2017 has been a lost season. Things started badly for the Blue Jays, and despite a nice stretch that brought a little bit of hope to the fan base, nothing has really improved.
No doubt injuries have played a huge part of Toronto’s downfall. The team has yet to field their intended 25-man roster this season, with somebody (or many bodies) always hurt. Consider who the Jays have lost for extended stretches: Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Devon Travis, Russell Martin, Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna, JA Happ, and many others.
But one glance at the standings makes it impossible to blame Toronto’s season solely on injuries.
The Washington Nationals have lost Trea Turner, Bryce Harper, Max Scherzer, Jayson Werth, Joe Ross, Koda Glover, Adam Eaton, and Ryan Madson (among others) at various points this year yet still have a 79-51 record and a 13 game lead in the NL East.
The Houston Astros have been without Carlos Correa, George Springer, Brian McCann, Lance McCullers, Dallas Keuchel, Evan Gattis, and Colin McHugh at various points, yet have still managed to go 79-51 and hold a 13 game lead of their own.
More astonishingly, the Dodgers have put up an unbelievable 91-38 campaign, despite spending parts of 2017 without Cody Bellinger, Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir, Clayton Kershaw, Brandon McCarthy, Alex Wood, Justin Turner, Andrew Toles, Julio Urias, Kenta Maeda, and Rich Hill.
No – injuries alone aren’t to blame. The one thing those teams have that the Jays don’t is depth. Major league quality depth, both on the bench and on the mound. Contending teams can plug in solid players to replace injured starters. The 2017 Jays have been forced to use Nick Tepesch, Cesar Valdez, and Raffy Lopez.
All of which suggests that changes are coming. They have to be coming. The front office can’t expect fans to pile back into the dome to watch this exact team in 2018. While it’s easy to point fingers at what went wrong, there are a few glaring areas of need that Atkins must focus on.
Firstly, while he will go down as a franchise icon, earn a spot on the Level of Excellence, and a rightful place as one of the top-5 players in club history, Jose Bautista has seemingly reached the end of his useful baseball life. I love the guy, and it pains me to see him performing this way, but the head needs to trump the heart in this case. It’s not only the .209 average, sub-.400 SLG, sub-.700 OPS, and -1.3 WAR that says it’s time. It’s images like this:
That is Bautista’s 5th inning at bat against Drew Pomeranz last night. He stepped to the plate with runners on first and second, nobody out, and the Jays clinging to a 3-2 lead, and was promptly thrown two fastballs right down the middle. 2010 Bau would have launched the first pitch into the 5th deck. Unfortunately, 2017 Bau watched the first pitch for strike one, then flew out.
Backup catcher is also a mandatory area of focus for the front office. For four years fans went ballistic about the Jays carrying Josh Thole on the roster, calling him a waste of a roster spot and a useless player. In those four seasons Thole hit .200 with a .522 OPS and a -2.4 WAR. This season, Miguel Montero, Mike Ohlman, Luke Maile, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Raffy Lopez have hit .132 with a .408 OPS, and 70 strikeouts to 17 walks as a collective group, and posted a combined WAR of -1.5. It makes us long for the days of Josh Thole.
Finally, the bullpen needs an overhaul, specifically Aaron Loup. By all accounts Loup works hard. He comes in when called upon and tries his best. But his primary responsibility as a left-handed pitcher is to retire left-handed batters. Simple as that. Thus far in 2017 LHB are hitting .296 against him, with an OPS of .762. Overall, Loup’s 4.22 ERA and 1.59 WHIP are not good, especially considering he is Toronto’s primary LH reliever.
September is only a few days away, meaning rosters are expanding. The Jays need to eschew all belief that they are still in the race and start auditioning for 2018. Bringing up a catcher that might have a shot at sticking next year and at least two lefty relievers should be a no-brainer.
The next wave of great Jays prospects is still a few years away. As-is, this team can’t contend next year without significant change.