What We've Learned (2017 Edition)


Article Written by Adam Corsair (@ACorsair21)

2017 was a year that most Toronto Blue Jays fans would like to forget. Given how successful both the 2015 and 2016 seasons were, we anticipated the team to be a lot more competitive than they actually were, leading to perhaps another playoff run. Even despite the fact that the team decided to move on from Edwin Encarnacion - which wasn't at all entirely the fault of the Blue Jays' Front Office - with the addition of Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce, we approached the season as if the Jays had enough offensive talent to mitigate the loss and still power their way through. Moreover, with how strong the starting pitching staff was (on paper, at least), there was no reason to believe that the Jays would be able to overcome such obstacles as the Yankees, Red Sox, and Orioles once again. 

Yet, things don't always end up the way we anticipate that they will, and this is no exception. The Jays suffered a large number of injuries and unfortunately did not have the depth in the system to properly fill in the gaps in order for the team to accomplish the goal of reaching the Post Season. Such injuries proved to be crucial, as Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin, and Aaron Sanchez were all out for an extended period of time, thereby delivering a crucial blow to the team and its production. In addition to those extended losses, Josh Donaldson's early season injury coupled with the time it took for him to fully recover and become the offensive juggernaut that we are familiar with (he wasn't quite right until about August), along with Devon Travis being bit by the injury bug again, the Jays hoped to attain the second Wild Card spot if they wanted to make the Post Season at all. The Jays never were able to climb out of the 0-9 hole they dug themselves in at the start of the season, and were also never able to reach the .500 mark throughout the entirety of the it as well. Whether it was injuries, under-performance, improvements from the teams within the American League, or all of the above, the Jays never found a way to overcome such obstacles and the season ended with a lot to be desired.

The end result was a 76-86 record, placing them 4th in the AL East jjjuuusssttt above the Orioles - who finished 75-87. Being 10 games under the .500 mark is a massive drop-off from how they finished the year prior (89-73) and it's almost as if we were watching a completely different team than what we expected. That's mostly because... well... they were. But having said all of this, there were a lot of things that we could learn from as a result of the 2017 season. We shouldn't shy away from the bruises and the ugly things we witnessed from this team, as they will end up being things that the teams will really need to focus on in order to improve. But, as fans, we should pay particular attention to both the tangible and intangible things that we can learn from when looking back at this past season. 

Thus, with the World Series almost underway, it may be the perfect time to reflect on what we've learned over the course of the season and how we can apply it to the 2018 season to better prepare ourselves, as fans. So let's break it down.

1. Depth is Key

I think it's fair to say that it's going to be harder and harder to rely on both Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin to be able to play a full season for the Blue Jays for the remainder of their contracts (2021 & 2019, respectively). Given the physical demands of each position, the whole "playing on turf" thing, and their respective injury history, the outlook of them being able to crack even 100 games each may be asking a bit too much. Things don't look much better when we throw Devon Travis into the mix. Travis, although young and full of potential, has yet to play a full season during his short tenure as major league player. It's unfortunate to say - and I'm almost reluctant to do so - but it's hard not to consider him injury prone and to rely on him playing a full season until we actually see him do it. Thus, these are three incredibly crucial positions (catcher, short stop, and second base) that are occupied by three players that we cannot totally rely on to seize throughout an entire season. With how productive these three players are when they're at their best, the drop-off in production is noticeable and, more importantly, detrimental to the team on the whole when they aren't in the lineup for a prolonged period of time due to injury. This is way serviceable and reliable depth is key.

Now, I don't say "reliable" in the sense that their respective replacements need to stay healthy, exclusively. That's certainly part of it. But when the team is penciling in players like Ryan Goins, Darwin Barney, Jarrod Saltamalacchia, Luke Maile, Miguel Montero, Rob Refsnyder, and Chris Coghlan into the lineup, it won't yield the results that is typically produced from a winning team. Basically, they're bodies to fill the positions out of necessity. 

