Charlie Montoyo has reason to smile when thinking about the Jays’ future. (Toronto Star)
Saturday marked 34 years since the Toronto Blue Jays clinched their first ever playoff spot. Since then, they’ve made it to the postseason six times, but their last appearance was in 2016.
Worse yet, they’ve gone downhill steadily since, dropping from 89 wins in 2016 to 76, then 73 and this year, slipping a half dozen more to 67, the team’s worst season since 1995. It’s the first time Toronto has lost 90 or more since 2004.
The team’s degradation has had a major effect on attendance. Two years ago, the team drew over 3.2 million fans, but dropped to just over 2.3 million last year. This season was even worse, with just 1.75 million fans — the Jays’ first sub-2 million seasons since 2011.
Have the Jays hit rock bottom? Given the immense amount of young talent in this franchise, we’d venture to say yes. Better times are coming, and they’re coming very soon.
Signs of improvement have already been seen under first-year manager Charlie Montoyo, who certainly endured his frustrations this season (see video below). After sitting at 34-57 at the All-Star break, the Jays went 33-38 down the stretch, and came close to breaking even in September (12-13, including 9-4 over the last 13 games). It’s clear, Toronto is a team on the rise, and while a .500 season probably isn’t in the cards for 2020, it’s easy to see a scenario in which the Jays are quite competitive two years down the road.
Look no further than outfielder Teoscar Hernandez, who slumped in May to the point where he wound up spending more time at Triple-A this year than he did in 2018. Yet, he really came on in the second half, and wound up bashing a career-high 26 bombs, including going yard in each of the final three games. Given more time in the majors next year, Hernandez could be a serious Fantasy asset.
The Jays may have found another diamond in the rough in second baseman Breyvic Valera, claimed off waivers from the Yankees in late-September. He got a long look in Toronto over the final week, playing strongly in his limited time, even spanking his first big league homer. Valera hit very well and recorded an 870 OPS at Triple-A, so that deserves exploring.
And then there’s the team’s future superstar, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Okay, so he didn’t dominate out of the gate (.249 BA, 741 OPS, 25 RBI in the first half), but he was on fire in early August, enjoying his finest month of the season before cooling in September thanks to a nagging knee issue. Guerrero definitely hinted at his power potential; in 2020, you can expect a hell of a lot more of that.
After enjoying a career year in 2017, Justin Smoak‘s offense has slid in each of the last two years, so the Jays are likely to let the pending free agent leave town given the presence of Roddy Tellez. It would be wise to let Smoak walk, freeing up money to acquire pitching, which the Jays plan to focus on this winter.
Toronto gave former top prospect Billy McKinney more PT than he’s ever seen, but given his lack of speed and awful BA, he’s going to have a tough time winning a job next year given the Jays outfield depth. McKinney could very well be ticketed for Triple-A given that he has options remaining.
Oft-injured veteran starter Clay Buchholz looked fantastic in Arizona last year, prompting the Jays to sign him, but that move didn’t pan out, and the losses piled up and he was simply dreadful. When he wasn’t hurt, that is. Toronto is sure to move on from Buchholz, who is again a free agent this winter.
The emergence of Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio left Richard Urena as an afterthought, so he barely saw any action, and looked anemic offensively when he did play. Urena will struggle to earn significant PT next year.
The offensive pieces are in place for Toronto to take a step in the right direction in 2020. The front office has indicated it plans to increase its budget and target some pitching this winter, so how successful the Jays are in this regard will be the key to determining how quickly this team will get back to respectability, if not contention.
RotoRob Tune of the Day
Chicago blues god Howlin’ Wolf got his start in the 1930s, performing up until his death in 1976 at the age of 65. In 1965, he released the compilation album The Real Folks Blues, which included the track “Ooh Baby (Hold Me),” featuring Buddy Guy on guitar.
Now it’s your turn. Let us know in the comments how you think Toronto will do in 2020.