For the first time since 1994, the Toronto Blue Jays open the 2016 season as the AL East champions. While their postseason run came to end at the hands of the Kansas City Royals in six games, the Blue Jays look eager to get back to their winning ways at the Rogers Centre for their home opener against the Boston Red Sox and return of SP David Price on April 8.
An eventful offseason beginning with the surprise departure of Former GM Alex Anthopoulos, new President and CEO Mark Shipiro entered having high hopes and expectations after breaking a 22-year playoff drought.
Blue Jays fans were left skeptical with the front office after watching SP David Price leave Toronto and sign a seven-year deal with division rival Boston. An amazing 2015 season led to Marco Estrada signing a two-year extension, with the Jays making him the third starter behind Marcus Stroman and R.A Dickey.
Stroman looks poised and confident in his ability to lead the pitching staff after a sensational postseason performance. Will Dickey and Estrada be able to provide the much needed pitching depth and consistency that the Jays need to keep them atop the AL East?
Can the Jays repeat to win the AL East in back-to-back years?
Off-season acquisitions of J.A. Happ, who is the lone left-hander amongst the starters, will be relied upon to give the Jays much-needed pitching depth. If Happ continues his late 2015 pitching form, Blue Jays fans will be left delighted.
Rounding out the rotation at the fifth and final spot is 23-year-old Aaron Sanchez, who looks to build from an impressive 2015 season. His ability to throw in the upper 90s and strike out batters with ease makes him exceptionally dynamic.
Roberto Osuna won the closing role over newly acquired RP Drew Storen, giving the bullpen much needed stability and support. There is no denying that the Blue Jay pitchers are equipped with extraordinary young talent, but the question is how well they will be able to perform with arguably the best offence in baseball?
The team offensively looked almost identical to the 2015 lineup but without the services lead-off hitter Ben Revere. Kevin Pillar took the challenge upon himself to fill that void and entered himself as the lead off man. Pillar is looking to improve on his first full season while providing exceptional defence in the outfield.
The return of Canadian Michael Saunders will be a huge lift for the outfield as he missed all but nine games last year due to a knee injury. The 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson is coming off a career year and expected to continue his remarkable hitting at the plate and leading the Blue Jays' offence.
Can the team capitalize on the potential final year of the Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion sweepstakes?
Both OF Jose Bautista (35) and DH Edwin Encarnacion (33) are in the final year of their contracts. Their output this year will prove pivotal as both are looking for contract extensions with the Blue Jays. Contract talks have stirred up much discussion whether the sluggers will return as a Blue Jay or if they will test free agency.
Encarnacion has made it clear that he will not discuss an extension now that the season has begun, leaving the question of him returning at the end of the season up in the air. Bautista, on the other hand, has said he would like to return as a Blue Jay, but has outlined what he expects from the front office for years and dollars.
The fact that he openly stated that he would not be giving the Blue Jays a hometown discount nor negotiating contract terms leaves fans wondering on whether the six-time All-Star will return next season. Amidst uncertainty with both sluggers, they remain fan favourites and key components to this lethal offence.
The Blue Jays finished the 2015 season with 93 wins, the most since the 1993 World Series Championship team. Look for the Jays in 2016 to have another 90+ win season depending on health, consistency and ability to execute in tough situations.
Can the Jays repeat to win the AL East in back-to-back years? More importantly, can the team capitalize on the potential final year of the Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion sweepstakes?
*All stats courtesy of www.mlb.com
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