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Estrada reveals reason behind midseason funk

Blue Jays hurler struggled over 10-start stretch in June, July last year
MLB.com @jonmorosi

The contrast within Marco Estrada's 2017 season was striking.

Estrada maintained a 3.15 ERA through April and May -- the sort of performance the Blue Jays expected from a reliable starter who earned his first All-Star selection the year before.

The contrast within Marco Estrada's 2017 season was striking.

Estrada maintained a 3.15 ERA through April and May -- the sort of performance the Blue Jays expected from a reliable starter who earned his first All-Star selection the year before.

Then Estrada's season went awry, as trade speculation swirled around the disappointing Jays. Over his next 10 starts, Estrada's ERA was 8.87. He uncharacteristically walked 33 batters in 45 2/3 innings.

Estrada regained his usual form almost immediately after the non-waiver Trade Deadline passed without Toronto dealing him away. He pitched against the White Sox on the night of July 31 -- mere hours after the Deadline -- and produced his best start in more than two months: seven innings and one earned run.

Video: TOR@CWS: Estrada fans five over seven stellar frames

Estrada closed the season with a 3.68 ERA in five September starts, and the Blue Jays rewarded him with a one-year, $13 million contract extension.

So, what happened?

"Honestly, I haven't talked about this ... but I basically started sleeping," Estrada said of his strong finish during an interview Tuesday on MLB Network Radio's "Inside Pitch."

"I was having issues with sleeping -- stressing out, stressing about being traded and a few little things. I'd been struggling. It all kind of snowballed together. I stopped sleeping. But once I knocked all that stuff out, I was able to get back on track.

"Honestly, I don't think I did anything different. I was just rested. When you don't sleep -- at least for me -- it would feel like I'm out there spinning on the mound. It made things a little difficult. The team knew about this. They knew once I would get rid of all [the] issues with sleeping that I would be just fine. And it's exactly what happened."

Estrada credited his family, friends and a psychiatrist with whom he worked for helping him through the difficult period. "I've thanked them a million times," Estrada said.

Estrada was candid Tuesday in identifying what led to his difficulty with sleeping: stress, magnified by the uncertainty of the Trade Deadline.

"It's one of those things I didn't even want to bring up, but the season's over and I feel like I can talk about it now," he said. "It was just stress. I've never really been through something like this, but it happened to me. I didn't even think it was possible, to be honest with you.

"Obviously it happened and I struggled with it, but once I got things taken care of and my mindset was in the right place, I was able to finally sleep. It shows the difference of the type of pitcher I was from June-July to August-September. It made a big difference, being able to sleep."

Estrada said he "tried everything" to help him sleep in June and July.

"I was told to maybe think of a song, put it in your head, kind of just sing that," he said. "You can count. There's a lot of things. ... For me, I think the biggest thing was just trying to clear my mind and stop worrying so much. It's easier said than done.

"Thankfully, I had a lot of support. I had my friends, my family. I was able to speak to psychiatrists there. All of that combined -- just talking to people, letting it out, that was actually the biggest thing that helped me."

Jon Paul Morosi is a reporter for MLB.com and MLB Network. He is a contributor to MLB Network Radio and conducted Tuesday's interview with Estrada alongside co-host Ryan Spilborghs on "Inside Pitch."

 

Toronto Blue Jays, Marco Estrada

Source: Grandy, Toronto agree to 1-year pact

Club yet to announce deal; vet will compete for OF job
MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays shifted their attention to the outfield Monday night by reaching an agreement with veteran Curtis Granderson on a one-year deal worth $5 million.

Toronto has yet to officially announce the signing, but it was first reported by MLB Network's Ken Rosenthal and has since been confirmed by MLB.com's Mark Feinsand. The deal is pending a physical and also includes incentives based on playing time.

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays shifted their attention to the outfield Monday night by reaching an agreement with veteran Curtis Granderson on a one-year deal worth $5 million.

Toronto has yet to officially announce the signing, but it was first reported by MLB Network's Ken Rosenthal and has since been confirmed by MLB.com's Mark Feinsand. The deal is pending a physical and also includes incentives based on playing time.

Granderson is coming off a season in which he hit .212 with 26 home runs and 70 RBIs over 147 games with the Mets and Dodgers. The 36-year-old made a handful of appearances for Los Angeles during the postseason, but was left off the roster for the World Series.

Video: Granderson talks about his veteran presence

The Blue Jays remain in the market for additional help in the outfield, but this signing makes it harder to envision the club adding a high-profile name to the mix. President Mark Shapiro and general manager Ross Atkins appear to have a clear strategy this offseason of spreading their available money around to multiple players instead of spending most of it on one player.

Toronto took that approach with the infield by acquiring Yangervis Solarte, Aledmys Diaz and Gift Ngoepe. It appears to be the strategy for the outfield as well with the focus on depth and complementary pieces. Granderson falls into that category, as he's expected to form a platoon with Steve Pearce in one of the corner outfield spots. Kevin Pillar remains the starter in center field, which leaves one job up for grabs.

Rookie Teoscar Hernandez is one internal candidate, and the Blue Jays also control Ezequiel Carrera, who recently avoided arbitration with a one-year deal worth $1.9 million. Toronto could use another big bat -- and someone like free agent Lorenzo Cain appears to be a perfect fit -- but the club also is starting to run out of funds.

Video: MLB Tonight on Granderson agreeing to join Blue Jays

Toronto has a projected payroll of $151 million after factoring in arbitration and pre-arbitration players on the roster. Per club policy, the Blue Jays do not publicly disclose payroll parameters, but the range for 2018 is expected to be the same as it was for '17, which was approximately $165 million.

