With the Toronto Blue Jays in the heart of a pennant race heading into the second week of September, it’s difficult as a fan to look past the present and into the future. The Jays have encompassed a win-now mentality as they hope to take part in their first World Series since winning the second of back-to-back championships in 1993. After this season though, the win-now mentality of Jays management could backfire, while shattering hopes of contending for years to come.
Forgive my cynicism, but while this postseason push is encapsulating Torontonians and hopes of a World Series championship are on Jays’ fans minds, all I can think about is how the Jays will look in April 2017. A few big questions marks come to mind.
Gaps in the Lineup
With Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, and Michael Saunders set to hit free agency this offseason, Jays management has to decide which one or two members of the trio they’ll look to resign for next season and beyond. The trio plays a significant role in the heart of the Jays lineup, so deciding which one(s) to resign could make or break their 2017 campaign.
Bautista, 35, has had a pedestrian season for his standards, in large part due to his battle with injuries. A .227 average doesn’t do him justice, but Bautista would have been on pace to record impressive HR and RBI numbers if his battle with the injury bug fared a little better in 2016. Jays management should pass on resigning Bautista in free agency if his asking price and contract length demands remain similar to this past offseason. Signing Bautista to a short term deal could be the best option, but his camp likely won’t consider that option. The pickup of Melvin Upton Jr. is the Jays clear backup if Bautista heads for greener pastures after this season.
Encarnacion, 32, is in the midst of a career season, hitting .268 with 36 HR and 110 RBIs. Edwin(g)’s performance this season will earn him a massive contract this offseason, the only question remains with which team he’ll be suiting up for next season. Jays management failed to renegotiate a contract extension with Encarnacion back in Spring Training, so Jays fans should hope Shapiro, Atkins and co. put all their eggs in the Edwin basket. Encarnacion hopefully resigns with the Blue Jays if contract negotiations go smoothly, but the lure of a position in the heart of the Boston Red Sox lineup could be appealing if things don’t go according to plan. With Big Papi (David Ortiz) retiring after his age 40 season, there’s a big hole Boston needs to fill in the heart of their lineup. If any team has money to throw Encarnacions way, it’s the Red Sox.
Saunders, 28, has recovered from an injury-riddled 2015 season, compiling a .267/23 HR/54 RBI slash line. Saunders provides steady production in the 5th spot of the lineup accompanied with average outfield play. With Bautista likely departing, keeping Saunders should be a top priority. If Shapiro and Atkins can convince Saunders to take a small discount to fit in Encarnacion’s new (pricey) contract, it’ll pay dividends in the long run.
The Farm System
After the win-now deals made during the Anthopoulous regime, the Jays farm system is depleted. A once prominent farm system now ranks 25th in the big leagues, per Bleacher Report. Anthony Alford and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. remain the Jays top hitting prospects, while most of their farm system pitchers aren’t among the top 100 pitching prospects in baseball. I was hoping that the Jays would trade Bautista at the deadline for pitching prospects, given their abundance of above-average hitters in the line ups, but to no avail.
After examining the potential scenario the Jays could be faced with after this season, let’s hope the team gives the fans what they’ve been craving for over two decades: a World Series championship.