5 big questions for Blue Jays going into 2019
The Blue Jays have turned the page on an illustrious chapter in franchise history and will look to usher in the cornerstones of another era when the offseason officially gets underway.
Few players remain from the Toronto team that reached the American League Championship Series in 2015 and '16. Josh Donaldson, J.A. Happ and likely Marco Estrada are among the former core pieces that played their final games for the Blue Jays in 2018. For better or worse, the future has become the present.
The 2018 season didn't go the way anybody associated with the Blue Jays wanted it to, but a team that spent much of the second half out of contention has a clear direction. The rebuild is on and this offseason will be about laying the foundation for 2019 and the years beyond.
1. Who will be the new Blue Jays manager?
First things first, the Blue Jays need to find a replacement for longtime manager John Gibbons. This will be Ross Atkins' first managerial search since taking over as general manager in the fall of 2015, and it should last deep into October -- possibly longer, if the Blue Jays want to interview candidates currently employed by teams in the postseason.
Early indications are that the Blue Jays are searching for a fresh face. It would be a surprise if a veteran manager such as Eric Wedge got the job; instead, expect Toronto to target managers who might not have much experience, but who come to the table with fresh ideas. Former Blue Jay John McDonald and Double-A manager John Schneider have been mentioned as possible candidates. Stubby Clapp is the local favorite thanks in large part to his longtime service with Baseball Canada, but his candidacy is strengthened by being named the Pacific Coast League's manager of the year. Expect new names to surface in the next week or two.
2. What will Atkins do in free agency?
The Blue Jays are expected to target pitching, pitching and more pitching. Barring something totally unexpected, Toronto's pool of position players should remain relatively unchanged. The Blue Jays will be returning multiple players in the outfield, infield and behind the plate, but there are holes in the pitching staff.
Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and Ryan Borucki should take three spots in the rotation. A free-agent starter addition seems likely, while the final spot could come down to a competition between Sean Reid-Foley, Thomas Pannone, Jacob Waguespack and the soon-to-be-acquired Julian Merryweather. In the bullpen, only Ken Giles and Dennis Tepera have guaranteed jobs, while Tim Mayza and Jose Fernandez provide internal options from the left side. Expect Toronto to target veteran relievers on short-term contracts who can help out right away and potentially become assets at the non-waiver Trade Deadline.
3. Will the Blue Jays look to trade Sanchez or Stroman?
That was the original expectation, but that seems pretty unrealistic now. Sanchez has barely pitched over the last two seasons and he recently underwent surgery on his problematic right index finger. Stroman has battled blister issues over the last two years and he's coming off a season in which he posted a 5.54 ERA. Trading away either pitcher this offseason would be selling for pennies on the dollar.
Stroman and Sanchez each have two years of control remaining. Their timelines do not match up with the next wave of Blue Jays talent, so it seems likely that they will be shopped eventually. But ideally, it happens midway through next year, after both starters have re-established themselves as top-tier options.
4. Who stays and who goes in the infield?
Troy Tulowitzki says he'll be ready to go next season, but even if he's not, the Blue Jays have too many infielders for too few spots. MLB Pipeline top prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is expected to make his Major League debut by the end of April and the Blue Jays have Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Aledmys Diaz, Devon Travis and Brandon Drury at their disposal, as well. If there's an enticing offer to be had for Diaz, Travis or possibly even Drury, expect the Blue Jays to explore it.
5. Who will get added to the 40-man roster?
Atkins' biggest challenge this offseason will be deciding who gets protected before December's Rule 5 Draft. Toronto has a large group of prospects who will have to be added to the 40-man roster, and there are only so many spots to go around. Among those who are at risk: RHP Hector Perez, RHP Patrick Murphy, RHP Jon Harris, RHP Yennsy Diaz, RHP Jordan Romano, RHP Jacob Waguespack, OF Forrest Wall and OF Harold Ramirez. That's eight players for an organization that has just two pending free agents on the 40-man roster. There will be a lot of clutter to get rid of this offseason and at least a couple of promising prospects who might be at risk of being poached from the organization.