That left the Blue Jays with a range of $10 million to $15 million to spend this offseason. In addition to another outfielder, the club is in the market for a fifth starter and possibly an additional lefty reliever. With multiple needs, that money will have to be divided up, so a big signing through free agency may prove difficult.

Granderson is entering the latter stages of his career, but he still possesses quite a bit of power. The 15-year veteran has at least 20 home runs in four consecutive seasons and can play either corner outfield spot. He also struck out 123 times in 449 at-bats last season, and six stolen bases showed Granderson is no longer a speed threat.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

 

Toronto Blue Jays, Curtis Granderson

Prospect Tellez eager for clean slate in '18

First baseman endured adversity on, off field in '17 as mom battled Stage 4 melanoma
MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- The 2017 season was a learning experience for prospect Rowdy Tellez, both on and off the field. It's also something he doesn't want to have to go through ever again.

It was an extremely difficult year for the promising first baseman, who struggled with the bat but more importantly had a family emergency to deal with away from the diamond. Prior to the season, Tellez received word that his mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma.

TORONTO -- The 2017 season was a learning experience for prospect Rowdy Tellez, both on and off the field. It's also something he doesn't want to have to go through ever again.

It was an extremely difficult year for the promising first baseman, who struggled with the bat but more importantly had a family emergency to deal with away from the diamond. Prior to the season, Tellez received word that his mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma.

The diagnosis led to an extremely trying time for the Tellez family, but in early July they received word that doctors stopped her treatment because she was cancer free. For the first time in months, the Tellez family had something to celebrate, but it's clear it took a toll on the young slugger.

"We have a job to handle, but we also have a family to take care of and support," Tellez said while recently taking part in Major League Baseball's Rookie Development Program. "Family is everything to me. I was raised to be really close to my family and when the event happened, it was really hard to handle. I think I took it harder than anybody being that I don't live with my family, I live across the country in Florida now.

"It was a difficult transition, it was hard to understand and I was really thankful the Blue Jays were able to keep people in my corner to help me throughout the year. Learning how to deal with adversity -- not just on the field with struggles, but the adversity of everything -- happens for a reason. Family struggles are a part of life and how do you handle those while you're going through a season that, in Triple-A, you're a phone call away from the top. The Blue Jays helped me a lot throughout all of this."

Tellez finished the 2017 season hitting .222/.295/.333 with just six home runs and 56 RBIs in 122 games for Triple-A Buffalo. That marked a big dropoff from the year before, when Tellez hit .297/.387/.530 and was generally considered Toronto's first baseman of the future. He's expected to be back in Buffalo at the start of the year and will need a strong showing to re-establish himself as a future core piece.

The path to the big leagues is not as clear for Tellez as it once was. Justin Smoak is coming off a breakout season at the big league level and has two years of control remaining on his contract. That does not bode well for Tellez, but the 22-year-old has more pressing issues to take care of first. Tellez needs to rediscover the power stroke that landed him on MLB Pipeline's list of top Toronto prospects -- he's ranked No. 12 -- and the good news is he can finally do it with a clear head.

"I'd say it affected the way I play," Tellez conceded. "Not the way I handled myself on the field, but I kind of let it get to me subconsciously, I think.

"I tried to go to the field every day, same guy day in and day out, smile on my face. Respect for the game, respect for the staff. They were also there to help me through my tough situation. I couldn't be more grateful to the Blue Jays for what they meant for me and what they helped me with. Just talking to me, making sure everything was OK and offering any help that I needed."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

 

Toronto Blue Jays, Rowdy Tellez

Toronto, Donaldson agree on record $23M deal

Blue Jays unable to strike deals with Osuna, Stroman
MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- Josh Donaldson did not get the long-term deal he was hoping for -- at least not yet -- but a record-setting pre-arbitration settlement should come as a pretty good consolation prize.

Donaldson and the Blue Jays avoided arbitration on Friday morning by agreeing to a one-year deal worth $23 million (all figures in U.S. dollars). The deal came just a couple of hours before Friday's 1 p.m. ET deadline for teams and players to exchange figures in preparation of the arbitration process.

TORONTO -- Josh Donaldson did not get the long-term deal he was hoping for -- at least not yet -- but a record-setting pre-arbitration settlement should come as a pretty good consolation prize.

Donaldson and the Blue Jays avoided arbitration on Friday morning by agreeing to a one-year deal worth $23 million (all figures in U.S. dollars). The deal came just a couple of hours before Friday's 1 p.m. ET deadline for teams and players to exchange figures in preparation of the arbitration process.

Stroman, Osuna likely headed for arbitration

The one-year deal surpasses the previous arbitration record, which was set in 2017 by Bryce Harper's $21.625 million contract for the '18 season. Donaldson previously expressed a desire to explore a long-term deal, but there have yet to be any indications that the two sides ever got close. He remains eligible for free agency at the end of the year.

Video: Donaldson, Blue Jays strike deal to avoid arbitration

"Any great player is typically a complicated case," Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said. "Elite players typically don't have [comparisons]. ... The discussions are in and around salary vs. raise. Similar types of performance. The same drivers. The platform of your performance, the bulk is career, and ultimately the consistency and time that they're active in doing it, is what drives these outcomes. We didn't, by any means, break the record, Josh did. Josh broke the record with his performance."

Toronto went through arbitration with Donaldson in 2015, and it's a process the club did not want to repeat. The Blue Jays will now avoid the awkward process of trying to argue in a hearing why Donaldson should be paid a lower amount and can instead shift their attention to their remaining offseason needs.

