Some surprise faces and missing ones
By Davie Wong, Sports Editor
Spring Training is over and opening day has passed, which means that the roster has been locked for the Blue Jays, and there are some big surprises.
From the bullpen, the Jays have decided to shake it up this year. Drew Hutchinson has been demoted to the minor leagues to make room for newly acquired free agent J.A. Happ. His case wasn’t helped by a lacklustre spring training either. He won’t be gone for long though. Should any trouble occur in the bullpen this year, it’s likely that Hutchinson will get the call.
Long-time veteran Steve Delabar was released by the team going into April to make room in the bullpen for new acquisitions. Jesse Chavez, acquired in November from the Oakland Athletics, was fighting for a spot on the starting rotation. With that job now claimed by the youngster Aaron Sanchez, Chavez has been pushed into the bullpen temporarily. Gavin Floyd, a value pickup from free agency, had a great spring training. He battled hard for Sanchez’s spot on the starting rotation but ultimately fell short, and is now back in the bullpen.
New acquisition Arnold Leon, Rule 5 Draft pick up Joe Biagini, and freshly signed Franklin Morales, make up the bulk of the relievers. Brett Cecil makes his return as a set-up pitcher. Alongside him stands newly acquired Drew Storen, who looked like he could challenge for Roberto Osuna’s role as closer. But challenge is all he really did, as Osuna still looked fantastic during spring training, and he rounds out the Blue Jays’ bullpen from the role of closer.
While the bullpen looks strong, the same can’t be said about the starting rotation; “shaky” is a word one could use to describe it. Marcus Stroman heads the five-man team. R.A. Dickey, Happ, Sanchez, and an injured Marco Estrada follow him. Dickey will be hard-pressed to prove that he can still defy age and play past his prime. Happ is coming back to the Jays after being traded to Seattle and then being dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates at the trade deadline. His time with the Mariners was soured by his poor performance, but he looked much better with the Pirates. Look for him to be put on a very short leash, as Floyd or Chavez can easily fill his place if he fails to perform. Sanchez had a fantastic offseason, and has a spot on the starting rotation as a result. The youngster will also be on a short leash, as his services in the bullpen would be a huge asset to the Jays if he can’t hold his form. Estrada, who just inked a two-year deal in the offseason, will be looking to prove a point this year. His age is a little concerning, but if anything, he makes for a great bargaining chip come trade deadline.
The infield for the Jays looks very similar to how it did last year. With Devon Travis out from shoulder surgery in the offseason, Ryan Goins has stepped up to fill the vacancy at second base. Prospect Josh Thole has been brought into the Jays for veteran Russell Martin to mentor and teach, and serve as his backup. Darwin Barney had a strong spring training and has been brought into the team as the infield backup.
The outfield yielded a singular surprise this offseason. Dalton Pompey is not on the opening roster. Pompey, who made his debut for the Jays last year, has been sent to the minors to work on his playing ability. Look for Kevin Pillar, Pompey’s replacement, to be put on a shorter leash, with Pompey in the wings. Bautista and Saunders round out the outfield, which yields no further surprises. Ezequiel Carrera finishes the lineup serving as the utility outfielder.
This year’s rendition of the Blue Jay’s opening lineup has the offensive explosiveness that the team experienced last year. But the depth in the starting rotation is a real question, as they could go downhill very fast. Only time will tell what happens to this team, but I rule them as a fringe playoff contender. While I dream of a repeat, it isn’t looking too likely this year.