2017 has been a downright disaster for the Toronto Blue Jays. Following back-to-back appearances in the ALCS, the expectation was that this team would once again make the playoffs.
Well, very little has gone right for the Jays — who are the worst team in the American League East. Almost all of their core players have made a trip to the DL at some point, but few of those core players have played up to their usual standards in 2017.
The front office — led by president and CEO Mark Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins — haven’t done a whole lot to improve this ball club since taking over in the winter of 2015. Shapiro acknowledged that a teardown is unlikely, because of concerns they’ll lose the confidence of a fan base that have helped the Jays lead the American League in attendance.
But a retool is at least on the way. So who should stay and who should go? We dive into that right here.
*Stats are courtesy of ESPN.com, and are through July 17th. Contract details via Spotrac.com*
15. Stay: Russell Martin
At first glance, it may make sense for the Blue Jays to trade a 34-year-old who is owed $20 million a season through 2019. Russell Martin isn’t the superstar catcher he once was — batting just .230 in 2017 with a .764 OPS. His strikeout rate is ridiculously high, and he’s not throwing out runners as much as he used too.
That being said, there are very few catchers better than Martin in this day and age. He’s still a better hitter than most of them, and his defence (though not as elite as it used to be), is still solid enough.
14. Trade: Francisco Liriano
The Blue Jays picked up Francisco Liriano from the Pittsburgh Pirates last year — who needed to throw in a pair of high-end prospects just so Toronto could take on the remainder of his contract.
Liriano posted good numbers with the Jays in 2016 — posting a 2.92 ERA with 52 strikeouts in 49.1 innings pitched. It was hoped that he could slot in as a cog in the team’s rotation, but Liriano’s been a vast disappointment.
His 6.04 ERA is, well, really bad to say the very least. He’s also a free agent this winter, and the Jays are definitely not bringing him back. Liriano does possess one of the league’s best sliders, though, and could be a nice back-end rotation starter for a playoff team.
13. Keep: Joe Smith
The Blue Jays took a chance on veteran reliever Joe Smith, signing him to a one-year deal worth $3 million. Prior to going on the DL, Joe Smith was the ideal setup man for Roberto Osuna. In 31.2 innings pitched, he racked up a ridiculous 47 strikeouts and recorded 11 holds. Those are money numbers.
Toronto’s bullpen has been leaky in 2017. That includes 2016 fan favourite Jason Grilli — who was traded to the Texas Rangers just a couple of weeks ago. But Smith has been an extremely reliable reliever for the Jays, who often struggle to find guys that can set up Osuna.
Smith isn’t known as an Andrew Miller-type reliever, though. He’s not going to command huge money, which means the Jays have zero excuse to let him go this winter. Get him back on a two-year deal, and your bullpen is solidified during the retooling stage.
12. Trade: Kevin Pillar
Sorry, but it’s always been tough for me to buy the hype on Kevin Pillar. So he makes a few Superman diving catches in the outfield a season? That doesn’t justify a mere .251 batting average, .715 OPS.
Pillar does remain a force in centre field, however. He’s got a .995 fielding percentage and a 1.2 defensive WAR, and other teams who need outfield help will definitely buy into Pillar’s wizardy on defence.
That’s why the Blue Jays should trade Pillar — because his value is at its highest it’ll ever be — and because Toronto could get some nice pieces for him. Pillar could net them some good prospects to strengthen a mediocre farm system. Perhaps he could get them a young pitcher in return. Either way, this winter’s the time to trade Pillar.
11. Keep: J.A. Happ
The Blue Jays signed J.A. Happ to a three-year deal worth $36 million two winters ago, and it’s paid major dividends. Last year, Happ won 20 games, struck out 163 batters and registered a 3.18 ERA.
Injuries kept him out for a while, and Happ did struggle in the early going. But his ERA is now down to 3.54, and he does have 60 Ks in 61 innings pitched, so the Jays know the real Happ is back again.
Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthall reported that the Milwaukee Brewers like Happ, but the Jays are “highly unlikely” to trade him. Good, because there’s no reason to trade away one of the top pitchers in the league while he carries a bargain of a contract. The Jays need to keep that rotation solidified in 2018, and there’s no reason to let Happ go right now.
10. Trade: Kendrys Morales
The Blue Jays chose to let franchise slugger Edwin Encarnacion go last offseason, and so they replaced him with a cheaper option in Kendrys Morales on a three-year contract worth $33 million.
Morales hasn’t been as electrifying as Encarnacion, but he’s done his job as a cleanup hitter. Morales is batting .252 with 17 home runs and 49 RBI in 2017. But he strikes out too much and lacks speed around the bases — like most players on the Jays.
If Toronto wants to retool, they gotta build a small ball team like the Kansas City Royals did to win a championship. Toronto can’t afford another lineup filled with home run-or-bust guys.
Trading Morales could land them a legitimate leadoff hitter, or at least a couple of B-level prospects. Many teams are desperate for a guy with 30-35 home run power, so the Jays should trade him while his value’s high.
9. Keep: Devon Travis
Devon Travis is one of the few Jays players who has good athleticism and speed. He batted .300 last year with a .786 OPS, and it was a big blow to the Jays’ when Travis injured his knee and had to miss the 2016 ALCS.
Travis got off to a slow start this season, batting just .259 in 50 games played. But a knee injury has kept him about for about a month now, and it’s in doubt as to whether or not Travis can come back in 2017.
Whatever the case, the Blue Jays should not even think about trading Travis. He plays solid defence at second base and could be this team’s leadoff man in 2018 and beyond. He’s under team control for three more years, so the Jays have every reason to keep him around during the retooling stage.
8. Trade: Marco Estrada
Well, let’s just say 2017 has been bad for the Jays. It’s been downright horrible for Marco Estrada — who is far-and-away the most disappointing Blue Jay thus far in 2017.
Estrada was once among the most underrated pitchers in baseball. His offspeed fastball and nasty changeup made him a near-elite pitcher. He posted a 3.48 ERA last season (and a 3.13 ERA in 2015), and had some tremendous playoff performances for Toronto. He was undoubtedly their top trade chip leading up to the trade deadline.
But Estrada has been terrible since the calendar turned to June. Per TSN’s Scott Mitchell, Estrada has a 9.50 in his last eight starts — which is really bad for those of you bad at math.
Estrada will be 34 this winter. He’s unlikely to remain a Blue Jay beyond 2017, so they may as well just try and get something for him. Perhaps packaging Estrada and Liriano could bring back a nice return of prospects?
7. Keep: Justin Smoak
Many shook heads when the Blue Jays gave Justin Smoak (a backup first baseman to Edwin Encarnacion at the time), a two-year extension worth $8.5 million in 2016. That may now be the biggest bargain contract in baseball.
Smoak, who’s coming off his first All-Star Game appearance, has 24 home runs, 58 RBI, a .290 batting average, .929 save percentage and 2.4 WAR. He’s among the most feared hitters in the American League, and he’s one of the very few Blue Jays who’s enjoyed the 2017 season from a personal standpoint.
Trading Smoak makes no sense for the Blue Jays right now. The only business now is to lock him up long-term, should he finish 2017 how he started it. He could be this team’s top hitter for years to come, so they better not think about trading him.
6. Trade: Troy Tulowitzki
Former Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopolous didn’t have to give up much to land Troy Tulowitzki in 2015. ‘Tulo’ struggled for the Jays in his first season there, but did enough to help them reach the ALCS.
Tulowitzki rebounded after a slow start in 2016. His defence was still elite and he was one of their top hitters in the playoffs. Unfortunately, age and plenty of mileage is starting to take a toll on Tulo, who is no longer the elite force he once was on offence and on defence. He’s batting just .244 this season with a terrible .676 OPS, and Tulowitzki’s .965 fielding percentage is well below his career average of .985.
