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American League East Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

What’s up with the Blue Jays?

MLB: Spring Training-Philadelphia Phillies at Toronto Blue Jays Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next few days, as we continue to get ready for the start of the regular season (the crowd goes wild), we are going to take a look at the rest of the American League East. We’ll look at what’s changed with each team, what’s stayed the same, and some best- and worst-case scenarios. We’ll be going in reverse order of last year’s standings, and today we’re looking at the Toronto Blue Jays.

What’s Changed

Like the Orioles, the Blue Jays didn’t have any major headline-grabbing additions to their roster, but they did shore up a few areas of need with relatively minor moves. Perhaps the biggest move came in a trade with the Cardinals in which Toronto acquired outfielder Randal Grichuk in exchange for Conor Greene and Dominic Leone. Grichuk doesn’t get on base much, but he regularly hits the ball hard and a move to Toronto’s park could help his overall numbers. He’s expected to be their starting right fielder. In a separate trade, the Blue Jays also acquired Yangervis Solarte to help solidify their infield depth. The accomplished that same thing by signing Aledmys Diaz, another former Cardinal. Solarte is projected to play a super utility role and Diaz should get plenty of time at shortstop with Troy Tulowitzki’s injury history. Elsewhere in the outfield, they signed Curtis Granderson to form a platoon in left field with Steve Pearce. Granderson isn’t the player he once was, but he can still contribute on the field and is a great clubhouse presence. On the pitching side, Toronto added to the end of their rotation by signing Jaime Garcia and made a number of bullpen moves led by the signing of former Cardinals closer Seung-hwan Oh. Oh is expected to compete for the eighth inning role behind Roberto Osuna along with Ryan Tepera. The Blue Jays also added veteran righties Tyler Clippard and John Axford on minor-league deals and both have a good shot at making the Opening Day roster.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Boston Red Sox Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

While they made all of those additions, the Blue Jays didn’t really lose a ton. The best player they lost was likely Leone, mentioned above, as he’s an underrated late-inning reliever. They also lost Jose Bautista, who clearly isn’t the hitter he was just a couple years ago but is still a big part of Toronto baseball. The Blue Jays also lost minor pieces like Darwin Barney, Miguel Montero, Michael Saunders and Brett Anderson.

What’s stayed the same

Amid all of those moves, the Blue Jays roster still has the same feel as it has for the last couple of years. They still have Josh Donaldson, who like Manny Machado on the Orioles was part of some trade rumors this winter as he heads for his final season before free agency. The star third baseman seems like a better bet to possibly re-up with his current team, though, and he remains one of the very best hitters in baseball. The rest of the lineup around him isn’t terribly scary, though there is some upside. Devon Travis is back at second base looking to stay healthy for a full season. Justin Smoak is looking to build off his breakout 2017 and Kendrys Morales is looking to....well, be Kendrys Morales. Russel Martin remains behind the plate as well, though he’s been on a steep decline the last couple of seasons. Kevin Pillar will be back in center field as one of the best defensive outfielders in the game.

The Blue Jays look their best in the rotation, though that’s not a group without some question marks of their own. He won’t be making the start on Opening Day, but Marcus Stroman is back as the Blue Jays top pitcher, and he’s followed by a couple of flyball/weak contact-oriented arms in J.A. Happ and Marco Estrada. Aaron Sanchez is the wildcard here as he looks to return from injury and pick up where he left off in 2016. In the bullpen, Toronto has one of the most underrated relievers in baseball closing games for them in Osuna, but the depth behind him lacks an impact arm. Ryan Tepera, Aaron Loup and Danny Barnes are their other returning relievers.

Best-Case scenario

Stroman continues to progress forward as one of the better young arms in the game, and Sanchez shows that he is still the very good starter he was two years ago, giving the Blue Jays a strong 1-2 punch. Happ, Estrada and Garcia give them average-to-above-average performances all year to round out the rotation. Oh looks like his old self behind Osuna to give them a late-inning punch, and Donaldson and Smoak lead the offense to do just enough to get a wildcard berth.

Worst-Case scenario

The rotation suffers through some injuries, which is not at all out of the question given Toronto’s crop of starters. Osuna is great, but no one else in the bullpen gives him any help whatsoever. Smoak regresses, Travis can’t take the next step and Grichuk’s inability to get on base overshadows his hard contact. They falter out of the gate, can’t agree to an extension with Donaldson and trade their star third baseman at the deadline to attempt an on-the-fly rebuild.

Overall Thoughts

I think the Blue Jays are my pretty clear pick to finish third in the division, though that may say more about the teams behind them than Toronto’s roster. That being said, there is a lot to like here. Donaldson is obviously a superstar, and I’m a believer in both Travis and Smoak. As I’ve made clear, I also really love Osuna and think the Blue Jays rotation is being slept on as a solid and deep group 1-5. I don’t think they’ll make the postseason, but I expect them to at least hang around .500 all year.