Video: TOR@BOS: Donaldson belts second homer of the night

Donaldson is coming off a year in which he hit .270/.385/.559 with 33 home runs and 78 RBIs. He was one of the best players in baseball over the final two months, but prior to that, he struggled through a disappointing first half that included calf and hip issues. It was the first time in four years that he did not finish in the top 10 in voting for the American League MVP Award, which he won in 2015.

Despite the new deal, rumors surrounding Donaldson's future with the Blue Jays won't be going away any time soon. The Blue Jays continue to insist they do not have any intention of trading their star third baseman, but there also has not been any reported progress on long-term contract talks. That means Donaldson's name will continue to be mentioned through reports on a semi-regular basis, whether the Blue Jays like it or not.

Video: MLB Tonight: Donaldson, Toronto reach record pact

"It's a compliment that there are other teams who feel like their team would be better with me on it, and I tend to agree with them," Donaldson told MLB Network Friday morning when asked about the frequent trade rumors. "The fact of the matter is that I really enjoy where I'm at right now.

"I enjoy being a Toronto Blue Jay. I enjoy what we've been able to build in this organization. I could be OK if this is where I spend the rest of my career. I could also be OK if they decide to move on. Those aren't my decisions."

Video: TOR@BOS: Donaldson hits a pair of homers off Sale

Also on Friday, the Blue Jays agreed to terms and avoided arbitration with outfielder Kevin Pillar ($3.25 million), outfielder Ezequiel Carrera ($1.9 million), left-hander Aaron Loup ($1,812,500), right-hander Aaron Sanchez ($2.7 million), second baseman Devon Travis ($1.45 million) and right-hander Dominic Leone ($1.085 million) on contracts for the 2018 season.

Carrera, 30, batted .282/.356/.408 with eight homers and 10 steals in 131 games for Toronto last season while earning $1,162,500. He'll receive a bump in salary this year to $1.9 million.

Loup, also 30, went 2-3 with a 3.75 ERA in 70 appearances for the Blue Jays in 2017. He'll earn $1,812,500 this season after making $1.125 million last year.

The Blue Jays have two arbitration-eligible players remaining, Marcus Stroman and Roberto Osuna.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

 

Toronto Blue Jays, Ezequiel Carrera, Josh Donaldson, Aaron Loup

Rogers Centre to extend protective netting

MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays announced plans on Monday to improve the safety of their fans by replacing and extending the protective netting at Rogers Centre for the 2018 season.

The new netting will be extended to the outfield end of each dugout, which can be found at sections 126 and 117, respectively. The netting previously stopped at the infield side of each dugout.

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays announced plans on Monday to improve the safety of their fans by replacing and extending the protective netting at Rogers Centre for the 2018 season.

The new netting will be extended to the outfield end of each dugout, which can be found at sections 126 and 117, respectively. The netting previously stopped at the infield side of each dugout.

Toronto also announced that the net behind the plate will be replaced and increased in height by approximately 10 feet. This will provide additional protection for fans in the upper-100 and 200 levels of the ballpark.

Tweet from @BlueJays: Statement from the #BlueJays organization on protective netting at Rogers Centre. For more information on these changes, visit https://t.co/ITp93R8A79 pic.twitter.com/C1MB2WfoM0

All new protection will be in place for Opening Day, when the Blue Jays host the Yankees on March 29 at Rogers Centre. According to the Blue Jays, "the new state-of-the-art netting is designed to blend into the background and provide greater visibility, ensuring fans can remain close to the action in a safe manner, without compromising the viewing experience.

Major League Baseball has been encouraging its teams to expand protective netting across all ballparks. Multiple organizations previously announced plans to increase the coverage after a young girl was injured by a foul ball at Yankee Stadium late last season.

Toronto stated that its current protective netting meets Major League Baseball's recommended guidelines, but the new system will now exceed the standards previously established.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

 

Toronto Blue Jays

Stroman, Osuna likely headed for arbitration

Blue Jays reach agreements with Donaldson, 6 others
MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays appear destined for arbitration hearings with Marcus Stroman and Roberto Osuna after the star right-handers remained unsigned following Friday's deadline to exchange salary figures.

Toronto could not find common ground in negotiations with its closer and potential Opening Day starter, but it came to agreements elsewhere. Third baseman Josh Donaldson ($23 million), right-hander Aaron Sanchez ($2.75), outfielder Kevin Pillar ($3.25), second baseman Devon Travis ($1.45), outfielder Ezequiel Carrera ($1.9), left-hander Aaron Loup ($1.813) and right-hander Dominic Leone ($1.085) agreed to one-year deals.

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays appear destined for arbitration hearings with Marcus Stroman and Roberto Osuna after the star right-handers remained unsigned following Friday's deadline to exchange salary figures.

Toronto could not find common ground in negotiations with its closer and potential Opening Day starter, but it came to agreements elsewhere. Third baseman Josh Donaldson ($23 million), right-hander Aaron Sanchez ($2.75), outfielder Kevin Pillar ($3.25), second baseman Devon Travis ($1.45), outfielder Ezequiel Carrera ($1.9), left-hander Aaron Loup ($1.813) and right-hander Dominic Leone ($1.085) agreed to one-year deals.

Donaldson agrees to record $23M deal

Teams and arbitration-eligible players had until Friday afternoon at 1 p.m. ET to submit a salary number for the 2018 season. If the case proceeds, an independent arbiter will hear from both sides and choose one of the figures for a new contract before the start of Spring Training.

