Blue Jays look to prove 2015 was no fluke
Club has work to do in offseason to rebuild rotation
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays ended a 22-year postseason drought with a memorable run through the American League in 2015, but now they will have to prove they were not a one-year wonder.
Toronto seems well positioned to contend again next year with the entire core on offense under control for at least one more year. There are plenty of question marks on the pitching staff, though, and with a number of prominent free agents on the roster, it should prove to be an eventful offseason.
Here's a closer look at each spot on the roster and what questions the Blue Jays will have to answer this winter:
Arbitration-eligible: OF Ben Revere, OF Michael Saunders, 3B Josh Donaldson, 1B Justin Smoak, C Josh Thole, LHP Brett Cecil, LHP Aaron Loup, RHP Drew Hutchison.
Free agents: IF Cliff Pennington, C Dioner Navarro, LHP Mark Buehrle, RHP Marco Estrada, LHP David Price, RHP Mark Lowe, RHP LaTroy Hawkins, LHP Jeff Francis.
Team options: RF Jose Bautista, 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion, RHP R.A. Dickey, IF Maicer Izturis.
Rotation: The Blue Jays face more uncertainty in their starting rotation than any other spot on the roster. Three-fifths of their staff -- Price, Estrada and Buehrle -- are eligible for free agency, while the club has a club option on Dickey. Right-hander Marcus Stroman and Hutchison are the only two certainties, so it's clear that Toronto will have some work to do this winter.
Right-handers Roberto Osuna and Aaron Sanchez could transition to starters, but the club would be well served to do whatever it can to re-sign Price and Estrada or find comparable options on the open market. Both have expressed an interest in returning, but a hometown discount can't be expected, especially for Price, who will have no shortage of suitors.
Bullpen: The fate of the bullpen will be directly tied to what happens with the rotation. If Toronto finds a couple of starters through trade or the open market, then Sanchez and Osuna likely will return to their eighth and ninth inning roles. If the Blue Jays strike out on acquiring multiple starters, they may have no choice but to consider a transition to the rotation. The problem with that scenario is that both pitchers -- especially Osuna -- would have to be under a strict innings limit.
Catcher: Russell Martin is under contract for another four years, so the only uncertainty surrounds the backup catcher spot. Navarro is set to hit free agency and likely will seek a team where he can receive more playing time. Thole is arbitration eligible, and if the Blue Jays pick up Dickey's option, then he'll likely be back as his personal catcher next season. If Dickey doesn't return, Thole probably doesn't either.
First base: Smoak and Chris Colabello are under control for another year and the Blue Jays could simply opt for the status quo. Smoak will be the more expensive of the two, as he's eligible for arbitration after being non-tendered and then re-signed by the club prior to the 2015 season. Colabello won't be arbitration-eligible for another year and should be a bargain once again in 2016. Encarnacion also is an option here, but he'll likely receive most of his playing time at DH.
Second base: Devon Travis and Ryan Goins are both under control for 2016, and while the Blue Jays could look to trade someone, they might be best served keeping both. Travis began 2015 as the starter and seemed primed to become a Rookie of the Year candidate until a lingering left shoulder injury limited his season to 62 games. That opened the door for Goins, who responded with a strong two months to finish the season. With both players making close to the league minimum, money won't be a factor in what the Blue Jays ultimately decide to do.
Shortstop: Troy Tulowitzki is under control through the 2020 season with a team option for 2021. Health permitting, he'll be the starter on a regular basis, but the Blue Jays need to find a reliable backup. If Travis and Goins are both on the roster, Goins can easily slide over to short whenever Tulowitzki needs a day off. Otherwise a utility infielder like Pennington will need to be added.
Third base: Donaldson is under control for another three years, and while his arbitration salary of $4.3 million is set to soar this offseason, the Blue Jays will gladly pay whatever amount he gets. Donaldson's arbitration case earlier this year was the first time Toronto went through the process since 1997, and they could be headed for a similar fate this spring.
Outfield: The Blue Jays have plenty of options, but only three full-time spots available, so some tough decisions will have to be made. Bautista's $14 million option will be picked up, while Pillar likely will be back as the starter in center. Revere is eligible for arbitration and could be in line for a salary that approaches $6 million. If that's too expensive, the Blue Jays could opt to keep Saunders and hope for a bounceback year after an injury-plagued 2015 campaign. Rookie Dalton Pompey remains in the fold as well, but unless Toronto makes a couple of moves in the outfield, his path to the big leagues remains unclear.