DUNEDIN, Fla. -- People have been saying this for at least the last two years, but the Blue Jays are about to enter another make-or-break season with their aging core of position players.Toronto has every intention of contending for a spot in the postseason, and Blue Jays fans will have
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- People have been saying this for at least the last two years, but the Blue Jays are about to enter another make-or-break season with their aging core of position players.
Toronto has every intention of contending for a spot in the postseason, and Blue Jays fans will have to hope that comes to fruition, because if not, some pretty big changes could be coming in the not-so-distant future. With six pending free agents, including some prominent names, the time to win is now.
The most likely scenario this season is that general manager Ross Atkins and the Blue Jays' front office will continue to add instead of subtract from its current core. Toronto believes the window of opportunity is still there, and with question marks in left field and first base, the priority in the coming months will be continuing to increase its veteran depth.
The Blue Jays' biggest challenge will be finding creative ways to acquire that premium talent. Toronto's Minor League system is stronger than it was a year ago, but the club still isn't in a position to part with its top prospects without further mortgaging a future that is already murky following years of blockbuster trades under former GM Alex Anthopoulos.
Despite the lack of Minor League options, Toronto managed to pull off a couple of moves last year that may offer some insight into how the club will operate in 2017. The Blue Jays acquired relievers Jason Grilli and Joaquin Benoit for pennies on the dollar and used their available cash to take on Francisco Liriano's contract from the Pirates. Expect a similar strategy this year, when the club will try to use funds instead of prospect capital to get something done.
One of the big questions that nobody wants to talk about, though, is what happens if this season goes south? Toronto would have to be pretty far back in the standings to become a seller at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, but if that does happen, the club will have no choice but to shake things up and look to rebuild for 2018.
Marco Estrada, Grilli, Liriano and likely Jose Bautista will become free agents at the end of the season. The primary plan is to keep all four, but if this team doesn't contend, expect some movement here. Grilli has proven himself before as a mid-season acquisition for a contending team's bullpen, while Liriano and Estrada could be major boons to any starting staff. Bautista's situation is a little more complicated because he can veto a trade thanks to his 10/5 rights, and he also has a mutual option on his contract for the 2018 season.
The vast majority of Toronto's prospects are at least one more year away from contributing at the big league level and realistically it will take even longer than that. Two possible exceptions are first baseman Rowdy Tellez and infielder/outfielder Lourdes Gurriel. Tellez could use some more seasoning at Triple-A Buffalo, but there's an outside chance he could become a factor later in the year. If this roster is ripped apart, the same thing could be said about Gurriel.
Those issues can wait until much later in the season. The priority right now is to contend, and that's the main reason to expect that the Blue Jays will be buyers this year instead of sellers.
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.