Video: Donaldson, Blue Jays avoid arbitration, agree on deal

New deals are permitted until the hearing starts, but the Blue Jays are considered a file-and-trial team. That means their policy is to not negotiate a one-year settlement after salary figures are exchanged, but exceptions are made for multiyear deals. Toronto could avoid arbitration with Stroman and Osuna, but it seems far less likely than it was earlier in the week.

"It's difficult," Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said when asked about the challenges of dealing with nine cases at one time. "Obviously, the players' representation recognized that and knew it would be more challenging for us. ... We were prepared. It's definitely challenging, but the hard work is done well before. Then it's just a matter of being disciplined in executing what your plan was."

Stroman is coming off a season in which he earned $3.4 million and established himself as one of the top young pitchers in the game. He surpassed 200 innings for the second consecutive year and his 3.09 ERA ranked fourth in the American League among qualified starters. According to multiple reports, Stroman filed at $6.9 million while the Blue Jays submitted an offer of $6.5 million.

Osuna will present a rather unique case at the arbitration hearing. He's entering his first year of arbitration eligibility with three full seasons as a closer under his belt, and he won't turn 23 until next month. The record amount handed out to a closer in his first year of arbitration was Zach Britton's $6.75 million salary in 2016. Britton entered that year with 73 saves, while Osuna currently has 95, but his salary won't approach the record. Osuna filed at $5.8 million and the Blue Jays filed at $5.3 million.

Video: TOR@NYY: Osuna strikes out Judge to secure the save

Toronto went almost two decades without taking a player to arbitration, but the streak ended in 2015 when Donaldson and infielder Danny Valencia went through the process. Last year, Stroman won his arbitration hearing after his figure of $3.4 million was picked over Toronto's bid of $3.1 million.

"The arbitration process is such an interesting one," Atkins said. "More and more teams are willing to go and therefore agents are more willing to go. That's cyclical and that's something that evolves over time and will probably shift again. ... For the most part, the player and team end up very, very close. However, the player and team also have done a ton of work, a lot of work, to prepare to ensure that they have their appropriate walkaways and defined positions. Sometimes it just doesn't line up."

With two keys players unsigned, a lot of groundwork remains for the Blue Jays, but Friday's development was still a step in the right direction. Donaldson's contract situation had been one of the more pressing issues the ballclub needed to take care of, and while there is still no indication of serious talks on a long-term deal, Toronto can move forward with more cost certainty for the upcoming season.

"We definitely still have flexbility and we definitely have room to make moves," Atkins said. "We feel like we're in a good position to continue to make our team better. Where that ends, we'll see."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

 

Toronto Blue Jays, Roberto Osuna, Marcus Stroman

Atkins: Blue Jays looking to 'complement' OF

Bruce no longer option, but his deal with Mets could be indicator of market
MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays remain in the market for another outfielder, but Jay Bruce is one name that finally can be scratched off their list of potential targets.

Bruce was taken off the market on Wednesday evening when he agreed to a three-year deal worth $39 million with the Mets, according to a source. That will put an end to the frequently mentioned Bruce-to-Toronto rumors that had been circling since a trade before the 2016 season fell apart at the last minute.

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays remain in the market for another outfielder, but Jay Bruce is one name that finally can be scratched off their list of potential targets.

Bruce was taken off the market on Wednesday evening when he agreed to a three-year deal worth $39 million with the Mets, according to a source. That will put an end to the frequently mentioned Bruce-to-Toronto rumors that had been circling since a trade before the 2016 season fell apart at the last minute.

The Bruce signing takes one big bat off the board, but the reported terms of the deal could prove quite favorable for the Blue Jays. Bruce's agents reportedly began the offseason by seeking a five-year deal worth upwards of $90 million, but his new deal fell short of that and should be a good indicator of the market.

Video: Bruce agrees to terms on three-year deal with Mets

Hot Stove Tracker

J.D. Martinez remains an unrealistic target, but Lorenzo Cain, Carlos Gonzalez and Carlos Gomez are among those who are also unsigned, while others such as Josh Harrison, Jason Kipnis and Christian Yelich are expected to be available through trade. Will some of the asking prices drop following the Bruce deal? Time will tell.

"That will be one of the things we look to fill, one of the holes we look to fill, to complement our outfielders," Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said earlier this week. "We also feel like we have a very good group that could potentially be in Triple-A. We feel like we could start the season with the outfielders that we have, but we will definitely look to see if there is a way to upgrade or complement our outfield."

The Blue Jays have a lot of options in the outfield, but there's also a pair of glaring holes at the corners that would benefit from an upgrade. Kevin Pillar is locked into the starting job in center field, and Teoscar Hernandez is an early favorite to win one of the other jobs. But after that, the club has a lot of question marks.

Prospect Anthony Alford would be best served by starting the year in the Minor Leagues. Ezequiel Carrera has to be considered a part-time player, and Steve Pearce is better utilized in a platoon rather than a full-time role. For a team that finished last year with the fewest runs scored in the American League, this is the most obvious spot on the roster to upgrade, and it should be the easiest area to address.

Yelich represents everything the Blue Jays are looking for, and Atkins has publicly confirmed an interest, but a deal with the Marlins still seems a little far-fetched. Toronto remains hesitant to part with core pieces of its future -- such as top prospects Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. -- and with so many other teams in the mix, the final asking price likely isn't that realistic for the Blue Jays.

"Here's what I could say on a player like Christian Yelich: All 30 teams are in, so it's not up to the Blue Jays on whether or not we get him," Atkins told the Fan 590 radio station in Toronto on Wednesday.

