2019 Toronto Blue Jays – a personal journey

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way”

— Charles Dickens, on the 2019 Toronto Blue Jays

The season sure felt like what Dickens may have felt writing these immortal lines. After the Blue Jays juggernaut ended their season with an 8-3 drubbing of the playoff bound, the 67-95 season felt like a long cruise coming to an end where despite some magical moments, you constantly felt sea sick. But now that it’s over, you kinda miss those rough waters. The magical moments like Vlad Jr’s home run of Wade Leblanc or Cavan Biggio’s bunt double – though few and far in between – provided fans with enough hope that this team can contend sooner rather than later.

Twenty three rookies suited up for the Blue Jays in 2019 which is a big enough pool that you can see form a core group of players going forward. Vlad Jr., Bo Bichette, Danny Jansen have always been seen as an essential core when the next competitive window opens but there were some intriguing players – Cavan Biggio, Trent Thornton, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Reese McGuire, Anthony Kay, T.J. Zeuch – who despite an up an down season are compelling enough to earn an extended run in 2020.

In addition we now know more about some more players. Teoscar Hernandez has now spent two full seasons in the major leagues. At times he’s shown flashes of the talent but overall has managed to post 107 and 99 wRC+ over these two years, which hardly is reason to get overly excited. After his demotion in May and a subsequent call up on June 5th he’s slashed .244/.320/.537 with a 121 wRC+. Although striking out at 34.8 percent during this time 29.6 percent is slightly better than what he posted in 2018 (32.2). He also improved his swinging strike percentage from 17.8 percent last year to 14.8 percent. What makes him intriguing are his peripherals, including an 84th percentile Exit Velocity, 69th percentile hard hit percentage, which, despite a high strike out rate was in the bottom 1 percent of the league. We can expect Blue Jays to continue to play him next year despite plethora of out field options.

Speaking of outfielders, Blue Jays currently have seven of them on the 40 man roster. Looking ahead, the club has some decisions to make. Based on his extension, one would expect Grichuk to be with the club in 2020, and given what he showed as a left fielder, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. looks to have secured spot as well.

This is where things get murky however, as the remainder are a bunch of potentially-good-but-maybe-not-so-good outfielders, and Alford and Fisher are out of options. Given how much the Blue Jays liked Fisher, its reasonable for him and Hernandez to compete for the 3rd and 4th outfielder spot. The Blue Jays have to make a decision with Alford, but given his lack of playing time in September, it seems like the decision has already been made.

The challenge with outfield situation is that none of these players has shown enough to be more than an average regular. Atkins may boast of his out field depth but that’s all this is depth, there’s probably not a lot of quality.

Pitching is another area which needs to be addressed in the offseason. Starters posted a 5.28 ERA and a 4.91 FIP which includes Marcus Stroman’s terrific numbers, without which the numbers look really ugly. The club at worst needs innings eaters, it would be a folly to rely on Thornton, Kay and Zeuch to make up 60% of rotation. That’s not a lot of depth and despite a potential call up for Pearson and a return of Boruki from injury, pitching should Blue Jays biggest area of concern as they head into the darkness of winter.

For me, the two biggest reasons to turn on the game this season were Bo Bichette and Ken Giles. Bo raked right out of the gate and it’s shame his season ended the way it did, but it was fun watching him. The power of small sample sizes is that it can give us false hope, but there was enough both offensively and defensively that justifies fans being excited for the future (not to mention the pedigree). We all expected Vlad Jr. to have a monster rookie season, may be it was more on us expecting super human things from a 20 year old, but going forward, one can safely assume he’s going to be a solid player. Vlad and Bo could probably as good a 1-2 as there will be in baseball in the next few years.

Ken Giles was just incredible, it’s a shame that he was on a team that almost broke the 100 loss barrier. Watching him was one of the highlights of this year – his menacing presence on the mound and 14 strike outs per nine innings made most nights bearable. It would be interesting to see what the Blue Jays do with him as he’s under contract for one more year and whether they keep him or trade him would be a good indicator of how the club views 2020.

On the other hand, some of the players were outright awful to watch – I think it’s safe to say that Brandon Drury has not been withholding performance in the major leagues as Ross Atkins had suggested when they traded of him. He’s probably just not good enough. Ditto for Billy McKinney. Tellez has been hit and miss, Jansen struggled offensively but showed good defense behind the plat. Grichuk was a massive disappointment.

There were moments of learning for Charlie Montoyo has well, but overall he did a fair job with what he was given. We hope that there’s better communication between the manager and front office going forward and star players don’t have to sit out with load management on major long weekends.

It was also a nice farewell for Justin Smoak, the last position player from the crazy years of 2015 and 2016, which seem like a distant memory. Although I questioned his value to a major league club when he signed the extension, I’m now glad to say I was wrong. Last 3 years have been fun to watch Smoak and by all accounts he was a really good influence on the young kids.

It was tough to watch Marcus Stroman go, but given where the club was it was probably the right decision although there was a compelling argument to extend him as well. Stroman had embraced the Jays, and had expressed his desire to be here long term. Besides, he’s been a workhorse who may not have been an ace but a solid 1A or 2 in his rotation.

Its a tragedy what has happened to Aaron Sanchez since that incredible 2016. Injuries have really derailed his career. One can hope he can come back healthy with all those struggles behind him. Astros fans got a taste of what he’s capable of when he combined with Joe Biagini for the no hitter in his first start with the Astros.

Despite days where I had to convince myself that I should watch the game, despite the ugliness of a 7-21 May, despite watching a triple-A line up on most days, despite watching relievers a times I had never heard of, it was also the best of times, the future that arrived, and that will continue to arrive, the excitement of youth, the adventures and misadventures, these were fun times, for there hasn’t been a Blue Jays team this young in recent memory. And can never be thankful enough for the 26 games against Baltimore and Kansas City that returned 17 wins, for these wins were few and far between.

Azam Farooqui is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter at @DRCoverwRC

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