The Benchwarmer Report Blue Jays 2016: Let the Bird Watch Begin

Elizabeth Salsberg - 3T Nanotechnology
Posted on: April 2, 2016

Calling all Jays fans, new and old—the season opener is a just a week away! On April 3, 2016 the Toronto Blue Jays will face off against division rival the Tampa Bay Rays to start their defense of the American League East division title. The core of the team that was just shy of making it to the World Series last season is here for another year, so buckle your seat belts—it’s going to be an exciting season! Before things get rolling, let’s take a look at the ups and downs of the Jays roster heading into opening day.

Starting Rotation

 Arguably one of the biggest controversies of spring training, Gibbons and company had their work cut out for them nailing down the starting five.

The first (and opening day) starter will be Marcus Stroman. The 24-year-old will be the Jays ace. Ask him whether he’s ready for the role, he’ll tell you he’s more than good enough. After recovering quickly from ACL surgery last season, Stroman stormed back to posting a miniscule 1.67 ERA and 4-0 win-loss record in his four starts before the playoffs. He also pitched well in the ALDS against the Texas Rangers, where he started the final game,  (the Jays would go on to win it 6-3).

Marco Estrada will fill the second spot, followed by knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, returning Blue Jay J.A. Happ, and finally, supposedly the most difficult decision, Aaron Sanchez. Sanchez is where the so-called controversy comes in: It took Jays brass until the end of spring training to finally name Sanchez as the final starter. His two major competitors were former Cleveland Indian Gavin Floyd and 2015 opening day starter Drew Hutchison.

It is possible that Floyd was strongly considered because of his relationship to new Jays President Mark Shapiro and his “yes man” general manager Ross Atkins. Shapiro is the former President of the Cleveland Indians; Atkins also had a leading role in the Indians organization. There is not much to say on Floyd’s recent numbers, given that the now-33-year-old appeared in a grand total of nine games last season, posting a 2.65 ERA over 13.1 innings pitched. Though his ERA is not bad, this is a miniature sample size on which to pick a starter.

Also, it clearly makes much more sense to develop the younger, flame-throwing Sanchez who can still improve his already strong numbers.

As for Hutchison, he has been solid throughout spring training and should probably have been given more consideration for the starting rotation—perhaps pushing J.A. Happ into the three spot and moving Sanchez up to the four would have worked. It would not be surprising if he was called up from triple-A Buffalo to start at some point down the line, particularly if either R.A. Dickey struggles, or Happ cannot find the form he displayed in Pittsburgh.

The Bullpen

Down in the playpen, the two guys to watch will be newcomer and expected closer Drew Storen and 2015 closer and youngster Roberto Osuna. These two will be locks for the eighth and ninth innings without question. The issue arises when addressing the middle innings. Lefty Brett Cecil is still around, and he will be critical—after him, it’s basically a bunch of nobodies. Aaron Loup struggled badly in 2015, and he will need to rebound this year to take some of the load off of Cecil. Jesse Chavez is a new acquisition; it remains to be seen how he will perform. Gavin Floyd has also been relegated to the bullpen.

These four will have to manage most the middle innings well to avoid stretching out the starters too much over the course of the season. Should the bullpen require fortification as the season wears on, Sanchez would almost certainly be moved, which could bump Drew Hutchison back into the starting rotation.

Position Players

The major change is here is that Michael Saunders will start in left field instead of speed machine Ben Revere, who was shipped to the Washington Nationals in exchange for closer Drew Storen. Saunders has had a solid spring training, posting a .293 batting average with 3 homers and 10 RBI’s. He will likely fit in near the bottom of the order in the eight spot.

It seems likely that Kevin Pillar will take over in the lead-off spot given Troy Tulowitzki’s lack of production there last season. If Pillar struggles though, it would not be surprising to see Tulo give it another shot.

Ryan Goins will start as the full-time second-baseman. 2015 Rookie sensation Devon Travis is not expected to return until May at the earliest. Before his season-ending shoulder injury, Travis posted a sparkling .304 batting average with 8 homers and 35 RBIs. If he is able to return to the lineup successfully, he could very well become the lead-off man as well.