"We'll do what we can. We are definitely going to do everything we can to consider how we can make our team better in any possible way. And as you know, and as relates to players that are with other teams, there's only so much I can say. But Christian Yelich is a remarkable talent, and he's going to impact the Marlins or whoever he's playing for in a significant way. So we'll see."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

 

Toronto Blue Jays

Blue Jays flush with options in dynamic bullpen

Closer Osuna to be flanked by late-inning trio of Tepera, Barnes, Leone in 2018
MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- Relievers are notoriously difficult to project from one year to the next, but one thing working in Toronto's favor this year is that there are plenty of alternatives if somebody falters.

The Blue Jays might add another arm or two before the start of the season, but even if they don't, the club appears to be in a much better position than it was at this time last year. The emerging late-inning trio of Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes and Dominic Leone has taken care of that.

TORONTO -- Relievers are notoriously difficult to project from one year to the next, but one thing working in Toronto's favor this year is that there are plenty of alternatives if somebody falters.

The Blue Jays might add another arm or two before the start of the season, but even if they don't, the club appears to be in a much better position than it was at this time last year. The emerging late-inning trio of Ryan Tepera, Danny Barnes and Dominic Leone has taken care of that.

In a time when teams from all over baseball are having to shell out lucrative multiyear deals to shore up their bullpen, the Blue Jays have been able to stick with the status quo at a bargain-basement rate. Osuna will be in line for a large raise this offseason, but with the other top three not yet eligible for arbitration, this group is as affordable as it gets.

MLB.com is taking a look at the projected bullpen of all 30 teams ahead of Spring Training. Here's how the Blue Jays might stack up:

BULLPEN IF SEASON STARTED TODAY
Roberto Osuna, RHP (closer)
Ryan Tepera, RHP
Danny Barnes, RHP
Dominic Leone, RHP
Aaron Loup, LHP
Tim Mayza, LHP
Carlos Ramirez, RHP

STRENGTH
Osuna experienced more than his fair share of ups and downs in 2017, but at age 22 he's regarded as one of the most effective and reliable closers in the game. Combine the ninth-inning security with the trio of setup men and the Blue Jays should have enough pieces to lock down a lot of late leads. It's unrealistic to expect all three of Tepera/Barnes/Leone to match their '17 seasons, but Toronto should have enough depth to facilitate a drop-off from one of the big three and still be OK.

QUESTION MARK
What should the Blue Jays do with Ramirez? He's coming off a borderline historic season in the Minors after not allowing a single earned run over 37 2/3 innings between Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Buffalo. His performance as a September callup was not quite as successful, but five earned runs over 16 2/3 innings proved he can succeed on the big stage as well. Toronto is returning its top setup unit from a year ago, but if Ramirez cracks the big league bullpen out of Spring Training, he might give this relief corps the depth it needs. Alternatively, he's ready to step in if Tepera, Barnes or Leone struggle.

WHAT MIGHT CHANGE
Toronto has yet to find a reliable replacement for Brett Cecil, who left as a free agent following the 2016 season. Last year's experiment with J.P. Howell did not work out, and while Loup has his moments, he's not ideally suited to be the primary lefty reliever. The Blue Jays could use a lockdown situational lefty, and while Mayza or Matt Dermody may eventually settle into that role, they provide more confidence as Minor League depth.

The Blue Jays also would be well served to carry a traditional long reliever. That likely means Toronto would have to start the year with one lefty -- or alternatively with Ramirez beginning the season in Triple-A -- but it's an asset the rest of the bullpen needs to stay healthy. Right-hander Luis Santos is one possibility, and if the Blue Jays add another starter then Joe Biagini becomes an option here as well.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

 

Toronto Blue Jays

Past, present Blue Jays set for Winter Fest

Event to take place Jan. 20 at Rogers Centre
MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- If the Blue Jays have visions of turning Winter Fest into one of their signature annual events, then Wednesday's lineup reveal marked a pretty good start.

There will be 45 current players, prospects and Blue Jays alumni in attendance at Rogers Centre on Jan. 20. Front-office executives and personnel will also be on hand for a wide-ranging fan festival that includes autographs, interactive experiences and live entertainment.

TORONTO -- If the Blue Jays have visions of turning Winter Fest into one of their signature annual events, then Wednesday's lineup reveal marked a pretty good start.

There will be 45 current players, prospects and Blue Jays alumni in attendance at Rogers Centre on Jan. 20. Front-office executives and personnel will also be on hand for a wide-ranging fan festival that includes autographs, interactive experiences and live entertainment.

Marcus Stroman, Russell Martin, Kevin Pillar, Kendrys Morales and Devon Travis are among the current players taking part in the inaugural event. Others include: Anthony Alford, Danny Barnes, Joe Biagini, Ezequiel Carrera, Aledmys Diaz, Teoscar Hernandez, Luke Maile, Tim Mayza, Steve Pearce, Dalton Pompey and Ryan Tepera.

Winter Fest details

Just as compelling for Blue Jays fans will be the return of their favorite players from previous eras. Roberto Alomar, J.P. Arencibia, Jesse Barfield, George Bell, Homer Bush, Jose Cruz Jr., Juan Guzman, Pat Hentgen, Lloyd Moseby, Willie Upshaw, Duane Ward, Vernon Wells and Devon White will all be on hand.

