It was a frenzied offseason across major league baseball, with players flying around everywhere, and with many teams bulking up (San Diego, both Chicago teams) or slimming down (Oakland, Tampa Bay).
Things were no different in Toronto, where the Jays made some big moves by bringing in Russell Martin, Josh Donaldson, and Michael Saunders, and said goodbye to Melky Cabrera, Brett Lawrie, Adam Lind, Colby Rasmus, J.A. Happ, and Casey Janssen. While the winter movement by GM Alex Anthopoulos strengthened the team and has them tentatively penciled in as a “contender” there are still many questions hovering over the Blue Jays as pitchers and catchers get set to report.
Here are 5 key ones.
1. Is Dalton Pompey ready for prime time?
Dalton Pompey entered 2014 as a 21-year old kid who had never played a game above single-A. He ended it as the starting centrefielder for his hometown Toronto Blue Jays – quite the season! Pompey made stops in Dunedin, New Hampshire, and Buffalo, before making his major league debut on September 2. In 17 games, he made 43 plate appearances, and despite some fairly pedestrian numbers (.231 AVG, .301 OBP, .436 SLG, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1 SB) showed the Blue Jays enough to believe in him. By allowing Colby Rasmus to leave via free agency, and dealing Anthony Gose to Detroit, Toronto essentially said to the world that Pompey will be the man for 2015. Is he ready? Maybe, maybe not. But remember – Toronto’s CF put up a .213 average and .636 OPS last season as Rasmus, Gose, and Pillar combined to stink up the summer. Even if Pompey isn’t ready to breakout, he doesn’t have to be outstanding to be an improvement over last year.
2. Can Michael Saunders replace Melky Cabrera?
Melky in 2014: .301 AVG, .808 OPS, 16 HR, 3.1 WAR
Saunders in 2014: .273 AVG, .791 OPS, 8 HR, 2.4 WAR
The numbers are fairly similar between the two, and that is before you factor in that Saunders only played in 78 games in 2014. And therein lies the rub. Saunders’ career high in games played is 139, set in 2012. If he can stay healthy, there is every reason to believe he can match or surpass Cabrera’s offensive production while providing much better defense, especially moving from spacious Safeco Field to the hitter-friendly Rogers Centre. But if he can’t stay healthy? That’s a whole other story.
3. Who plays 2B?
This question seems to be constantly repeating itself, year after year. The one good thing is that Anthopoulos did address the second base issue in the offseason by dealing Anthony Gose to Detroit for prospect Devon Travis. Travis is a bit of an undersized player, but one who has put up very impressive offensive numbers in Detroit’s minor league system. He projects very nicely to be the 2B of the future. The future, of course, does not mean this year, which means that once again the Jays have a gaping hole to fill. Ryan Goins might seem like a solid bet to once again get a shot, but no matter how good his glove is, it can never justify carrying his .479 OPS. But don’t forget about Maicer Izturis. After a miserable 2013, Izturis actually got off to a decent start last year (.286 AVG, .324 OBP through 11 games) before being lost for the season with a knee injury. He might be the best bet to keep the seat warm until Travis arrives.
4. Aaron Sanchez: closer or starter?
As I said last week on this site, in an ideal world Aaron Sanchez enters the season as the fifth starter and gives Toronto about 150+ quality innings. But that depends on many other things. If he lands in the rotation, who closes? Cecil? Loup? Somebody from out of nowhere? If he closes, who takes over as fifth starter? Todd Redmond? Marco Estrada? Daniel Norris? There is a lot to think about, and at the end of the day I think it will boil down to which of those roles the Jays feel they can afford to be weaker. My guess is Sanchez ends up as the closer. His ultimate fate will be in the rotation, but not until 2016.
5. How good will Josh Donaldson be?
In the last two seasons combined, Josh Donaldson has hit 53 HR, provided 191 RBI, and put up an .840 OPS, all while playing his home games in a notorious pitchers park. He also provided outstanding defense (+29 defensive runs saved). Overall he has posted a combined 15.4 WAR, trailing only Mike Trout’s 16.8 WAR. In short, he has been one of the best players in all of baseball. Now you take him out of Oakland’s cavernous park, put him into the Rogers Centre, and surround him with Reyes, Martin, Bautista, and Encarnacion, and there is the chance that he puts up a monster campaign.