Five years ago, the Toronto Blue Jays were viewed as an up-and-coming team. The New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays ruled supremacy in the AL East, but the Jays had one of baseball's best farm systems and a pair of franchise cornerstones to build around in Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.
Well, the people who said the Jays would be a force in the future five years ago have been right. After a series of blockbuster trades, the Jays have reached consecutive American League Championship Series, and they're geared up for another run into the postseason in 2017.
But the Blue Jays core players are on the wrong side of 30, and it's safe to know this team will look a lot different in 2022. A number of their stars are going to either retire within the next five years or sign big contracts elsewhere. Blue Jays fans simply need to enjoy the stars they have now, cause they won't be together in 2022.
There is a silver lining, as the Jays also have some future stars who'll be on the roster in 2022...
15 15. Gone: Troy Tulowitzki
Few shortstops have dominated in the 21st century like 'Tulo.' The five-time All-Star has also won two gold gloves and a pair of Silver Slugger Awards, as he continues to build up his case for making the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Troy Tulowitzki has been a fine addition since being traded to the Blue Jays at the 2015 deadline. In 2016, hit 24 home runs and 79 RBI, and his .254 batting average would have been much higher had it not been for a disastrous April and May. Tulowitzki's defence is still better than most at shortstop, too.
But Tulowitzki is now 32 years of age, and his contract expires after the 2021 season. By then, Tulowitzki will be 37. Toronto will be looking to get younger by then, so don't expect Tulo to be back in Canada once his contract expires.
14 14. New Addition: Rowdy Tellez
Rowdy Tellez is among the top prospects in the Blue Jays farm system. The big 6-feet-4, 220-pound first baseman/designated hitter has impressed in Toronto's spring training thus far, and could be in the majors by 2018.
Tellez played for New Hampshire of the Eastern League (the Blue Jays affiliate), and batted .297 with with 23 home runs, 81 RBI and an impressive .917 OPS. The Blue Jays no longer have a franchise first baseman with Edwin Encarnacion now on the Cleveland Indians, so Tellez may not need to wait long before he makes the roster.
The Blue Jays' core players are hitting their mid-30s, so they may decide to bring in some young talent soon enough. By 2022, expect Tellez to have had a couple of seasons in the majors. He'll have first base to himself before long.
13 13. Gone: Russell Martin
The Blue Jays signed Canadian catcher Russell Martin to a five-year deal worth $82 million in the winter of 2014. Martin hasn't exactly lived up to the money, but he remains better than two-thirds of catchers in the majors.
2016 was a letdown year for Martin, who batted just .231 and struck out a career-high 148 times. Martin did manage to hit 20 home runs, though. He also posted a 1.7 WAR, suggesting he means more to the Jays than you probably thought. But the Jays' catcher is only under contract for three more years, and he recently turned 34 years of age.
The Jays won't be bringing Martin back when he's 37, as catchers rarely play at a high level past 35. Prospect Reese McGuire may be the Jays' catcher of the future, and could force Martin out of town when he's a free agent in 2020.
12 12. New Addition: Nathan Eovaldi
The Blue Jays will face many questions in the next couple of years when it comes to their rotation. Will they keep Marco Estrada (33), and J.A. Happ (34) long term? Will they pay up the big dollars for future American League Cy Young candidates Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez? That all remains to be seen.
Toronto will have to go bargain shopping to shore up their rotation. They never spend big dollars on top free agents and they don't have many intriguing arms in the farm system. Nathan Eovaldi has two years left on his contract with the Tampa Bay Rays before he hits the open market in 2019.
Eovaldi posted a respectable 9-8 record in 2016 with a 1.307 WHIP. This came on a relatively mediocre New York Yankees team, too. The Jays should be willing to overpay for his services on a three-year deal. Eovaldi to Toronto will make plenty of sense if their rotation opens up some new spots in 2019.
11 11. Gone: Marco Estrada
Marco Estrada enters the 2017 season in the final season of a two-year contract worth $26 million he signed following the Jays' loss to the Kansas City Royals in the ALCS. Estrada struggled with a herniated disc through much of 2016, but managed a 9-9 record with a 3.48 ERA, 1.119 WHIP and 165 strikeouts. Before and after the injury, Estrada was pitching like a possible Cy Young winner.
