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.

General Sports: February 13

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-Esteban Loaiza, the second winningest Mexican-born pitcher in Major League history, was arrested on charges of possession of cocaine and possibly heroin (the substances are still being tested), 20 kilos to be more precise, worth approximately $500K. The substances were found in a rental home of his in southern California.  Bail was set at $200K. Not great. Loaiza, who was the starter for the American League in the 2003 All Star Game with the White Sox, had a pretty successful career over his 14 seasons but pretty much all of that is going to be erased in our memory of him even if he’s found innocent. Being linked to an incident such as this is pretty destructive towards one’s image. With that many drugs in one place, it’s pretty apparent that there was intent to distribute and that carries a much stiffer penalty than if he had it all to snort for himself. I’m not sure what the exact penalty is going to be if he’s found guilty, but it’s safe to say it’d be several years before he saw the outside world again. Especially when you take into account this whole thing started because he was stopped crossing the border under suspicion he was transferring drugs over the border, leading to the search warrant for his rental home. You know for a sports blog, I really do talk about cocaine quite a bit it seems…

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-It seems that every time that former closer Goose Gossage has appeared in the media since being inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008, he’s dropping f-bomb after f-bomb. It was reported that after several years of being present to assist in Spring Training practices with the Yankees, GM Brian Cashman informed Gossage that he was not going to be coaching this year. Gossage said to the New York Daily News in reference to Cashman that “with that kind of power, that’s what happens to you, you turn into a fucking asshole.” He then went on to say that Cashman “would have been fired 10 years ago if George (Steinbrenner) was still around. He’d have been gone when he jumped out of that fucking airplane. Do you think he’s a good fucking baseball guy, really? He doesn’t believe in fucking coaching.” This isn’t the first time that Gossage has gone on these kinds of tirades. Most guys would be honored to be compared to Mariano Rivera, however Gossage took it as an insult, saying that he would pitch several innings for his saves while Rivera would only pitch 1. He also called Jose Bautista a “fucking disgrace” for his infamous bat flip in the 2015 ALDS against the Rangers. He then went after stat-favoring executives calling them a “bunch of fucking nerds running the game.” Normally I’d be rolling my eyes at this guy who is trying to stay relevant as nobody would know who he was if he weren’t being outlandish in the media. However I actually find it kind of endearing to see him go on his tirades. He’s a miserable asshole and there really aren’t enough of these guys in the world of sports right now. Or if there are, they’re keeping quiet. Too many guys nowadays are afraid to show any kind of emotion so that the media can’t use it against them, but Gossage clearly doesn’t fucking care, as he would put it. And I kind of respect that. Keep doing you, Goose.

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-Here’s a cool story. So Giancarlo Stanton and AJ Ramos were friends and teammates on the Miami Marlins before each departed this offseason. Ramos was traded to the New York Mets during last season’s trade deadline and Stanton was traded to the New York Yankees during the offseason. Taking advantage of this opportunity to remain close, both men will be rooming together in an apartment in New York despite the fact they’ll be playing for different teams. Yankee Stadium and Citi Field are only 7 miles apart so if their games got out at roughly the same time then they’d both make it home in time to talk to each other about their day. Then Ramos could have breakfast waiting for Stanton in the morning as they peck each other on the cheek before going off to work. It’s really quite beautiful. I also feel like this could be interesting to make into a reality show or some other interesting segment when the Yankees and Mets play each other from June 8-10 and July 20-22. I just gave you a freebie, sports TV networks, run with it.

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-The Boston Police Department chose a very interesting way to honor Black History Month. In a tweet that has since been deleted, they honored legendary Celtics head coach Red Auerbach for being the first coach to draft a black man and starting the first all-black starting 5 in NBA history. Celebrating a white guy for Black History Month seems a bit controversial, no? This seems like an easy call to make but I guess the BPD didn’t see it that way. I get what they were going for, as Auerbach’s contributions to integrating the NBA were crucial particularly in a city that historically hasn’t had a great run with the black community, but why not just celebrate Earl Lloyd for being the first black man ever drafted into the NBA? That seems like a no-brainer.

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-Johnny Manziel opened up not only on Good Morning America, but on Pardon My Take about the lifestyle changes he’s made since he last appeared in the NFL. I won’t go through every bit of each, as you can probably find this stuff anywhere on the web, but a quick summary is that Manziel is now sober and I got the sense that he really regrets a lot of the decisions he made in the past and desperately misses football and is willing to do what it takes to get that opportunity again. He seemed to be very self-aware and I’m really hoping that he’s able to get another opportunity somewhere, whether that be in the NFL, the CFL, or even the XFL (though if Vince McMahon’s no criminal record policy is strictly enforced, that won’t be possible since Manziel has a DUI on his record).

That’s going to do it for this edition of general sports. Sorry for doing one of these on back-to-back days, but there hasn’t been any stories worthy of dedicating an entire blog to of late but a bunch of little ones. This may be a common theme over the summer, though. Goddamn, it’s only been a week and I already miss the Hell out of football. Let me know what you think of these stories in the comments section below or on Facebook or Twitter @jimwyman10.