Blue Jays fans won’t soon forget the 2015 season. After years of hovering around .500% and failing to finish higher than third, the boys in blue finally managed to overcome the AL East powerhouses and earn a spot in the playoffs. For the first time since 1993, Jays fans were able to watch baseball in October.
But will their momentum from last season carry over into 2016? The Jays have lost several key players and executives, not the least of which is Alex Anthopoulos, last year’s Sporting News Executive of the Year. Anthopoulous, who was affectionately dubbed AA by Toronto fans, was largely responsible for giving the team that extra push they needed to make it to the postseason. More importantly, he was in tune with the fans. As a Canadian—born in Montreal and went to school in Hamilton—he was relatable to Canadian fans, and he understood what they wanted. Now that he and former President Paul Beeston are gone, replaced by Mark Shapiro and Ross Atkins, it’s unclear how the team will perform in 2016. In AA we trusted, yet Shapiro and Atkins will have to gain our trust.
Here are 15 reasons why the Blue Jays might not be as competitive next season. Let’s hope that we're wrong about all of them! There’s still plenty to be optimistic about for the upcoming season. Last year’s AL MVP Josh Donaldson is back, and so are two of the best power hitters in the game: Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. The Jays also have an exciting young pitching staff with guys like Marcus Stroman, who proved himself capable of winning in big games, as well as Aaron Sanchez. There’s hope yet for another AL East title, and maybe even the first World Series in Canada since 1993, but there's definitely come question marks going forward.
15 Bullpen concerns
The Jays bullpen played a huge role in the team's success last season. With big arms like Brett Cecil, Roberto Osuna, Mark Lowe and Liam Hendriks, who had a career year, the relief staff was perhaps second only to the Royals. But now Mark Lowe is gone to the Tigers and Hendricks to the Athletics, leaving a big hole in the bullpen (an even bigger hole if they decide to add Sanchez back into the starting rotation). Shapiro and Atkins have started to address the problem with the signing of Drew Storen, but they'll need to make some more moves if they want to be as "lights out" as they were last year.
14 Toronto Blue Jays or Toronto Indians?
It almost feels like the Toronto Blue Jays are becoming the Toronto Indians. First they hired former Indians President Mark Shapiro, who then brought in former Indians vice president of player personnel Ross Atkins as GM, and former Indians manager Eric Wedge as a player development advisor. While Shapiro helped turn the Indians franchise around, earning him Executive of the Year honors from Sporting News in 2005 and 2007, in recent years, Cleveland has experienced a decline. Since 2009, they have a 540-593 (.477%) record.
13 Bandwagon Fans
Before the 2015 season, it seemed like only devout Jays fans cared about the team. But after they started to make a playoff push, just about the entire country threw their support behind the guys in blue. Attendance and merchandise sales went way up, and even politicians were showing up at games (until they were asked not to attend). You might call it bandwagonning, and while it’s looked down on by most diehard fans, it can help to give a team that extra boost. The thing about these kinds of fans, however, is that they tend to hop on and off the bandwagon all the time.
12 Outfield uncertainties
Now that Ben Revere is gone, the Jays outfield is a little uncertain. Jose Bautista has right field locked down, and Kevin Pillar isn’t going anywhere in center after the way he played, especially defensively, but left field is still up for grabs. The best bet is Dalton Pompey, who has shown that he can hit and run at the big league level, despite his struggles at the beginning of 2015. But Atkins and Shapiro may very well see things differently and choose to go in a different direction. Teams are at their best when the starting lineup is set, so hopefully the Jays decide who will be their left fielder early on.
11 Mark Buehrle is gone
Although he had a rough start to the season and he began to show his age, Mark Buehrle finished off with an impressive 15-8 record and was a component in the Jays' success. As a veteran of the league, he helped mentor many of the younger pitchers. In a way, it was like having an extra coach on the bench. Plus it seemed like the team got up and was at its best whenever he was pitching. The Jays worked so well last year because they had a mix of young and old. Without Buehrle, someone will have to step up and fill the role of the experienced veteran.
10 Starting rotation concerns
The biggest question mark for the Jays next season will be their starting rotation. They’ve lost key arms in Buehrle and Price, and even if R.A. Dickey returns next year, he didn’t have the same command on his knuckleball last season as he had in years past. The Jays will lean heavily on young pitchers like Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, and Roberto Osuna. While all of them have shown signs of brilliance, they still lack experience, and it’s unclear as to how they’ll handle the responsibility of a full season with more expectation.
9 Josh Donaldson post-MVP
If history is any indication, Josh Donaldson could see his impressive offensive numbers from last year decrease slightly in 2016. Often after an MVP season, a player’s numbers will take a slight dip. For example, just looking at recent American League MVPs, Joe Mauer followed up his MVP season in 2009, where he hit .365 with 28 homers, with a .327 average and just 9 homers. Similarly, Josh Hamilton’s batting average dropped .061 points after his 2010 MVP season, and Alex Rodriguez hit 19 less homers and had 53 less RBIs the year after his last MVP in 2007 (in fact, A-Rod’s stats have gone down every year after his three MVPs).
