Article Written by Hudson Stewart (@hudson_stewart6)
The Blue Jays officially ended their 2018 season Sunday in Tampa Bay, with a 9-4 loss to the Rays. The Jays finished the year in 4th place in the A.L. East with a record of 73-89. Overall, this was a very disappointing year for the Jays, and a year that sort of signaled the beginning of the rebuild for this team. We saw some familiar faces leave town, but we also saw an influx of youth in the team as the year went on. In this article, I’ll unpack everything that happened for this year’s Blue Jays; from what went wrong to some bright spots, and also a look ahead to next year.
Unlike last season, where they started the year 1-9, the Jays actually started the 2018 season pretty well. After 17 games, they were 12-5 and appeared to be a team that would at least challenge for a playoff spot. After that though, the injuries began to pile up and the Jays would never really get back on track. Key players like Stroman, Sanchez, and Donaldson were bit by the injury bug, and the Jays weren’t able to keep pace with the rest of the A.L. East. Things continued to go poorly through May, when Roberto Osuna was charged with domestic assault against his girlfriend. Osuna was pitching well once again out of the closer role, but after this came out, Osuna’s Blue Jays career was over, even though we didn’t know it at the time.
As the season progressed, it became clearer and clearer that this team wasn’t headed to the postseason. Thus, we were able to see some of the Jays’ young prospects come up and play. Among many others, Danny Jansen, Ryan Borucki, Rowdy Tellez, and Thomas Pannone were all very impressive in their time in the MLB. As the season went on, John Gibbons, who was managing in his last season with the Blue Jays, began to take away playing time from veterans like Russell Martin and Kendrys Morales, and give it to the younger players in order to see what they could do. During the games in September specifically, Jays fans were able to see what the team will likely look like for years to come, with guys like Billy McKinney, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Danny Jansen getting a lot of playing time. It may not have resulted in many wins, but I’ll take watching the prospects play over the veterans with nothing else to prove.
The Trade Deadline
Like I said earlier, the Jays had to part ways with some familiar faces this year, and a lot of that came at the trading deadline(s).
In June, the Jays traded away Steve Pearce to the Red Sox in exchange for SS Santiago Espinal. This was a minor move, but it was a sign of things to come.
Then, near the trade deadline, Toronto dealt Seung-Hwan Oh to the Rockies in exchange for 2 prospects: Forrest Wall and Chad Spangenberg. It’s hard to tell if either of those prospects will turn into anything, but anytime you can get 2 pieces in exchange for a middle-tier reliever like Oh, I’d say it’s a good deal.
Next, the Blue Jays traded J.A. Happ - the veteran lefty who was great in his 2nd stint in Toronto - to the Yankees in exchange for outfielder Billy McKinney and infielder Brandon Drury. Happ has been great in New York since the trade, so obviously it worked out for them, but I also think the Jays did well here. They got Drury, who was hurt for most of the year, but could compete for an infield spot next seaso. Also, Billy McKinney, who looks like he’ll make the Jays next year and be a key part of their outfield. In 36 games in Toronto, McKinney hit .252 with 6 homers and 13 RBIs, while batting in the leadoff spot most of the time.
On the day before the July trade deadline, the Jays sent Roberto Osuna, in the midst of his legal case to Houston, in exchange for 3 players. First, they got their closer, Ken Giles. Second, they got an AA pitcher in Hector Perez, who was in the Astros top 10 prospects before being dealt, and also got David Paulino, a prospect who briefly pitched with the Jays in September. In this situation, the Jays were trading from a position where they needed to get rid of Osuna, and they were still able to do pretty well. Not only did they get Giles - who was perfect in save opportunities this season - but they got 2 pitching prospects who could potentially turn into something.
Right before the trade deadline was reached, the Jays made 2 minor moves, trading Aaron Loup to the Phillies in exchange for pitcher Jacob Waguespack, and then traded John Axford to the Dodgers for pitcher Corey Copping.
Lastly, the Jays made a deal that sent fans into a frenzy, when they traded 2015 A.L. MVP Josh Donaldson to Cleveland in exchange for Julian Merryweather, a minor league starter coming off of Tommy John. Now, obviously, the Jays didn’t handle this situation the right way. Looking back, they should’ve traded Donaldson earlier and gotten a better return. But in this situation, they needed to get rid of him, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that what they got back wasn’t much.
It’s usually hard to find bright spots for a team that finished much lower than they were expected to, but thanks to how many young players joined the team this year, there’s actually quite a few. Here are 3 that really stood out to me.
Ryan Borucki- Borucki was called up much earlier than the rest of the prospects, which meant he had more time to show what he could do. He made 17 big league starts this year, and in that time, he posted a 3.87 ERA. He wasn’t even up here for half of the season, but going into next year, I’ve got a ton of confidence in this guy.
Lourdes Gurriel Jr.- Gurriel was called up in late April and played 65 games for the Jays this year. He suffered two injuries during this season, but when he was healthy, Gurriel was a very productive player. He had a .281 average this year to go along with 11 home runs and 35 RBI. There will definitely be a cluster of infielders next year, but I’d expect Gurriel to get a lot of playing time.
Ken Giles- Like I said earlier, Giles was acquired in the Roberto Osuna trade. His ERA doesn’t jump out at you as being very good, and that’s mostly because of how bad he is in non-save situations. But when he’s in a save situation, Giles gets the job done. In 14 save opportunities since joining the Blue Jays, Giles was been a perfect 14/14. Giles still has 2 years left on his deal, so I would expect to see him closing a lot of games for the Jays over the next couple of seasons.
You never know what could happen, but making the playoffs isn’t likely for next year’s Jays. I expect them to be a bit better, (78-80 wins) but I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect a team of mostly kids to leapfrog over the Rays, Yankees, or Red Sox. With that being said, there is still plenty to be excited about in 2019. First of all, we will see Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the big leagues for the first time. That alone is exciting, but we can also expect guys like Billy McKinney and Sean Reid-Foley to take a step forward. There are definitely some holes in this team, like the starting rotation where they need to add someone in free agency, but I could still see the 2019 Jays being a fun team to watch, even if they’re not going to make the playoffs.
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