30 Clubs in 30 Days: Toronto Blue Jays

Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving needs surgery on his knee and it looks like he’s going to undergo a procedure on it. It’s unknown how long he’ll be shelved for but with the playoffs right around the corner, as a Celtics fan I’m very nervous. Granted the Celtics are capable of winning without him, as they’ve shown in the past couple weeks, but if they’re going to topple the Cavaliers and Raptors, they need Kyrie at his best. So to take my mind off things, let’s get to our final American League edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days featuring the team up north, the Toronto Blue Jays.

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2017 Results:

Record: 76-86, 17 games behind Boston Red Sox, 9 games behind Minnesota Twins for 2nd Wild Card Spot

Notable Offseason Additions: SP Jaime Garcia, OF Randall Grichuk, OF Curtis Granderson, 3B Yangervis Solarte, RP Tyler Clippard, RP Seung Hwan Oh, SS Aledmys Diaz, RP Craig Breslow, RP Al Albuquerque, RP John Axford

Notable Offseason Subtractions: RF Jose Bautista, 2B Darwin Barney, LF Michael Saunders, 2B Ryan Goins, SP Brett Anderson, SP Tom Koehler, C Miguel Montero

Best Offensive Player: 3B Josh Donaldson

Best Pitcher: Marcus Stroman

Depth Chart:

C-Russell Martin, Luke Maile

1B-Justin Smoak, Kendrys Morales (DH)

2B-Devin Travis

3B-Josh Donaldson, Yangervis Solarte

SS-Troy Tulowitzki, Aledmys Diaz

LF-Curtis Granderson, Steve Pearce

CF-Kevin Pillar

RF-Randall Grichuk, Teoscar Hernandez

SP-Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, JA Happ, Jaime Garcia

Bullpen-Roberto Osuna (CP), Seung Hwan Oh, Tyler Clippard, Aaron Loup, Craig Breslow, Ryan Tepera, John Axford, Al Albuquerque

Coaching Staff:

Manager-John Gibbons (6th season in this stint with Blue Jays, 10th overall)

Hitting Coach-Brook Jacoby

Pitching Coach-Pete Walker

1st Base Coach-Tim Leiper

3rd Base Coach-Luis Rivera

Bench Coach-DeMarlo Hale

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The Blue Jays are in a tough spot right now, especially when you take into consideration the offseasons the Red Sox and Yankees had. There’s virtually no shot at them winning the division despite having a pretty talented roster in the grand scheme of things. Here’s how I expect them to line up in 2018.

1. Kevin Pillar-CF

2. Josh Donaldson-3B

3. Justin Smoak-1B

4. Kendrys Morales-DH

5. Troy Tulowitzki-SS

6. Russell Martin-C

7. Randall Grichuk-RF

8. Curtis Granderson/Steve Pearce-LF

9. Devon Travis-2B

When you take into consideration the hitter-friendly conditions at the Rogers Centre, this has the look of a lineup that could score a lot of runs. But last season they didn’t. They finished 26th in the Majors in runs scored last season and while they have gotten rid of dead weight like Jose Bautista, they didn’t make enough changes to really get excited over their prospects for the 2018 season. The one guy we can count on being really good at the plate is Josh Donaldson. The 2015 AL MVP, Donaldson was great again in 2017 despite battling injuries, hitting .270 with 33 home runs, walking 15% of the time, and being worth 5.0 WAR despite playing only 113 games. He also almost killed me last season. I went to a Blue Jays-Cubs game at Wrigley Field right before I was to head back to Indiana when I sat down with my burger and fries that my mom and I had gotten from the concessions. The Blue Jays were taking BP and Donaldson smoked one down the left field line where our seats were. I heard the people in front of me scream a little bit as the ball just missed my head and hit an empty seat just a few seats down and roll past my feet into another aisle. If I wasn’t awake before, I was after that. Justin Smoak had a breakout year for the Blue Jays, hitting .270 with 38 home runs, 90 RBI, and a 3.4 WAR. After those two, though, the Jays did not hit up to their capabilities. Hell, the fifth best WAR by a position player on the team belonged to career minor leaguer Teoscar Hernandez, who only played 26 games in Toronto and had a 0.7 WAR. Troy Tulowitzki continues to trend downwards as he only played 66 games and hit 7 home runs and hit .249 for a 0.0 WAR. It seems like so long ago that he was unanimously considered to be the best shortstop in the game with the Rockies. Despite playing great defense, Kevin Pillar was lackluster at the plate, only reaching base at a .300 clip. And don’t even get me started on Jose Bautista’s 2017 season, as he had the lowest batting average in the Majors at .203 and was worth -0.5 WAR. Just underachievement everywhere you look with this Blue Jays roster. However this team is also capable of scoring a ton of runs if you aren’t careful with them. Just because they underperformed in 2017 doesn’t mean 2018 is going to be a repeat of those failures. They’re only a couple years removed from back-to-back postseason appearances.

