The 2015 Toronto Blue Jays ended a 22-year postseason drought this season; they were 50-51 in July and went on to win the American League East division, then came back from a 2-0 deficit in the American League Divisional Series against the Texas Rangers, and electrified a fan base that’s been waiting for their moment to cheer on the Toronto-based team.
But, with the Blue Jays falling to the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series 4-2, questions heading into the winter begin to be asked, and they start with the brain of the operation.
General Manager Alex Anthopoulous, who has been building the Blue Jays since 2009 will see his contract expire at the end of October, and there’s no promise he will be back. Another shake up is that Paul Beeston, who has been the Blue Jays team President since 2009 and was the team’s first hired employee in 1976, is set to retire at the end of this month.
With Beeston’s departure on the horizon, the Blue Jays have hired Mark Shapiro to takeover for the long-time employee. Shapiro spent five seasons as the Cleveland Indians team President. It is unclear how much power Shapiro will have when he officially joins the team. His options are to not re-sign Anthopoulous as GM and control all roster decisions, bring Anthopoulous back but split the team duties between each other (which could lead to conflicting heads), or extend Anthopoulous’ contract and take a similar approach as to what Beeston has done.
Until the Anthopoulous dilemma is solved, the Blue Jays will have a tough time proceeding with their other questions. A decision to not bring the Montreal born Anthopoulous could then lead to the firing of Manager John Gibbons, with Shapiro deciding to bring in his own Manager.
When looking at possible free agents for the Blue Jays, they also have to look to the future. Both Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are set to become free agents after next season and both could be looking for lucrative contract negotiations.
For now, the offensive side (which is the best in baseball) is not an issue for next season. Everyone but backup catcher Dioner Navarro and utility infielder Cliff Pennington are free agents. Navarro is almost a lock to not be coming back as he’ll be searching for a starting job, and with the return of second basemen Devon Travis next season and Ryan Goins great playing this season, Pennington is nothing more than a minor league option for the Jays.
The pitching situation for the Blue Jays is also a huge question mark and won’t be solved overnight. After losing Brett Cecil during the ALDS due to injury and Aaron Loup dealing with a family problem, the Blue Jays back-end rotation was limited to 23-year old Aaron Sanchez and 20-year old Roberto Osuna. They did get a strong relief appearance from Liam Hendriks in game four of the ALCS, but for Gibbons it was a struggle to hand the ball off to any other pitcher. So Shapiro or Anthopolous, or both will need a complete makeover of the bullpen. Especially with there being a chance that Sanchez and Osuna could become starting pitchers next season.
The only reason the team kept the option open to move Sanchez and Osuna to the rotation is because only Marcus Stroman and R.A. Dickey are under contract as starting pitchers. With three openings in the rotation, the Blue Jays options are not limited, but it won’t be easy. They could turn to Drew Hutchison, who was the opening day starter this season, but he struggled all season long.
With both David Price and Marco Estrada set to be free agents, the Blue Jays will certainly be in a bidding war with other teams for the two pitchers. Price (before the playoffs) was set to get a similar contract to that of Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw, which falls in the seven-years, $200-million plus range. Price’s average postseason this year could have dropped his value, but nonetheless the Blue Jays will have to be willing to open their wallets if they want to bring Price back.
Estrada is a different situation for the Blue Jays. He started the season as a relief pitcher before being inserted into the rotation. Then post all-star break Estrada had the second best earned run average in the league behind Price. Estrada’s value on the open market is still unclear. He made $3.9 million this year and will be looking at an increase this winter with a wide range of teams showing interest. This was a career year for Estrada.
Some other free agent pitching options for the Blue Jays outside of their organization are: Johnny Cueto, Yovani Gallardo, J.A. Happ, Mat Latos, Justin Masterson, Jeff Samardzija and Jordan Zimmermann. For the bullpen too, there is a long list of free agents that could be options in Blue Jay land.
For now, as we all get over our postseason hangover, the Blue Jays need to clear things up within their front office before they can even think of roster moves. With this roster being built by Anthopolous, it’s only right to let him finish it.