2016: The Do-or-Die Year?

2015 was a whirlwind. There’s no other way to describe it. From having another .500 year at the All-Star break, to being the World Series favourite, nobody can say that the 2015 Jays weren’t in it to win it after the Tulowitzki/Price trades in July. The SkyDome was selling out, SportsNet recorded record-breaking audiences, the offence was unstoppable, and more importantly, the fans (and the players) knew that it was something special. But we lost. Now what?

With the known exit of Paul Beeston and the unexpected departure of Alex Anthopolous, where are our Jays headed next? On paper, Mark Shapiro looked perfect coming into the 2016 season. He was great in Cleveland; known for his experience being a small-budget, non-championship, don’t-rock-the-boat leader…exactly what Rogers wanted for their sleepy team. But with Anthopolous’ mic-drop moves at the Trade Deadline, he did something that Rogers wasn’t expecting (and, in my opinion, something Rogers didn’t want) – he woke up Toronto.

There were rumblings last off-season that the play-off hibernation was over with the surprising acquisition of Josh Donaldson, but after some bad luck (lookin’ at you Stro & Travis), it was shaping up to be a regular season for the men in blue. We all know what happened next- some major trades were made, the boys went streaking (twice!) and came out on top of the AL East, won the ALDS (I could write a whole book about that one) and lost in game 6 of the ALCS against the eventual World Champions, the Kansas City Royals.

But before the crazy second-half of the season, Rogers had already sealed the deal with the hands-on Shapiro: a man known for creating a good rotation with a low-budget, maintaining a deep and ready farm-team and always looking towards the future, rather than the present.

But Anthopolous threw a wrench in that one, boy did he ever. After releasing most of the already-thin farm team in trades (including Norris who lives in a van by the river), and haunted by previous pitching trades (Oh Thor, how I wish we had kept you!), our prospects look pretty thin as far as pitching is concerned.

When you have the most potent offence in baseball, we thought we could make up for the glaring gaps in our rotation, but halfway through the season we were still just your average .500 team. Anthopolous played his hand and went all-in. As much as adding Tulo to our line-up was a great call (and allowed us to dump the less-than-stellar Reyes onto the Rockies), it was the acquisition of All-Star David Price that really got the city going. He was only a rental, and we traded away good prospects for him, but there’s no way we’d have been as successful without him in the latter half of the season.

But now that season is done with and we’re left with a management change, a disgruntled fanbase who want to relive August-October, and not enough pitchers and prospects. And I know we don’t want to hear it, but after 2016 it’ll be more than just our pitching we’ll be worried about.

Until the arrival of Donaldson and Tulo, our offence consisted of pretty much Bautista and Encarnacion. The two Dominicans dominated our lineup and are some of the most beloved players in Toronto. We’ve taken up options on both, but after next year they both enter Free Agency and are able to go where the money takes them. Barring any trades, that will leave us with Donaldson and Tulo as our strongest hitters. With trade rumours flying around about Pillar and Revere, who will our lineup (and our defence) consist of? Travis is out for the next five months, Goins isn’t a confident batter and Pompey still can’t hit in the big leagues. Smoak is consistent on first and even managed to hit the only Blue Jay grand slam at Yankee Stadium, but his bat isn’t nearly as good as the unexpected independent league wonder, Chris Colabello (who, surprisingly, is learning Japanese for Kawasaki and speaks fluent English, Italian and Spanish).

Everyone thought that 2015 was our do-or-die year, but in reality, 2016 is going to be our final test. If we don’t make the play-offs next year, there’s no hope of the budget going up. Even after a stellar second half of the season this year, our budget doesn’t appear to be changing (after all, Rogers only took in an extra $40 million…). If we don’t make it, and don’t re-sign Bautista or Encarnacion, we will go back into *shudder* “rebuilding phase.” And with Shapiro, that means giant farm team, no big headlining trades and more .500 average seasons.

If we don’t acquire a big-name pitcher this off-season, there’s little to no chance of making even the wildcard spot in 2016. The AL East is too good to be able to get away with shoddy pitching, and unfortunately, that looks like the plan. So be good to your 2016 team, and remember the dream-team that captured us in 2015, because this time next year, we’ll be closing the book on this fairytale and going back to sleep until the next generation of hopeful Blue Jays fans wake us up with some good news.



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