Tweet from @BlueJays: 🥁 *DRUM ROLL PLEASE* 🥁#BlueJays fans, we're excited to reveal our player list for this year's inaugural #TBJWinterFest!Tickets are ALMOST sold out, so get yours TODAY!Details: https://t.co/YJ0mAHX18LTickets: https://t.co/B8HNAt9dNv pic.twitter.com/vNqTUoC3Od

The Blue Jays previously announced that their participants from this year's Rookie Development Program would also stick around the Toronto area for Winter Fest. Top prospects such as Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette will be in the city all week going through a big league orientation camp and then will be made available for autographs on the weekend.

MLB Pipeline's No. 6 Blue Jays prospect Sean Reid-Foley, No. 13 Ryan Borucki, No. 17 Dan Jansen, No. 18 Jonathan Davis, No. 19 Jordan Romano and No. 20 Jon Harris also will be in attendance. Other prospects include Roemon Fields, Taylor Guerrieri, Thomas Pannone, Lourdes Gurriel and Jason Leblebijian.

Per the Blue Jays, tickets for Winter Fest are almost sold out, but they can still be purchased at bluejays.com. Fan activities include a Spring Training zone that features a radar gun, baseball simulator, pitching in the bullpen and an on-field catch. The offseason zone is where fans will be able to curl, skate, take part in a hockey shootout and snap photos in the dugouts.

The "Around the Horn" section of Winter Fest will allow fans to receive instruction at the Blue Jays' baseball academy. There will be a grounds-crew showcase, a gaming room and a chance to take selfies with select players. Other interactive features include a Baseball Canada exhibit, Jr. Jays park, a coaches' autograph table and various activities spread throughout the stadium.

Full details about this year's event can be found at bluejays.com/winterfest. Doors are scheduled to open at 10 a.m. ET, and the event ends at 6:30 p.m.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

 

Toronto Blue Jays

Blue Jays name Mordecai quality control coach

MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- Longtime Blue Jays Minor League instructor Mike Mordecai received a long-awaited promotion to the big league club when he was named Toronto's new quality control coach on Wednesday.

Mordecai is entering his eighth season with the Blue Jays after having spent last year as an assistant field coordinator. He initially joined the organization in 2010 as a Minor League infield coordinator, and he earned rave reviews for his defensive work with then prospect Brett Lawrie.

TORONTO -- Longtime Blue Jays Minor League instructor Mike Mordecai received a long-awaited promotion to the big league club when he was named Toronto's new quality control coach on Wednesday.

Mordecai is entering his eighth season with the Blue Jays after having spent last year as an assistant field coordinator. He initially joined the organization in 2010 as a Minor League infield coordinator, and he earned rave reviews for his defensive work with then prospect Brett Lawrie.

The 50-year-old Mordecai played parts of 12 seasons in the Major Leagues with stints in Atlanta, Montreal and Florida. He was a career .244 hitter, and he retired in 2005 before coaching high school baseball and later joining the Blue Jays' organization.

Mordecai replaces Derek Shelton, who was hired by the Twins at the end of the season to serve as bench coach for manager Paul Molitor. The quality control coach is essentially responsible for helping Blue Jays players prepare for games. He works with the advanced scouting department both in terms of scouts and analytics to make sure information is properly conveyed to players.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

 

Toronto Blue Jays

Healthy Sanchez could set tone for rotation

Stroman, Happ also lead Toronto's projected group of starters
MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' starting rotation went from a supposed strength to a noticeable weakness in 2017. Will a similar group bounce back this year?

Well, a lot of that will depend on Aaron Sanchez.

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' starting rotation went from a supposed strength to a noticeable weakness in 2017. Will a similar group bounce back this year?

Well, a lot of that will depend on Aaron Sanchez.

Sanchez is by far the biggest X-factor Toronto has entering the season. When healthy, he arguably has as much upside as any pitcher in the game, but he comes with several major question marks as well. The 25-year-old has just one full season of starting under his belt, but during that 2016 campaign, he finished with an American League best 3.00 ERA. Last year, a lingering blister issue limited him to 36 innings and proved just how unpredictable pitchers can be.

A healthy Sanchez should turn this Blue Jays rotation into one of the best in baseball. An injured Sanchez could have a devastating effect on a staff that still might not have enough depth. Here's a closer look at Toronto's projected starting unit:

ROTATION IF SEASON STARTED TODAY
Marcus Stroman, RHP
J.A. Happ, LHP
Aaron Sanchez, RHP
Marco Estrada, RHP
Joe Biagini, RHP

STRENGTH
The Blue Jays are coming off a season in which they scored the fewest runs in the AL. The everyday lineup remains mostly intact, so it's clear Toronto's rotation will have to steal a lot of games in order to compete with New York and Boston. The top three of Stroman, Happ and Sanchez give the Blue Jays an opportunity to do just that. There's a lot to like here with Happ's dependability and the ability for Stroman/Sanchez to become two of the top pitchers in the Majors.

Video: Stroman has become Mr. Reliable for Blue Jays

QUESTION MARK
Which version of Estrada will show up in 2017? He was one of the most underrated pitchers in the AL from 2015-16, but last year, the veteran righty fell on tough times. Citing personal issues off the field, Estrada struggled for most of the year and finished with a 4.98 ERA. That's a far cry from the marks of 3.13 and 3.48 he posted in the two previous seasons, and he needs to regain that form to give the Blue Jays the kind of depth they need from the rotation.

WHAT MIGHT CHANGE
Biagini currently projects as the No. 5 starter, but it's still possible he will open the year in Toronto's bullpen or starting for Triple-A Buffalo. The Blue Jays are in the market for starting depth, and the addition of another proven arm would certainly change things for Biagini. A major addition such as Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish or even Alex Cobb does not appear to be in the cards, but a second-tier free agent remaines a possibility.