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Pitching was quietly a pretty solid element of the 2017 Blue Jays. They had a team ERA of 4.42, which was 14th best in the Majors, and they’re spearheaded by one of the most promising young right-handers in Marcus Stroman. After winning World Baseball Classic MVP with his masterful performance in the USA’s championship win over Puerto Rico, Stroman was able to carry that success over to the Blue Jays by throwing 201 innings, posting a 3.04 ERA and was worth 3.4 WAR. His K/9 rate of 7.34 was a little low for my tastes but despite playing in a hitter-friendly park in Toronto he did a good job of keeping the ball in the yard, as his 0.94 HR/9 was 4th best in the American League. JA Happ was also solid for Toronto as he had a 3.53 ERA and struck out nearly 9 batters per 9 innings. However after that there were a lot of struggles. After stellar 2016 seasons, both Marco Estrada and Aaron Sanchez underwhelmed in 2017, Estrada being due to overall performance and Sanchez being due to injury. Estrada carried a 4.98 ERA after 4 straight seasons of being under 4 while Sanchez only made 8 starts after posting the American League’s best ERA in 2016. Sanchez is a guy I’d be confident in returning to his old form, as he’s a sinkerballer who can throw it 95 mph and with that kind of movement at that speed, expect a lot of splintered bats. Estrada concerns me a little more because he doesn’t throw hard like Sanchez does and he relies a bit more on his control, which has been failing him as his BB/9 has risen in each of the last 4 years.

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Toronto’s bullpen, particularly closer Roberto Osuna, got off to a rough start in 2017. Osuna’s ERA was around 10 for much of April but he was able to drop it significantly by season’s end and finished with the 3rd best WAR amongst relievers, trailing only Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen. Osuna also saved 39 games and struck out nearly a dozen batters per 9 innings. However there was a lot of turnover in this ‘pen in the offseason as after Osuna, Aaron Loup is the only guy of note that’s returning. Guys like John Axford, Al Albuquerque, and Craig Breslow have had success in the past, however their records of late haven’t been very promising and this bullpen could be one of the shakier units in baseball.

Overall, Toronto has one of the more talented rosters on paper but everybody seems to be trending in the wrong direction with the exception of Josh Donaldson, Justin Smoak, and Marcus Stroman. If they struggle in the first half like they did all of last season, then I wouldn’t be surprised to see the phones ringing around the trade deadline. There are a lot of assets on this team that could help contending clubs and I think the Blue Jays would be wise to look to acquire some top prospects in order to build towards the future.

Projected Record: 78-84, 4th in AL East

That’s going to do it for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. Join me for the final time in this segment as I preview the Washington Nationals, who are in their last chance to try and win their first World Series title as Bryce Harper will likely be leaving after the season. Let me know what you think of the Blue Jays’ chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.