Whether or not the Blue Jays extend Estrada after 2017 remains to be seen, but there's no doubting he won't be here in 2022. By that time, Estrada will be 39 years of age and (probably) will not the effective started he is now. Toronto is not a team to keep veterans around until they retire. If the Jays do extend Estrada, it won't be for more than three years. That leaves the door open for him to depart before 2022.
10 10. New Addition: Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
The Blue Jays signed the Cuban star to a seven-year, $22 million deal during the 2016 season. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. was ranked as the sixth-best international prospect by MLB.com, and should be a big part of this team's future.
Gurriel Jr. is a super utility man; he can play first base, second base and in the outfield. He spent 2015 with Industriales of the Cuban National Series, batting .344 with 10 home runs, 45 RBI and a .967 OPS. Gurriel Jr. would bring a ton of speed to a Jays team that isn't known for its blazing wheels.
Josh Donaldson is 31 years of age, and if he's not a Blue Jay in 2022, then the third base spot could go to Gurriel Jr. If not that, there's plenty of room for him to occupy in the outfield. Either way, the Cuban star will be a big part of Toronto's future. He should be on the team by 2020.
9 9. Gone: Jose Bautista
Jose Bautista was expected to leave the Blue Jays after the 2016 season, as it was believed he was seeking a six-year deal worth $150 million. Injuries and inconsistency drove Bautista's price way down, and he returned to Toronto on a one-year deal worth $18.5 million with options in 2018 and 2019.
His 265 home runs are the second-most in Blue Jays history, and Joey Bats' home run in Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS against the Texas Rangers cemented his legacy in Toronto. Bautista also led the league in homers during the 2010 and 2011 seasons (including 54 in the former season).
It's possible Bautista bounces back big-time with the Jays in 2017. Even if he has a couple more 30-home run seasons in him, will the Jays really keep him by 2022; when he will be 42 years of age? Bautista's tenure in Toronto plus his MLB career are entering its twilight years.
8 8. New Addition: Reese McGuire
The Blue Jays acquired Reese McGuire, Francisco Liriano and another prospect at the 2016 trade deadline from the Pittsburgh Pirates. Many Pirates fans were frustrated with the deal, as Pittsburgh's idea of clearing salary in this trade was to give up a promising prospect in catcher Reese McGuire.
Luckily for the Blue Jays, they should have a long-term answer at catcher in McGuire, as Russell Martin is 34 years of age and likely won't be back when his contract expires. McGuire spent 2016 in Double A, finishing with a .254 batting average. He's often regarded as one of the top-10 prospects in Toronto's system.
He's only 22 years of age and has a way to go. But expect McGuire to be on the Blue Jays by 2020.
7 7. Gone: J.A. Happ
The Blue Jays brought back J.A. Happ in 2015 on a three-year contract worth $36 million. He became one of baseball's most underpaid pitchers of 2016.
Happ became the ace of Toronto's rotation, posting a 20-4 record with 163 strikeouts, a 3.18 ERA and 1.169 WHIP. Happ set himself up for a nice payday after a strong finish with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2015, having been traded from the Seattle Mariners. But Happ is 34 years of age, and the majority of pitchers begin to wear down once they reach the wrong side of 30. If Happ posts two more strong seasons, he could price himself out of Toronto. Even if the Jays keep him beyond 2018, it's unlikely they'll want a 38-year-old pitcher in the rotation by 2022.
6 6. New Addition: Anthony Alford
Anthony Alford was named by MLB.com as the 870th-best prospect in baseball, giving Blue Jays fans a lot to be excited about for the future. Alford has great speed and should be a big part of this team's outfield in the future.
He's just 22 years of age and displayed his potential for Dunedin of A+, an affiliate of the Blue Jays. Despite a mere .236 batting average, Alford had 44 RBI and stole 18 bases and had a .722 OPS. Alford still has to develop his hitting ability and likely won't make the Blue Jays until 2020 at the earliest.
But his great speed, remarkable defence and potential to be a leadoff man make Alford a future franchise cornerstone of the Blue Jays. He's going to be a full-time starter within the next five years.
