It has only been a couple short weeks since the Cubs clinched game 7 in Cleveland on the 2nd November and ended their 108-year curse. Yet the ruthlessness of Major League Baseball is evident in the fact that Theo Epstein, just named Executive of the Year in the biggest understatement of the 2016 season, is already back to work.
The Cubs, clearly the best team in baseball, are once-again looking forward to next year, so think how the other 29 GMs must be feeling. As soon as Michael Martinez grounded one to Kris Bryant at third and the ball reached the mitt of a jubilant Anthony Rizzo waiting at first, the off-season began. But to move forward you must first reflect.
That’s the purpose of this series of posts, highlighting the highs and lows, strengths and flaws of each franchise in turn during 2016. From this we can begin to evaluate what each club’s offseason might look like, which gaps will be addressed first and who might upset the apple-cart in 2017. This week we’re starting with the AL East:
Toronto Blue Jays:
2016 recap: The Blue Jays are at risk of becoming an “almost” team. Another trip to the ALCS left the Blue Jays wondering what might have been, with an inability to hit Indians pitching, particularly Andrew Miller, proving to be their undoing. A dynamic team with powerful sluggers and at times dominant starting pitching was arguably the strongest in the American League on paper, but once again came up one hurdle short of where they want to be.
Alsmost shockingly, the story of 2016 was immense promise undone by inconsistency; the starting rotation ended up leading the American League in ERA and WAR, but could not be matched by an offense that seemingly stumbled between hot and cold streaks.
Offseason Agenda: Find a way to replace key hitters. Any team would feel the loss of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Michael Saunders – they offered to differing extents so much of the Blue Jays’ offensive power, but also their identity. Whilst a plethora of offensive options remain with Tulowitzki, Donaldson and the recently-acquired Kendrys Morales, the Blue Jays need to add more firepower if they wish to remain in postseason contention.
Meanwhile, on the pitching side of things, all is calm. The rotation appears to be set, led by standout performer Aaron Sanchez alongside 20-game-winner J.A. Happ with Marcus Stroman, Francisco Liriano and Marco Estrada offering an impressive back-end. The Blue Jays’ offseason priorities lie firmly with the offense.
Final Word: It may be easy to over-estimate the impact of the loss of Encarnacion and Bautista. Bautista under performed significantly and Kendrys Morales may offer good value as an indirect replacement. Blue Jays fans should not expect like-for-like replacements, instead an overall improvement of the offence will compensate for the loss of the big-hitters in the aggregate. The Blue Jays’ pitching should not be underestimated, when healthy and performing to their potential perhaps only the Cleveland Indians can rival them. The Blue Jays will certainly be in the hunt once again.