30 Clubs in 30 Days: Oakland Athletics

Some little bits of news to discuss before I get into the A’s. Lance Lynn signed with the Twins, bolstering their rotation, and the Patriots traded for Browns nose tackle Danny Shelton. With Lynn gone, the only real free agents left of significance are Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, and Greg Holland. As for Shelton, the former 12th overall pick was a disappointment in Cleveland but I think he fits New England’s system a lot better, as they like to use a true nose tackle a lot more often than Cleveland does, which is what Shelton is at 6’3 345 pounds. And the big news of course is Richard Sherman agreeing to sign with the 49ers on a 3 year $39M deal. So without further ado, let’s get to this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days featuring the Oakland Athletics.

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2017 Results:

Record: 75-87, 26 games behind Houston Astros, 10 games behind Minnesota Twins for 2nd Wild Card Spot

Notable Offseason Additions: RF Stephen Piscotty, C Jonathan Lucroy, DH Brandon Moss, RP Ryan Buchter, RP Yusmeiro Petit

Notable Offseason Subtractions: 1B Ryon Healy, SP Jesse Hahn, DH Chris Carter, RP John Axford

Best Offensive Player: DH Khris Davis

Best Pitcher: Kendall Graveman

Depth Chart:

C-Jonathan Lucroy, Bruce Maxwell, Josh Phegley

1B-Matt Olson, Brandon Moss

2B-Jed Lowrie

3B-Matt Chapman

SS-Marcus Semien

LF-Khris Davis (DH), Matt Joyce

CF-Dustin Fowler, Boog Powell

RF-Stephen Piscotty, Mark Canha

SP-Kendall Graveman, Sean Manaea, Jharel Cotton, Daniel Mendgen, Andrew Triggs, Paul Blackburn

Bullpen-Blake Treinen (CP), Yusmeiro Petit, Chris Hatcher, Santiago Casilla, Liam Hendriks, Ryan Dull, Ryan Buchter, Danny Coloumbe

Coaching Staff:

Manager-Bob Melvin (8th season with Athletics)

Hitting Coach-Darren Bush

Pitching Coach-Scott Emerson

1st Base Coach-Al Pedrique

3rd Base Coach-Matt Williams

Bench Coach-Ryan Christenson

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I feel like the Athletics are just the most obscure team in baseball and the only reason they really get any sort of attention is because of Moneyball, both the movie and the book. Otherwise, I doubt anybody would ever pay them a second thought. They don’t have any superstar players and they won’t compete for the postseason but they also won’t be so bad that they’re a talking point. They’re just kind of there. Here’s a look at their lineup to prove my point.

1. Jed Lowrie-2B

2. Stephen Piscotty-RF

3. Matt Chapman-3B

4. Khris Davis-DH

5. Matt Olson-1B

6. Jonathan Lucroy-C

7. Marcus Semien-SS

8. Matt Joyce-LF

9. Dustin Fowler/Boog Powell-CF

Jonathan Lucroy was considered one of the top catchers in the game for a while, but he had a down year in 2017. Having split time between the Rangers and Rockies, Lucroy hit .265 with 6 home runs and 40 RBI and a 1.2 WAR. He just agreed to a 1-year deal with the A’s a couple days ago and as of this writing, Lucroy has not been officially introduced as an Oakland A. If he can bounce back and return to his 2016 form, the heart of the A’s order could be deadly. Khris Davis has been an absolute monster at the plate since the A’s acquired him from the Brewers prior to the 2016 season as he’s had back-to-back 40 home runs seasons in Oakland. He’s been extremely consistent in his two years there, as he hit .247 in both seasons while hitting 42 home runs in 2016 and 43 in ’17, and was worth 2.4 WAR in ’16 and 2.3 in ’17. So you kind of know what you’re going to get with Davis in an A’s uniform. Where the projection comes into play is from the two Matt’s in this A’s lineup: Chapman and Olson. Chapman made his Major League debut last season and despite a low batting average of .234, he slugged .472, showcasing a pretty good power stroke while also playing excellent defense at third base. His 19 DRS in 84 games would’ve led all AL third basemen had he played enough to qualify and would’ve ranked just behind Nolan Arenado for best in baseball. As for Olson, he played 59 games for the A’s last season and hit 24 home runs, which equates to a 65 home run season over 162 games. He also plays above average defense at first base, being worth 4 DRS in his limited action. Both he and Chapman are two guys the A’s organization is really excited about. Centerfield is the one position in this lineup that is a question mark as to who is going to man it. Dustin Fowler is a highly rated prospect that the A’s acquired from the Yankees in the Sonny Gray deal at last year’s trade deadline while Boog Powell is a guy they acquired from the Mariners in exchange for Yonder Alonso around the same time. Fowler is notable as being the Yankees prospect who injured his knee in his first big league game last season and was shelved for the remainder of the season. He has yet to have his first big league plate appearance. Powell played in 52 games last season and hit a solid .282 while playing a good defensive outfield. I think I’m going to give the slight edge to Powell to be the Opening Day starter but I think it’s going to be Fowler in the long run.

