaz and signing Yangervis Solarte this offseason, the Jays are hoping their fallback options are much better should injuries strike Tulowitzki and Travis yet again (history suggests that's a strong possibility). Diaz and Solarte aren't stars, but they should help the Jays avoid such awful production from their respective positions should they be pressed into regular duty. As well, the Rule 5 addition of Ivan Castillo and the trade for Gift Ngoepe give the Jays another layer of options should it come to that. Solarte in particular (career OPS+ of 105) figures to be an excellent depth piece.
That depth plus the hope for a full season from Donaldson should move the needle for the Toronto infield.
A questionable lineup
Toronto last season ranked last in the AL in runs scored and 14th in OPS even though they played their home games in, as noted, a good park for hitters. Donaldson still figures to have an MVP performance ceiling, and Justin Smoak's breakout looks mostly repeatable, at least in the near-term. Elsewhere, though, concerns abound. Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin, and Kendrys Morales are all in their mid-thirties. Randal Grichuk brings with him to Toronto a career OBP of .297. For reasons noted above, better production from the infield is a reasonable expectation, but even with that this figures to be a bottom-tier offense in the AL. So, to repeat, that rotation really needs to be healthy.
Donaldson's uncertain future
Donaldson, as he proved after his return from injury last season, is still one of the best players in baseball when healthy. He's also going into his walk year. Trade rumors swirled about him this offseason, but the Jays rightly want to see if they can contend in 2018. If things go poorly from the start, then you might see Donaldson shopped leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline. Otherwise, the Jays will hang onto him in the hopes that they can snare a playoff berth. If recent reports are any guide, then a contract extension seems less and less likely. In other words, the 2018 season looks like it's going to be Donaldson's last in Toronto. Soon enough, the Jays will begin building around top prospects Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, and Anthony Alford, and those plans may not include their franchise third baseman.
The good news? Our friends at SportsLine right now project the Blue Jays for 84 wins and a spot in the AL Wild Card Game. Given that they share a division with the mighty Red Sox and Yankees, that's an impressive potential outcome. As repeated possibly to the point of annoyance, a mostly healthy rotation will be key to getting to the mid- to high-80s in wins and being in the playoff mix. Right now, the Jays look like the best third-place team in baseball, and in the era of expanded playoffs that means you're at least a fringe contender.