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Toronto Blue Jays Preview

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

On to the fifth and final team in the AL East, I will be doing the runner-up of the last two AL Pennant races, the Toronto Blue Jays.  The Blue Jays have had an interesting offseason, as they have attempted to encounter the loss of star 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion along with finding a succession plan for star outfielder Jose Bautista.  This team still has plenty of pieces left and are by no means out of the running, but they also need to find a way to transition their recent success into long term success.  They should be a playoff team this year, but as of right now there is plenty of competition.

PROJECTED ROTATION: Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, JA Happ, Marcus Stroman, Francisco Liriano
In two seasons, the Blue Jays offense has had the AL MVP and multiple guys hit 40 home runs in a season, and neither of them was All-Star Troy Tulowitzki.  Now, it's almost amazing to realize that the starting rotation in Toronto is now the strength of this team.  Their fifth starter, Francisco Liriano, was the ace of the Pittsburgh Pirates the past few seasons, and now he is only one without a real chance at the job.  Stroman was the ace going into the season, but he had the worst season last year of the five.  The trio of Sanchez, Estrada and Happ all performed much better than expected, and together they form a formidable five.  After that, however, there is not a lot of depth, as bullpen arm Joe Biagini is currently listed as the sixth starter if necessary.

BULLPEN: Roberto Osuna, Jason Grilli, Danny Barnes, Joe Biagini, Ryan Tepera, Aaron Loup, Mike Bolsinger
Osuna and Grilli are yet another dynamic duo at the back of a bullpen, and Osuna has quietly been one of the better closers in all of baseball since his arrival a few years ago.  Joe Biagini may have been their second best guy there, however, as he recorded 60 appearances and held a 3.06 ERA.  Barnes, Tepera and Loup all were under 25 appearances after battling through injuries, but only Loup seemed to let his injuries affect his performance.  Bolsinger is a newcomer, and should be the long man in relief with potential to be a spot starter.  Keep and eye on Matt Dermody, Chad Girodo, and Glenn Sparkman to compete for a bullpen job.

CATCHERS: Russell Martin, AJ Jimenez
Russell Martin is back, and chances are the Blue Jays will trade for Dioner Navarro again to be his backup.  All jokes aside, backup catcher in Toronto looks to be a weakness, as AJ Jimenez and Juan Graterol are the only other catchers on the roster, and none have any big league experience.  Expect the Blue Jays to go out and sign another catcher to help fill the void before Spring Training.  Number four prospect Reese McGuire could find himself on the outside looking in for a job, but I wouldn't expect him until at least 2018.

INFIELDERS: Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Devon Travis, Kendrys Morales, Steve Pearce, Ryan Goins
I think Steve Pearce would be a good first baseman for the Blue Jays, and after the disappointing career incumbent starter Justin Smoak has had up to this point, I would prefer Pearce any day.  Kendrys Morales has the job of trying to replace Edwin Encarnacion, and Ryan Goins is likely going to start off as the backup for the rest of the infield.  The trio of Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis are among the best in baseball when healthy, and due to their return and the addition of Morales, don't expect the Blue Jays' offense to fall off just because of Encarnacion's departure.  Along with Smoak, look for Darwin Barney to compete for a spot as well, and top prospect Richard Urena isn't far away either.

OUTFIELDERS: Jose Bautista, Kevin Pillar, Melvin Upton, Ezequiel Carrera, Lourdes Gurriel
Jose Bautista is back with the Jays for at least another year, and they also get the benefit of having Melvin Upton for a full season as he hopes to replace Michael Saunders, who fell off after the All-Star game.  Kevin Pillar is one of the better defenders in center, and Ezequiel Carrera is capable of leading off and playing all three outfield positions.  As far as fifth outfielder goes, I chose Lourdes Gurriel (brother of Houston's Yulieski Gurriel) due to his potential and readiness, and that Dalton Pompey has had more than enough chances.  Also, high ranking prospect Anthony Alford's arrival isn't too far away either.

LINEUP: Travis (2B), Donaldson (3B), Bautista (RF), Tulowitzki (SS), Morales (DH), Martin (C), Upton (LF), Pearce (1B), Pillar (CF)

That is one of the best lineups in the American League still, even without Encarnacion.  Assuming everybody stays relatively healthy for the Blue Jays, expect them to once again compete for the AL East crown with the primary contender being the Boston Red Sox.  I think the Red Sox have the edge here, but don't count out Toronto in the long run.  I have Toronto getting the first wild card spot and about 90 wins on the year.