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This is probably one of the least sexy pitching rotations in the Majors but it could also be one of the more underrated. Kendall Graveman is likely going to be the ace at the start of the season but he would probably be the #3 or 4 starter on most other teams. He’s not bad, his ERA is consistently in the low-4’s, but he’s not the guy you’re going to breathe a sigh of relief for when you see that it’s his turn in the rotation. The guys the A’s are hoping develop this season are Sean Manaea and Jharel Cotton. Manaea was one of their top prospects and he’s gotten some significant action the last couple years. He had a 3.86 ERA in his 2016 rookie season and 4.37 last year, however that number was inflated due to a rough second half, as he had an ERA over 5 after the All Star break. He’s a talented lefty that the A’s hope can be their future ace. Cotton is another guy with a lot of talent but hasn’t quite figured out how to pitch in the Majors just yet. He debuted in 2016, making 5 starts and he pitched really well in those outings, posting a 2.15 ERA. He got a chance to pitch a full season in 2017 and he didn’t have nearly as much success, pitching to a 5.58 ERA in 24 starts. A lot of that was due to a very high HR/9 rate of 1.95, which would have led the Majors had he pitched enough innings to qualify. The dimensions of Oakland Alameda County Coliseum are pretty neutral towards hitters and pitchers so you can’t really blame the high home run totals on a bad pitcher’s ballpark like you can with Coors or Chase Field so Cotton’s going to have to work on not leaving the ball over the heart of the plate if he’s going to take the next step.

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The A’s bullpen has some decent pieces. Blake Treinen is going to be the closer and he was inconsistent in 2017, as he had an ERA well over 5 prior to being traded to Oakland by the Nationals. However upon joining the A’s, Treinen returned to his 2016 form by posting an ERA of 2.13 in 35 games, recording 13 saves in the process. If Treinen can keep that up, the A’s should feel very comfortable with a close lead in the 9th inning. After him, newly-acquired Yusmeiro Petit is a solid reliever and Santiago Casilla was at one point a stud closer across the bay with the Giants. One guy who could be a wildcard for the A’s is Ryan Dull. Dull had a very strong 2016 season, posting an ERA of 2.42, however he struggled mightily in 2017 despite an increase in his K/9, posting an ERA over 5. He’s a guy who has shown closer potential and can be a real asset to this bullpen if he can get more consistent.

Overall, I think I’m slowly talking myself into this Oakland team. On paper they’re not very impressive, but a lot of this will depend on how their young guys perform, particularly Matt Chapman, Matt Olson, and Dustin Fowler. If those guys can build on the promise they showed last year, Oakland could be a sneaky team in a tough AL West. I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs, but I can see them as a potential sleeper in the American League. If their young talent can continue to improve, I think the A’s could be my darkhorse team much like the Rockies were last season.

Projected Record: 77-85, Last in AL West

That’s going to do it for this edition of 30 Clubs in 30 Days. I’m on Spring Break now and I’ll be partying it up in Fort Lauderdale but that doesn’t mean I won’t be keeping up with the blog. I’ll make sure I have each post scheduled before I go out so never fret. Join me tomorrow where I preview the Philadelphia Phillies, who have a lot of young talent just waiting to get an opportunity. Let me know what you think of the A’s chances in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.