5 5. Gone: Marcus Stroman
Marcus Stroman has been a great underdog story since becoming a key part of the Toronto Blue Jays rotation in 2014. Stroman, listed at 5-feet-8, is one of the extremely rare pitchers listed at under 5-feet-10 to make a start since 2000. He's a darkhorse to win the American League Cy Young in 2017, and you'd think he'd be a long-term part of the Jays' future.
Stroman has compiled a 24-16 record with a career 3.91 ERA and 1.22 WHIP. But Stroman is only under Jays' control until 2020, and then he will be set to become a free agent 2021.
Unfortunately, the Blue Jays have yet to show an indication of signing their own star players. Carlos Delgado, Roy Halladay, Edwin Encarnacion and David Price are among the greats this team hasn't paid up to keep. Stroman will be on that list, too.
4 4. New Addition: Sean Reid-Foley
Sean Reid-Foley is the 64th-ranked prospect by Major League Baseball, and he's the future ace of the Blue Jays' rotation. That's good news for a team who could very well lose its two young ages by 2022. In his A+ career with Dunedin of the Florida State League, Reid-Foley has gone 7-7 with a 3.60 ERA and 1.11 WHIP with 106 strikeouts in just 90 innings pitched. Did I mention the man is only 21 years of age?
Reid-Foley isn't going to be in the pros for at least two more years, but there is no denying he's set to be a big part of the Jays' future. Will he be as good as Sanchez and Stroman? Impossible to know, but he will play a big role for Toronto in a few years.
3 3. Gone: Aaron Sanchez
Aaron Sanchez could very well become a top-five pitcher in the majors this upcoming season. Despite being held to an innings limit in 2016, Sanchez managed to go 15-2 and was the AL ERA champion, finishing at 3.00. Sanchez also struck out 161 batters in 192 innings pitched and posted an incredible 1.167 WHIP. The Blue Jays have a franchise starter on their hands, but Jays fans need to enjoy it while they can.
He's just 24 years of age and he's going to contend for many American League Cy Youngs. But Sanchez's recent hiring of Scott Boras as his new agent is bad news for Jays fans. Boras is a master at landing his clients nine-figure contracts. With Sanchez set to be a free agent in 2021, expect someone to pay him over $100 million, as the wealthy Jays refuse to spend their riches again.
2 2. Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
The son of former American League MVP and slugger Vladimir Guerrero, the younger Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the 34th-ranked prospect by MLB.com, and he's undoubtedly the best prospect the Blue Jays have. He's only 17 years of age and the scouts are raving about the power this guy can produce. Here's what MLB.com had to say about the future star:
"Following in the footsteps of his father, Vlad Jr. has a preternatural ability to barrel the ball from the right side of the plate and produces effortless raw power to all fields with his combination of bat speed, physical strength and hand-eye coordination.
As a potential above-average hitter with plus power, Guerrero boasts the offensive profile of a future All-Star who should spend much of his career hitting in the middle of a big league lineup."
Guerrero Jr. will be the next Jose Bautista on the Blue Jays, and he's put the baseball world on notice already with his power. Playing for Bluefield of the APPY, Guerrero Jr. batted .271 with a .449 slugging percentage. He's far from ready to be in the majors. But by 2022, Guerrero Jr. should be the hottest-selling Blue Jays jersey.
1 1. Gone: Josh Donaldson
Josh Donaldson has changed the landscape of the American League since the Oakland Athletics traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays in 2014. Donaldson won the American League MVP in 2015 after batting .297 with 41 home runs, 123 RBI, a .939 OPS and insane 8.8 WAR. The Blue Jays won the AL East and were just two wins away from reaching the World Series.
Donaldson had another MVP-like season in 2016, hitting 37 home runs with 99 RBI and posting a .284 batting average, though Mike Trout of the Angels took home the crown in 2016. The Blue Jays reached the ALCS once again, thanks to Donaldson's efforts.
But Donaldson only has two years left on his contract. My personal guess is the ageing Jays will start shedding salary and will rebuild soon enough. They're all-in now, but I'm not expecting Donaldson to be on the Jays in 2022, when he'll be 37 years of age.
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