The 2018 Major League Baseball (MLB) season is going to be tough for the Toronto Blue Jays. The Boston Red Sox have maintained their pitching and hitting power, and the New York Yankees have acquired powerhouse Giancarlo Stanton — who hit 59 home runs last season — in a trade that didn’t see them lose many significant players. That’s right, the Yankees now have 2017’s National League MVP and American League (AL) Rookie of the Year in their lineup, and the Jays are going to have to compete with that for years to come.
In terms of significant transactions, barring the Stanton trade, this year’s offseason has been rather cold, seeing minor trades here and there and no spectacular free-agent signings — José Bautista is still in limbo, belonging to no team quite yet.
Attempting to fortify a team not ready for the strong competition brewing in the AL East, the Jays signed free agent and former Met and Yankee player Curtis Granderson, dishing out $5 million USD for one year. Granderson, who is going to be 37 years old come Opening Day, will most likely split time in left field as part of a platoon. Granderson is a left-handed hitter — a type of player the Jays desperately need. Hitting 26 home runs last year for the Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Mets, Granderson’s signing is encouraging but not an addition that can single-handedly lead the Jays to the playoffs.
What is exciting, however, is the trade that brought 26-year-old outfielder Randal Grichuk to Toronto from St. Louis, with pitchers Dominic Leone and Conner Greene going the other way. Not only is Grichuk a reliable defenseman more than qualified to fill Bautista’s spot in right field, but with enough plate discipline, he can shine with a bat as well. Offering a measly .238 batting average for 2017, Grichuk, who batted .276 in 103 games in 2015, is far too young to be written off as mediocre and will hopefully thrive in a hitter-friendly ballpark like Rogers Centre. Words of encouragement: he hit over 20 home runs in each of the past two seasons. Here’s hoping that number only rises.
But, in the interest of being realistic and objective, Grichuk would have to go through a Justin-Smoak-like transformation to be a power-hitter that is feared in the AL East – something that is very unlikely to happen.
In additional trades, the Jays picked up infielders Aledmys Diaz and Yangervis Solarte from St. Louis and San Diego respectively to play the middle of Josh Donaldson and Justin Smoak’s corners of the infield. Along with Troy Tulowitzki — who can hopefully rise up from his steady decline — and Devon Travis — who can hopefully stay healthy for a season straight — the infield is the team’s most stable and secure area. The outfield is fine too: the cast of six outfielders are an upgrade from last year, but it is nowhere near rivalling the outfield of the Yankees.
Pitching is something that has also been heavily neglected by the Blue Jays’ front office this offseason. It would be best for the team and the fans if the rumours of regular reliever Joe Biagini being promoted to a number-five starter remain just that — rumours. The Jays need to pay a starter and pay him well. Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman can’t carry this team on their two backs, and the Jays’ underwhelming goings-on in the bullpen only cast a shadow over the overall pitching situation.
Call me misguided, but I believe with enough pitching fortification, the Jays can confidently secure a Wild Card spot in the 2018 MLB season.
Not all is lost, but at this point, unless the front office can stir up a trade that gets Toronto a reliable starter and reliever — or two — the only hope for the team to make the playoffs is if they move to a different division altogether.