Thus, it's absolutely critical that the Jays acquire talent that can fill in for these positions when they (inevitably) have to, without a massive drop-off in production. Sure, no replacement level talent will produce the same results that Travis, Martin, and Tulowitzki will be able to when they're 100% healthy - and no one is expecting them to. But to have depth on the bench that will be able to at least mitigate the loss of these players will be crucial to the Jays' success in the 2018.

This, of course, is wwaaayyy easier said than done, and I am not taking the "JUST GO OUT AND GET IT!" approach that a lot of fans take towards the Front Office. But, I don't think it's too much of a tall order for the them to take on. 

Moreover, I understand that the drop-off in production is greatly exacerbated when all three of Travis, Martin, and Tulowitzki are out at the same time. Much of the woes that the Jays experience had a lot to do with just this, so it'll be hard to be able to find a utility infielder that would otherwise be ready to occupy one of short-stop or second base. It gets way more difficult when both of those positions need to be filled. I get it. 

But, in order for the Jays to not fall in the standings, they'll need to have much more reliable and effective depth.

2. Blisters

The Jays, as well as the MLB in general, have to figure out whether or not there's a direct correlation between the newly developed/constructed baseballs and heightened amount of blister issues that some pitchers experienced this past season. Of course, for the sake of this post, I'm aiming most of the concern over at Aaron Sanchez and how he was unable to rebound throughout the vast majority of the season as a result. 

With the massive amount of potential that Sanchez has, as well as the high expectations the organization and fanbase has for him as a starting pitcher, it's really unfortunate to see him miss time as a result of something that we would otherwise consider to be minor. However, that's obviously a misjudgment on our behalf as a lot of fans are completely blind to how detrimental a blister on a pitcher's throwing hand is in terms of how much it can effect his movement and velocity. You have to understand that the seams of the baseball are basically being gripped a certain way and are continuously rolling off the pitcher's fingers in such a way that makes the baseball break or elevate, or drop, etc. If there's something preventing a pitcher from being able to throw what is necessary in a given at bat (i.e. a blister), then the pitcher will be left exposed and.. well, the end result won't be pretty.

Thus, some sort of investigation process needs to be performed by the MLB, or at least by the Jays if they still plan on relying on Sanchez to be an important part of the starting rotation (which, why wouldn't they?). They Jays simply cannot afford to cross their fingers and hope that this is just a blip on the radar for Sanchez. Not reaching unrestricted free agency until 2021, the Jays will need to have Sanchez at his best for remainder of his contract if they are serious about being contenders. He simply won't be able to pitch the way we all know he is capable of pitching if he continues to suffer these blister issues. 

Given how young and talented Sanchez is, this should be one of the Jays' top priorities this off-season.

3. Leave The Memories Alone

I'm pretty confident in saying that we have probably seen José Bautista play his final game as a Toronto Blue Jay. Not only am I confident with that, but I'm also pretty ok with that, too. Look, it's not that I don't appreciate all of the incredible moments that Bautista was able to give to us over his long tenure as a Blue Jay; I truly do. It's just that I personally hate seeing someone that was such bright spot for the Jays during a time when they were so hard to watch perform like a shell of his former self. 

Thus, perhaps this year - if nothing else - provided both the fans and Bautista to have a little bit of closure, as well as the opportunity to say "thank you!" and "goodbye." With how much Bautista wanted over the off-season coupled with the Front Office's reluctance to overpay for his services, it seemed unlikely that we would have been able to do that. Thankfully, though, he was able to witness how much fans in the city of Toronto appreciated him and his efforts throughout the years, as he left the final home game of the season to a massive standing ovation that is hard to forget and not get a bit teary eyed over. 

It's one of those things that is extremely important to Toronto sports fans, in particular, to the point where it shouldn't be tainted. Unfortunately, with that sort of send off, it certainly looks as though the writing is on the wall for Bautista and his time as a Blue Jay is, in fact, over. Moreover, it certainly seems as though Teoscar Hernández has turned enough heads within the organization that he may be the heir to the right field throne that Bautista has occupied throughout much of his time as a Jay (although, it may not necessarily be simply handed to Hernández). 