This doesn’t mean that Donaldson is going to have a bad season; it just means that there’s a good chance he won’t be able to match his numbers from 2015. It’s not a guarantee, either. For example, Miguel Cabrera followed up his 2012 MVP with an even better 2013 MVP season (although he followed that season up with one of his most underwhelming seasons).
8 Disappointing finish to last season
While 2015 was a historic year for the Jays, there’s still no denying that there season came to a disappointing (and heartbreaking) end. They were so close to moving on to game 7. With no one out in the final inning, Pompey managed to steal second and third base, yet the Jays’ offense failed to cash him in. If they want to have another good year in 2016, they’re going to have to forget about the way 2015 ended, which is easier said than done.
7 Last year was the year to do it
If there was ever a time to win the World Series, 2015 was it. Not only did they have one of the most potent offenses in MLB history, but they also had one of the best starting pitchers in the league and a talented young bullpen. Not to mention the fact that they had the support of the GM and the entire nation. In order for a team to win a championship, everything has to go right. That sort of thing doesn’t come around very often, and the 2016 Jays, with the loss of key players and executives, is shaping up to be a new team altogether.
6 David Price is gone
This one speaks for itself. How do you replace a guy like David Price? He was 9-1 with a 2.30 ERA and more than a K per inning with the Jays last season. Even though he’s had his problems in the postseason, it’s fair to say that he overcame them in his final start against the Royals. But the loss of Price means more than just the loss of a great arm; it means the loss of a great teammate, the kind of guy who made everyone around him better. Perhaps most importantly, the loss of David Price means the loss of Astro.
5 New GM doesn’t know the farm system like Anthopoulos
While Ross Atkins may have plenty of experience as an executive in the league, having worked in the Indians’ franchise for 15 years, he doesn’t know the Jays as well as Anthopoulos did. AA was responsible for drafting many of the top prospects in the Jays’ farm system, including guys like Dalton Pompey. He knew the team from top to bottom and had a plan for the future. Atkins, on the other hand, will have to learn about the farm system. The players will have to get used to Atkins as well, and it's certainly not a favorable situation for any of the old players that had spent time building up a good report with the former regime.
4 Kawasaki is gone
Sure he wasn’t the greatest hitter and he rarely saw playing time with the Jays, but Munenori Kawasaki was a great cheerleader to have on the bench. He helped bring the team together with his positive attitude, and in the process, he became a fan favorite in Toronto (who can forget his post-game interviews?). However, Kawasaki became a free agent at the end of last season and was picked up by the Chicago Cubs on a minor league contract. While on paper it might not seem like a big loss, he played an important role when it came to the team’s moral.
3 Aging sluggers
As much as Jays fans might hate to admit it, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, perhaps the best back-to-back sluggers in the league, are getting up in age. Edwin Encarnacion just turned 33 while Bautista is 35. And while they’re both coming off some of their best seasons, typically this is around the time when sluggers see their numbers begin to decline. While they’re clearly still a force to be reckoned with, we’ve already seen some of the signs of aging with these two in the form of injuries.
Hopefully they’ll both continue to get better with age as it’s not unheard of. Last year, Nelson Cruz had his best season at the age of 34, and Barry Bonds was crushing home runs—albeit (allegedly) with a little outside help—well into his early 40s. If Encarnacion and Bautista can remain healthy, there’s no reason why the Jays shouldn’t be competitive again next year.
2 Mark Shapiro
There’s still so much to learn about Mark Shapiro, and it’s not fair to judge him or any of his decisions thus far before the team has even played a game. But so far Shapiro’s time in Toronto hasn’t augured very well for the team’s near future. Where Anthopoulos made big, exciting moves last year, Shapiro has played it conservative with small, strategic signings. It took real change for the Jays to finally make the push into the playoffs last year, and now it feels like Shapiro is going back to playing it safe, which could mean that the Jays will go back to being a .500 team.
1 Alex Anthopoulos is gone
The biggest reason why the Jays might not be as competitive as they were last season is that GM Alex Anthopoulos won’t be returning. Although he didn’t publicly state his reasons for turning down a five-year contract extension, it’s safe to assume that the arrival of Mark Shapiro had something to do with it. Shapiro has a reputation for being a hands-on President, which wouldn’t work well for a guy like Anthopoulos, who excelled as a GM in Toronto because he was given a great deal of freedom by former President Paul Beeston.
Anthopoulos was the architect of the Jays’ postseason run last year, bringing in star players like Troy Tulowitzki, David Price, and Ben Revere. Without him, the team likely would have ended the season like they always have in recent years, hovering around .500 and several games out of a playoff spot.