Tulowitzki is owed $69 million from 2018 to 2021. The Blue Jays will have to undoubtedly eat some of that money up to orchestrate a trade — but it’s entirely worth it. This team needs to move on from the past-his-prime veteran who isn’t contributing that much despite all the money he’s getting paid.
5. Keep: Aaron Sanchez
Aaron Sanchez was last year’s ERA champion (3.00) and racked up an impressive 15 victories. The 25-year-old is under team control until 2021, and he’s already cementing himself as one of the best pitchers in the game. Remind me why the Blue Jays should trade away this rising star?
A frustrating fingernail injury has cost Sanchez most of 2017. He’s been limited to seven games and has a mere 3.94 ERA with just 22 strikeouts in 32 games. But Sanchez is young and is just entering his prime years, and he’s going to front a promising Blue Jays rotation for years to come.
It’s tough to imagine the Blue Jays getting equal value if they were to trade Sanchez. We all know they haven’t even thought about giving him away, so why are you still reading and why am I still writing this?
4. Trade: Jose Bautista
To be honest, the Blue Jays didn’t have much of a reason to bring back Jose Bautista last winter. He reportedly wanted a six-year contract worth $150 million before last season took place, and he did absolutely nothing to show he deserved that money.
Bautista batted just .234 with a mere 22 home runs while striking out an alarming 103 times in 116 games. He hasn’t been that much better in 2017, batting .233 with 16 homers and a .760 OPS (his career OPS is .856, so there’s that). Bautista carries a mutual club option through 2018 and 2019, and he has 10/5 rights which means he can reject any trade.
Well, it’s been a nice run for Bautista and the Jays. Now it’s time to go. He’s well past his playing prime, can barely hit anymore and man…don’t get me started with that defence. Trade him while he remains a household name.
3. Keep: Roberto Osuna
A lot of teams would like to trade for Roberto Osuna — and rightfully so. The 22-year-old is one of baseball’s premier closers, with 78 saves, a career 2.50 ERA and 205 strikeouts in 180 innings pitched. This guy can throw the heat, and he’s as reliable as just about any closer in the majors today.
There were rumors earlier in the season about the Washington Nationals wanting Osuna. But there is zero way the Blue Jays trade Osuna now — nor should they. He’s a big part of this team’s future, and Osuna is under team control through 2020.
Unless the Blue Jays are getting Mike Trout, Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Mookie Betts, Chris Sale, Kris Bryant or Bryce Harper in a trade for Osuna, then don’t even worry about the Jays trading him. He’s way too good for them to think about a trade right now.
2. Trade: Josh Donaldson
Believe me fans, I want Josh Donaldson to stay as much as the rest of you. But I’ve seen questionable ownership and management from this team screw things up way too many times. I’m not convinced they’re going to re-sign him long-term. They didn’t with David Price or Edwin Encarnacion, so why should we believe they’ll extend the 2015 American League MVP?
Donaldson could get the Blue Jays at least three significant pieces in return of a trade. Keep in mind, he will be 33 in the winter of 2018 (when he’ll have signed a new contract), and both his hitting and defence have regressed alarmingly in 2017.
If the Jays want to lock up Donaldson long term now, then do it. But we know it’s unlikely that happens, so they may as well trade away the franchise icon and strengthen the farm system. Better than losing him for nothing in next year’s free agent period.
1. Keep: Marcus Stroman
Marcus Stroman came out of nowhere in 2014 to emerge as the ace of the Toronto Blue Jays rotation. Three years later, and he figures to be the face of this franchise as they transition into a retooling period.
The 5-foot-8, 180-pound star is putting together a Cy Young-caliber season in 2017. He’s 9-5 with a 3.28 ERA and has 93 strikeouts with 112.1 innings pitched. Stroman owns a career 3.76 ERA and 388 strikeouts in 474 innings pitched.
Stroman is only 26 years of age and is under team control through 2020 (along with Osuna and Sanchez). He’s going to be one of the game’s best pitchers for years to come, and there’s nothing more precious in baseball than a starter who is just entering his prime years.
So keep him, Jays.
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