Some people say that championships are won in the offseason. Fans of the Toronto Blue Jays had better hope that that isn't true, because the Jays had a pretty horrible offseason. Two years in a row they have made the playoffs, and both times they haven't been quite good enough. Instead of aggressively improving, the Jays responded by letting their most important free agent leave town without a meaningful offer and got weaker in the bullpen and probably at first base. It's a strange approach to building a contender. Fortunately, there is still a strong core here and a rotation that could be as good as any. Most people have already given the AL East to the Red Sox. Toronto is probably best positioned to have something to say about that. So, can they?
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Blue Jays 2017 Projected Lineup
Last year the team kind of limped out of the gate - not disastrously so, but they certainly weren't at their best. The biggest reason for that is that several key veterans were not where they needed to be. Jose Bautista was banged up, and he never got into form in a meaningful way all season. Troy Tulowitzki was a mess at the plate for a good portion of the first part of the season. Russell Martin was a mess, too. Now Martin is healthier after offseason surgery, it's a new year for Tulowitzki, and Bautista seems newly motivated after a humbling year and an offseason of free agency that didn't go at all like he hoped it would. If those three can jump out of the gate stronger than last year - which they are all certainly capable of - it will be a big boost for this team.
Losing Edwin Encarnacion to Cleveland is really going to hurt. And it is the kind of thing that could come back to haunt them - especially if they lack for power and Encarnacion has a big year with the likely AL Central champs. The handling of it was so odd. They made an offer - one that felt well below the market at the time even though it wound up being competitive because there was a lot of supply. Instead of nurturing the deal or negotiating they instead added Kendrys Morales in free agency. That effectively shut off the possibilities of an Encarnacion return. Morales is a nice player, but he is no Edwin. They panicked when they still had some degree of control. Not ideal.
Left field remains a question going into the season. There are several solid options, but the team will need to rely on one to step up and take the job. Kevin Pillar is excellent defensively in center field, and the team needs him to shine at the plate as well. The opposite is true in right field - at his age, Bautista is much easier to trust with a bat than a glove. And first base is a concern, with Justin Smoak likely shouldering much of the load. So there are questions, but all in all this is a solid roster that should be able to score enough runs to compete. If they achieve their potential then they will do much more than that - they have a chance to be truly elite.
Blue Jays 2017 Projected Rotation and Closer
Last year the Jays quietly had the best ERA of any rotation. And they got better in the offseason with the departure of R.A. Dickey. Aaron Sanchez was brilliant in limited innings last year, and the youngster has a chance to step into the realm of the elite this year. Marco Estrada may be the most underrated pitcher in the American League. Marcus Stroman played well for the U.S. in the finals of the World Baseball Classic and will look to carry that momentum forward. J.A. Happ put up shocking win numbers last year and should have another good year since he clearly seems comfortable. And there are much worse fifth starters out there than Francisco Liriano. This is a rotation without a glaring hole, and the top half of it has a chance to be really special. They aren't as loaded as Boston, but they could be second best not only in the division but in the league.
The backend of the bullpen is in good shape thanks to Roberto Osuna closing. With the departure of Brett Cecil, it's how they are going to bridge the gap from the starters to Osuna that isn't immediately obvious. There are arms, but they need guys to step up and be stars - and who that will be isn't clear right now. The bullpen serves as perhaps the biggest concern about the team right now.
Blue Jays Futures Odds
The Blue Jays are the clear second choice to win the AL East - albeit far behind the Red Sox. They are at +350 to win the division, compared to -145 for Boston. At +1000 they are the fourth choice to win the American League pennant behind only the three heavy divisional favorites - Boston, Cleveland and Houston. They are the ninth choice to win the World Series at +2200, which seem fair.
The Jays have loved the long ball in recent years, and this season seems like no exception - they have three players listed in the race for the home run crown. Josh Donaldson is 11th on the list at +2000. Jose Bautista offers some nice value at +5000 if he can maintain the momentum of his spring, and newcomer Kendrys Morales sits at +8000. Donaldson won MVP two years ago and is the second choice at +650 behind defending champ Mike Trout this year. Bautista is also listed as the longest shot on the board at +6600. Aaron Sanchez is solidly in the second tier of Cy Young contenders at +2000, while Marcus Stroman (+5000) and J.A. Happ (+8000) are longer shots.
Blue Jays 2017 Predictions
The season win total sits at 85.5. That is a tight number. They are going to be a solid team that will be very much in the wild-card hunt again. I would lean to the "over", but not with enough enthusiasm to invest heavily. I wish they had added a relief arm or two and a first baseman, but there is still a lot here, and I am optimistic about getting more from the veterans.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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