It's one of those things that remind us how incredibly special this team is and how much we not only value, but respect and appreciate the players that have cemented themselves into legendary status among the fanbase. Bautista will certainly one day be on the Level of Excellence, and he's more than earned that right. Perhaps the second best Blue Jay of all time (No. 1 goes to Almoar guys. C'mon...), the way Bautista was able to show his respect for the organization and, more importantly, the city was done in a such a way that it's probably best for both parties to walk away from each other and meet again down the road. 

4. It's Not That Easy (with Donaldson)

I've talk about this before, and I know it's a very touchy subject, but 2018 is going to dictate a lot when it comes to the future relationship between the Toronto Blue Jays and Josh Donaldson. I believe that depending on how successful the Jays are next season will determine whether or not they decide to offer Donaldson a long-term deal to stay. and 2017 sort of showed that they operate this way.

Look, I get that he - much like Bautista - is one of those special players that fans latch on to and have a hard time letting go of. But, if the Jays find themselves to be in a similar situation that they were this past year at the trade deadline, perhaps it's best for the organization's future if they move Donaldson for a package of highly ranked major league ready prospects. The Front Office seems to have a soft spot for young controllable players and have not said otherwise. Further, the aspect of both 1) getting into a bidding war with another ball club and/or 2) signing a 32/33 year old free agent to a massive contract has never served this organization well. When examining all of the factors, it's not as simple as "Just sign him!" as many fans would like it to be. Signing Josh Donaldson to a lucrative and long-term contract has the very high risk of preventing the organization to sign other players that will be needed to fill necessary holes. Moreover, with the likes of Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. being so hyped and almost prophesized for 2019, along with Morales and Smoak being on the team for next several years on much cheaper contracts (than JD will cost), it's hard to find a spot for him to play on a daily basis.

Thus, don't be surprised if the organization moves on from Donaldson if it means securing their future for years to come. Regressing is a thing and it's very hard to find examples of 32/33 year old players that are signed to 5-6 year deals worth upwards of $25-$30MM per year and perform as such throughout the majority of that contract. I'm not saying the Front Office won't do this - I simply don't know. But their past signings and moves lead me to believe that they won't.

Which brings me to...

5. Trust Atkins & Shapiro

For too long now have fans been vacantly critical of both Atkins and Shapiro to the point where it's comical. The main source of contention that such fans have towards the duo is their "failure" to sign Encarnacaion; all while completely ignoring the fact that they offered Edwin a 4 year $80MM contract that included a 5th year option worth $20MM, bringing it to a possible total of 5 years at $100MM. If you haven't noticed, this is considerably less than what Edwin ended up signing for in Cleveland (3 years at $60MM with a $20MM option). They ignore the fact that it wasn't the lack of trying on the parts of Atkins and Shapiro, but a matter of overestimating the market by Encarnacion's agent, Paul Kinzer. All such fans pay attention to is the end result - no Edwin - and falsely conclude it's all because of Atkins and Shapiro's reluctance to spend, without doing any sort of investigation of the facts. But I digress...

The team of Atkins and Shapiro have made some very solid moves for the Jays, such as acquiring Teoscar Hernández in exchange for Francisco Liriano (the latter of whom we acquired by trading away Drew Hutchinson). They have an eye for talent and are doing all that they can to build a sustainable competitive team that will be a threat for other teams within the American League. Thus, with how much leverage and patience they gave the Jays this year, as well as the talent that they acquired at the deadline, we should expect them to be aggressive this off-season and regard them as genuine when they say that they do not want a repeat of last season.

This is especially evident with how aggressive they were in their extension with Marco Estrada. They wasted no time in getting the deal done, thereby already started solidifying their starting rotation before the season even ended. Simply put, they know what they currently have isn't enough to compete for a playoff run and will do all that they can to make that possible.

Does that mean that they'll be successful in doing so? Not necessarily, but it's incorrect to reason that this because of them rather than players' reluctance to sign with Toronto for really dumb reasons (travel, taxes, customs, etc.). But if you've learned anything throughout the course of the 2017 season when it comes to both Atkins and Shapiro, I hope it's that they are serious when it comes to winning. They want to win and want to keep bringing that playoff atmosphere to Toronto. 

Why wouldn't they?

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