The Blue Jays are in a fairly interesting spot. The top of the AL East is loaded with the two behemoths, the World Series Champion Red Sox and the Yankees, plus the low-budget wonder Rays. The bottom of the division is represented by the 47-win Orioles. The Jays seem miles between the two groups, with relatively highly paid vets like Kendrys Morales and Russell Martin dotting a roster increasingly populated by homegrown youth.
Full Forbes coverage: what all 30 teams did at the MLB winter meetings.
The Jays kept their options open but gave indications that a fairly substantial rebuild is in the offing, as they released SS Troy Tulowitzki with 2 years and $38M guaranteed dollars remaining on his contract, while beginning to gauge the market on young, recently injured starting pitchers Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez. At the same time, they didn’t rule out buying starting pitching, at least kicking the tires of J.A. Happ (now a Yankee) and Japanese free agent Yusei Kikuchi.
Blue Jays’ Winter Meetings Moves:
- Released SS Troy Tulowitzki
- Selected RHP Elvis Luciano from the Royals in Major League Phase of the Rule 5 Draft; Lost RHP Jordan Romano (White Sox) and LHP Travis Bergen (Giants) in the Major League Phase of the Rule 5 Draft
Analysis: Considering that Tulowitzki hasn’t been able to string together even two consecutive reasonably healthy seasons since 2010-11, expectations certainly would have had to be tempered even if he were kept around. The decision to cut bait so early and so decisively tells us a couple of things.
First, the bone spurs in both feet that kept him out for all of 2018 haven’t gone away. Even a rested Tulo cannot be relied upon as a consistent lineup presence. Second, this team is going young, and the worst way to break in a new player is to give him sporadic playing time, based on whether an aging, declining veteran is ready to go. Aledmys Diaz was deemed not to be the answer – he was dispatched to Houston prior to the Winter Meetings for RHS Trent Thornton, who will get an opportunity to crack the back of the rotation or the bullpen in the spring.
Lourdes Gurriel gets the first chance at short; he showed power potential despite an overly aggressive approach at the plate, though it seems unlikely he will meet the defensive standards of the position; he might be a better fit at second or third. Bo Bichette could be a factor by midseason. He too is an offense-first player that might be best cast elsewhere in the infield, but is a career .328 minor league hitter.
Rule 5 selection Luciano has yet to pitch above short-season ball, where he was good but not great (122/41 K/BB in 133 2/3 IP) over two seasons. The 6’2″, 184, righty has arm strength and doesn’t turn 19 until spring training, but would seem to be a longshot to stick right away at the MLB level. Romano, 25, was a 2014 10th rounder who took a regular turn at Double-A New Hampshire in 2018, posting a 4.13 ERA and a 125/41 K/BB in 137 1/3 IP. Not much upside, but could stick as a 12th man on the Sox staff in 2019. Bergen, 25, was the Jays’ 7th rounder in 2015. He has yet to pitch above Double-A, but did have a dominant 2018 season, posting a 0.95 ERA at two levels, with a 74/15 K/BB in 56 2/3 IP. He dominated both hands, and doesn’t project as a pure situational lefty.
Off-Season Outlook: It’s likely to be all about getting younger and cheaper the rest of the offseason, though the Jays will at least continue to keep tabs on the free agent starting pitching market. Martin and his $20M salary is a sunk cost. The club is in a tough spot with starters Stroman and Sanchez. A couple of years ago they were practically untouchable. Now, they’re coming off minor but recurring injuries that have cost them substantial playing time. If the Jays can get a reasonable facsimile of their peak value for them, they could be moved. At the very least, they will get a clear picture of how the league currently perceives their value.
Kids are going to play in Toronto next season. Gurriel and possibly Bichette, will get their chances in the middle infield. Danny Jansen could be their primary catcher. The main event will be the debut of 3B Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., sometime during the season’s early stages. He just might be the most impressive hitting prospect of his generation. Like many of his organizational peers, however, he brings with him many defensive questions. 2019 would seem to be a good time to get plenty of those questions answered in Toronto.