2018 Season Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

This piece is part of the Replacement Level 2018 Team Preview Series. An introduction to the series, as well as a brief explanation of the projections used, can be found here.

2017 Review

Actual Record

Pythag Record

BaseRuns Record

Runs Scored

Runs Against

76-86

72-90

72-90

693

784

Following a strong 2016, the Blue Jays expected to compete for the AL East title. A number of injuries put a wrench in that plan, however, limiting them to just 76 wins. The team actually seems to have outperformed its record as well, looking several runs worse when considering Pythagorean and BaseRuns records. Injuries to core players Josh Donaldson and Aaron Sanchez led to a big drop in projected production, as did under-performances of Jose Bautista (-0.5 WAR) and Kendrys Morales (-0.6 WAR). The Jays made only a few minor trades at the deadline, electing to take one more attempt at contention in 2018 before the impending free agency of Donaldson.

Offseason in Review:

Key Additions – Jaime Garcia, Yangervis Solarte, Randal Grichuk, Aledmys Diaz

Looking to avoid repeating a 2017 season that included 22 players with negative WAR, the Blue Jays’ major focus this offseason was depth. Plugging holes across the board, Solarte, Grichuk, and Curtis Granderson should prevent another season where the Darwin Barneys of the world get 300 PA. Garcia was added on a cheap, one year contract in early February to complete a rotation that projects to be above-average.

Key Losses – Dominic Leone, Jose Bautista

Bautista’s storied career in Toronto looks to have reached its end in 2017, as the 37-year-old’s option was declined by the team. That’s likely a good thing for the Blue Jays, though, following an abysmal 2017 season where he accrued -0.5 WAR. Leone experienced a breakout season in 2017, eventually working his way to the back of the Blue Jays pen and accumulating 1.5 WAR. This production will be hard to replace, as Toronto doesn’t have any proven setup men outside of the recently signed Seung-hwan Oh. If Oh goes down to injury, which wouldn’t be surprising given the fact the Rangers just backed out of a deal with him, the Blue Jays will likely struggle to get to All-Star closer Roberto Osuna with a lead.

2018 Projections

ZiPS

Steamer

Pecota

87-74

84-78

80-82

The major projections vary on how Toronto will fare in 2018, with ZiPS projecting a wild-card berth and Pecota seeing a below-average team. While all of the systems see average contributions from most of the non-Donaldson offensive players, there is great variance seen in the pitchers. The pitching staff is home to many older players looking to bounce back from down years and younger players with significant injury risk.

Key Players:

Josh Donaldson is still one of the best players in the league when healthy, giving the Blue Jays their only real hopes at possessing an MVP candidate this year. While the 32-year-old no longer projects to be an elite defensive talent, he is still a complete hitter, combining elite plate discipline with above-average power and contact abilities. The Blue Jays’ playoff hopes ride on the health of Donaldson, a player who has averaged just over seven WAR over the last five seasons. An elite groundball pitcher, Marcus Stroman looks to once again shore up the pitching staff. While Stroman has a tantalizing pitch mix, including a 2-seam fastball he uses to induce grounders and a wipeout slider, he has never been to avoid the longball. He has managed to top 200 innings the last two years, averaging 3.5 WAR per season, but the former first-round pick still has plenty of room for growth in 2018. ZiPS is optimistic about his chances of doing so, predicting a career-high 4.5 WAR season for Stroman. Aaron Sanchez had a breakthrough 2016 campaign, finishing with a 3.55 FIP and 3.8 WAR as a 23-year-old. Last year was a mess, however, mixing injuries with 36 abysmal innings. A strong return from Sanchez this year would go a long way in improving the Blue Jays’ chance of securing a wild-card berth by forming a formidable 1-2 punch with Stroman.

Key Minor League 2018 Impacts:

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette are two of the more exciting prospects in baseball, providing the Blue Jays two pieces to build future teams around. While both are still just 19 years old, they each possess elite skillsets and raw talent, placing them in the top twenty of most prospect rankings. Sean Reid-Foley struggled at times in 2017 but sat in the mid-90s with two above-average breaking balls. Finishing last year in AA, Reid-Foley looks to prove himself in AAA and provide a potential arm down the stretch if the Blue Jays find themselves in contention.

Future Outlook:

After a disappointing 2017, the Blue Jays shored up the weaker areas of their roster, projecting to be league-average or better at most positions. The team’s current window of contention revolves around Donaldson, who can become a free agent following the 2018 season. Rebounds from Sanchez and Marco Estrada might lead to a wild-card berth, potentially convincing Donaldson to stick around in Toronto. Failure to do so, however, paints a bleaker picture, as top prospects Guerrero Jr. and Bichette are still years away from the majors.