The Blue Jays likely would be well served to avoid using Biagini in the rotation at the start of the year. He has spent the past two seasons with the big league club, but almost all of that work came out of the bullpen, where he did not pitch out of the wind-up. If Toronto is intent on using him as a starter, there's a clear benefit to having him begin the season with Buffalo and continue to work out the kinks in his delivery. His presence as a depth piece also would allow the Blue Jays to manage injuries more effectively.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

 

Toronto Blue Jays

Questions remain, but lineup mostly intact

Donaldson's power biggest strength in Toronto's projected starting 9
MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- There is still plenty of time for things to change, but the Blue Jays' current projected lineup looks very similar to the one that they ended the 2017 season with.

Longtime franchise icon Jose Bautista is a free agent, and Teoscar Hernandez has an opportunity to earn regular playing time. But outside of that, Toronto has -- to date -- stuck with the status quo.

TORONTO -- There is still plenty of time for things to change, but the Blue Jays' current projected lineup looks very similar to the one that they ended the 2017 season with.

Longtime franchise icon Jose Bautista is a free agent, and Teoscar Hernandez has an opportunity to earn regular playing time. But outside of that, Toronto has -- to date -- stuck with the status quo.

In an offseason that has been slow to develop, additional moves are still expected. But with Spring Training approximately one month away, MLB.com is examining the projected lineups for all 30 teams in the Major Leagues. Here's a closer look at the Blue Jays' options:

LINEUP IF SEASON STARTED TODAY

Devon Travis, 2B
Josh Donaldson, 3B
Justin Smoak, 1B
Kendrys Morales, DH
Russell Martin, C
Troy Tulowitzki, SS
Teoscar Hernandez, RF
Steve Pearce, LF
Kevin Pillar, CF

STRENGTH

Donaldson's long-term future remains very much in question, but as long as he's in Toronto, the Blue Jays possess one of the most feared hitters in the game. The pending free agent has the ability to almost single-handedly carry a lineup for weeks at a time, and if Toronto has a shot at contending in 2018, Donaldson will need to have an MVP-caliber season. Travis and Smoak each come with questions and potentially some skepticism, but they have the type of upside that, when combined with Donaldson, could help the Blue Jays' top three match up with just about any team in baseball.

QUESTION MARK

There's a clear lack of depth to this projected starting nine. Toronto scored the fewest runs in the American League last season, and while improved health from Travis, Tulowitzki and Donaldson would help, this team is still missing another impact bat. Bigger things will have to be expected from Morales after a disappointing season that saw him post a .753 OPS, which was below his career norms despite moving to the more hitter-friendly ballparks of the AL East. Another question is whether the Blue Jays would consider using Travis in left field to create playing time at second for Aledmys Diaz.

WHAT MIGHT CHANGE

The outfield is still very much in a state of flux. Pillar will be the everyday center fielder, but everything else is up in the air. Pearce and Ezequiel Carrera currently project to platoon in left, but the Blue Jays could easily upgrade the position both offensively and defensively. Hernandez and prospect Anthony Alford have options remaining and can be sent to the Minors, which further increases Toronto's ability to facilitate moves.

Toronto's catching and infield depth seem fine. The outfield has plenty of options, but the lineup needs to be upgraded somewhere, and that is the most obvious spot. In 2017, Blue Jays outfielders were one of baseball's least effective units, with a combined .718 OPS. The current group risks continuing that trend, but the offseason is still far from over.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

 

Toronto Blue Jays

Shapiro: Blue Jays proactive with infield depth

Toronto's offseason additions help offset risk of injuries
MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays expect to have Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis healthy for the start of the season, but their checkered history of injuries has played a major role in Toronto's offseason.

Toronto has a projected starting infield of Tulowitzki, Travis, Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak, but despite all of the returning players, the Blue Jays made infield depth their top priority. The moves to acquire Aledmys Diaz and Yangervis Solarte raised more than a few eyebrows, but it doesn't necessarily mean a major shake-up is coming.

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays expect to have Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis healthy for the start of the season, but their checkered history of injuries has played a major role in Toronto's offseason.

Toronto has a projected starting infield of Tulowitzki, Travis, Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak, but despite all of the returning players, the Blue Jays made infield depth their top priority. The moves to acquire Aledmys Diaz and Yangervis Solarte raised more than a few eyebrows, but it doesn't necessarily mean a major shake-up is coming.

Hot Stove Tracker

There's a possibility that Travis could eventually end up in the outfield, but for now, these moves were made to solidify depth. On paper, there are not enough at-bats to go around, but after Travis and Tulowitzki spent significant time on the disabled list during each of the past three seasons, the Blue Jays know all too well how quickly that can change.

Video: Rosenthal breaks down impact of Solarte to Blue Jays

"I think the last couple of weeks were our efforts to recognize that we have two infielders that we feel strongly about in Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis, but both guys have had some injury issues and went into the offseason injured," Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro said during an appearance on MLB Network on Monday. "We still feel really good about their ability to be productive this year, but we felt like we had to offset the risk."

Travis is exactly the type of hitter the Blue Jays' lineup needs to be successful. He's the favorite to hit leadoff, and a .792 OPS over 213 career games proves there is a lot of upside in his bat. The problem is that Travis has never appeared in more than 101 games in a season and he has spent the offseason rehabbing from yet another knee injury.

Tulowitzki hasn't been able to avoid the DL since joining the Blue Jays either. He didn't play again after sustaining a severely sprained ankle in July that included ligament damage. Tulowitzki has been passing all of his tests this offseason, but as someone who hasn't played more than 131 games since 2011, he needs added protection as well.

