Toronto has advanced to the ALCS in each of the past two years, producing a run-differential of +314 during that stretch. So that’s not too shabby. The Jays led the majors in run-scoring in 2015 and they allowed the fewest runs in the American League last year. Simply put, Toronto has been a damn fine team. The lineup features four sluggers with 30-homer seasons to their credit, and the rotation is topped by the A.L. leader in ERA. It’s tough to find major faults with this squad.
However, it would be fair to say that Toronto didn’t have a perfect offseason. The team lost a heart-of-the-order power hitter who hit 42 bombs last year and led the league in RBIs. And this brings us to our first pressing question…
Q: What’s the Edwin Encarnacion replacement plan?
First of all, let’s appreciate exactly what the Jays are attempting to replace. Over the past five years, Encarnacion has averaged 90 runs scored, 39 homers and 110 RBIs per season, slashing .272/.367/.544. He’s coming off a year in which he hit 42 bombs and drove in 127 runs. He hasn’t been replaced by anyone capable of supplying those numbers.
Kendrys Morales was a nice enough consolation prize for Toronto, obviously, after Encarnacion didn’t jump at the team’s initial offer (which, according to various reports, was more than Edwin eventually received in Cleveland). Morales hit .277/.344/.476 over the past two seasons in Kansas City and he cleared the fence 30 times last year. He’ll do his hitting in a friendly environment, so he’s clearly on the fantasy radar as a utility option. He’s likely to produce 35-50 fewer total bases than Encarnacion in a healthy season, but he landed in a nice spot for our purposes.
The Jays also signed Steve Pearce, a player who can see time at multiple spots and platoon at first with Justin Smoak (or simply start ahead of Smoak, a verifiably ordinary hitter). So that’s um … somethin’. It’s not gonna make Toronto forget Edwin, but it’s somethin’.
Q: Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada finished as top-35 fantasy pitchers last season. Can they all repeat? Can any of ’em repeat?
Let’s begin with the messy data on this trio from last season:
Sanchez – 3.00 ERA, 3.75 xFIP, .267 BABIP
Happ – 3.18 ERA, 4.18 xFIP, .268 BABIP
Estrada – 3.48 ERA, 4.64 xFIP, .234 BABIP
All were good-to-great last year, but it’s not as if they didn’t have luck on their side. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise if any/all took a backward step.
At the moment, only one of these guys (Sanchez) ranks inside the Yahoo consensus top-35 starters for 2017. Sanchez is a hard-thrower with a sinker from hell itself, and, like teammate Marcus Stroman, he coaxes endless grounders. I’m not betting against him.
Estrada has plenty of strikeout upside (8.4 K/9) and he’s been winning the BABIP lottery for years, so it’s possible he’s discovered some cheat code. Happ is clearly draft-worthy as well, but I’m confident someone in the room (probably Pianowski) will always like him more than I do. And nearly all of Happ’s value in mixed leagues last season was tied to that 20-4 record, which ain’t happenin’ again. I won’t fight you for him. Sanchez and Stroman are the Jays starters I’m eyeing.
Q: Any prospects of interest up north?
Yes, but probably not for 2017. The gem in this team’s farm system is Vlad Guerrero Jr., who possesses many of his dad’s best fantasy qualities. He was terrific in the Appalachian League in 2016, but he won’t turn 18 until March. No need to consider him in anything other than the deepest dynasty leagues. He won’t help us until 2019, at the earliest.
Toronto’s next best prospect — at least on most boards — is right-handed starter Sean Reid-Foley. He struck out 130 batters in 115.1 Single-A innings last year, producing a 1.01 WHIP and limiting hitters to a .190 average. Alas, we aren’t likely to see him in the big leagues next season, either.
Blue Jays Projected Lineup
2B Devon Travis
3B Josh Donaldson
RF Jose Bautista
DH Kendrys Morales
SS Troy Tulowitzki
C Russell Martin
1B Justin Smoak/Steve Pearce
CF Kevin Pillar
LF Ezequiel Carrera/Melvin Upton Jr.
Blue Jays Projected Rotation
SP Aaron Sanchez
SP J.A. Happ
SP Marcus Stroman
SP Marco Estrada
SP Francisco Liriano
CL Roberto Osuna
RP Jason Grilli