"Over the offseason, he has gone through a progression with a physical therapist out in Las Vegas and has met every test and felt good along the way," Shapiro said of Tulowitzki. "Obviously, the last two years present some concern because when someone gets hurt a lot, it makes you start to be concerned about projecting for usage this year.

"We'll work with Troy. Troy is a pro, very intelligent player, understands his own game. We're going to have to be proactive in managing a workload, and I think that is a lot of what [general manager] Ross [Atkins] wanted to do with Diaz -- go out and make sure we've got guys around him so when [manager John Gibbons] does feel like it's the right time to keep Troy strong, to ensure he has the best chance possible to stay healthy, that we've got a quality Major League alternative in his place."

The Blue Jays are approximately one month away from the start of Spring Training, but they are eyeing upgrades in several areas of their roster. Shapiro was clear that his team is not done.

"Much like a lot of teams, our offseason is not over," Shapiro said. "We've been a slow player, but we still feel like we'd like to shore up the outfield and maybe add a depth piece to the rotation and still have some resources to work from."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

 

Toronto Blue Jays

Blue Jays land versatile Solarte from Padres

Minor Leaguers Olivares, Carkuff sent to San Diego
MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- Increased versatility has been the Blue Jays' top priority this offseason, and general manager Ross Atkins further stressed its importance on Saturday afternoon by trading for infielder Yangervis Solarte.

Solarte was acquired from the Padres in exchange for Minor League outfielder Edward Olivares and right-hander Jared Carkuff. Olivares was ranked Toronto's No. 18 prospect by MLB Pipeline, while Carkuff was taken in the 35th round of the 2016 MLB Draft.

TORONTO -- Increased versatility has been the Blue Jays' top priority this offseason, and general manager Ross Atkins further stressed its importance on Saturday afternoon by trading for infielder Yangervis Solarte.

Solarte was acquired from the Padres in exchange for Minor League outfielder Edward Olivares and right-hander Jared Carkuff. Olivares was ranked Toronto's No. 18 prospect by MLB Pipeline, while Carkuff was taken in the 35th round of the 2016 MLB Draft.

Video: Rosenthal breaks down impact of Solarte to Blue Jays

The 30-year-old Solarte will assume the role of utility infielder following a season in which he played all four positions for San Diego and slashed .255/.314/.416 in 128 games. He becomes the third infielder acquired by the Blue Jays this offseason, along with Aledmys Diaz and Gift Ngoepe.

"We've been talking about Yangervis for a long time internally, and our discussions date back to the end of last year," Atkins said. "He's an interesting, versatile player who has a nice offensive track record, a great reputation in the clubhouse and one that we thought would complement us well."

Tweet from @BlueJays: Welcome to the #BlueJays, @Solarte26! 💪 pic.twitter.com/MjUe1L4k5u

Toronto has a projected starting infield of Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Devon Travis and Justin Smoak but that hasn't stopped them from making multiple additions this winter. Tulowitzki and Travis have spent significant time on the disabled list in each of the past three years, and the Blue Jays seem determined to be better prepared in case that happens again.

Video: Shapiro discusses acquiring Solarte, Diaz

Solarte and Diaz figure to occupy two spots on Toronto's bench, but there's also a scenario in which Travis could move to left field, which would open up second base. Toronto has remained non-committal about that possibility, but it's worth noting that Atkins has yet to rule it out. For now, the priority is making sure Travis arrives in Spring Training healthy and ready to go for the start of the season.

Beyond the big league roster, the Blue Jays also possess a substantial amount of infield depth. Ngoepe isn't strong offensively, but he's an elite defender, and other options include prospects Lourdes Gurriel and Richard Urena.

Video: Blue Jays look to make their next move

"We'll see," Atkins said when asked if Travis would switch positions to ease the logjam. "I think first and foremost, we are focused on Devon's health. He is one of the better second basemen in the game when he is healthy, and once we get him to that point and see how the rest of our lineup takes shape, then we'll determine how we start to prepare guys for their playing time in the season. There's still work to do in our offseason."

With the infield settled, the Blue Jays are expected to shift their attention to the starting rotation, corner outfield and possibly bullpen. Joe Biagini remains a candidate for the fifth starter's job, and the Blue Jays have no shortage of options in the outfield but would still be well-served to add an impact bat from outside the organization.

The switch-hitting Solarte will earn $4.125 million this season and has team options for 2019 ($5.5 million) and '20 ($8 million) remaining on his contract. The Blue Jays are expected to have approximately $15-20 million left to spend on a payroll that should approach last year's total of $160-165 million.

Tweet from @BlueJays: Yeah, the GIFs are also going to love @Solarte26. 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/vk4RMPbgEK

Olivares, 21, took a significant step forward in 2017 after advancing to Class A Lansing, where he played 101 games and posted a .277/.330/.500 slash line with 17 homers and 65 RBIs. Carkuff, 24, reached as high as Triple-A Buffalo last year. On the season, between four Minor League classes, he went 3-4 with a 3.86 ERA in 63 innings.

"There's never an easy trade because there are always compromises and sacrifices," Atkins said. "Edward is a solid player. I think it's a testament to our outfield depth, and that helped the trade along, but I think it's more a testament to the overall depth of our system and the recent work of our scouting and player development department. Edward was one of the pieces we were excited about, and we were able to make a long-term sacrifice [to help] the immediate future."

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.

 

San Diego Padres, Toronto Blue Jays, Yangervis Solarte