The epic bat flip of Jose Bautista in Game 5 of the ALDS after crushing the go-ahead home run in a wild seventh inning was an unforgettable moment for Blue Jay fans as Toronto won its first playoff series since 1993. It was the perfect way finish off the improbable comeback from a 2-0 series deficit against the Texas Rangers using the power bats in the middle of the order that led them to an AL East crown.
Toronto ran into red-hot Kansas City in the following round and was unable to capture the pennant but nevertheless showed signs of improvement and excitement for the fans in the six. Third baseman Josh Donaldson brought an MVP north of the border for the first time since George Bell’s outstanding season in 1987 and the trio of Donaldson, Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion were massive run producers combining for 120 home runs and over 300 RBI’s in 2015.
The trade that then general manager Alex Anthopoulos pulled off to acquire the MVP from Oakland was the number one move made last offseason. Anthopoulos swapped Brett Lawrie to Billy Beane, who was traded to the White Sox this season, to get his man. Toronto upgraded by more than seven points in WAR over at the hot corner, ultimately catapulting them into the postseason. Catcher Russell Martin and starting pitcher Marco Estrada were solid pick-ups for the Jays as well last off season as they were counted on all season to produce in route to an division title.
Credit Anthopoulos however for making moves when he needed to. In late July, Toronto was sitting in second place with a .500 record with the Yankees being the surefire bet to win the division. With a seven-game deficit separating Toronto and New York, the Blue Jays went out and acquired a top bat and a plus fielder by trading Jose Reyes to the Rockies in exchange for Troy Tulowitzki and then proceeding to make a deal to land Cy Young award winner David Price to ace the rotation.
The Blue Jays bats started to roll, as it seemed as if the acquisitions of Tulowitzki and Price gave the players a reason to succeed as Anthopoulos did everything to get his club motivated. Toronto went 21-5 in August to take the division lead and never gave it up the rest of the season.
Price went 9-1 for Toronto in the regular season with a 2.30 ERA and finished second in the Cy Young voting serving as the proven ace that the Jays were missing all season long. As they lost 24 year-old Marcus Stroman to an ACL injury in spring training a group of veterans, R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Estrada, were able to piece together the rotation with help from young guns Drew Hutchinson and Daniel Norris before Price came into town. While Stroman was able to return in September and get a couple of starts under his belt before the postseason, him and Price were expected to be the top two leading Toronto in October before struggling and being outshined by Estrada.
The Tulowitzki trade was a move that got the team going by getting a big name at the deadline as just having him on the team was motivation enough. Tulowitzki struggled for the first time away from Coors Field as his home ballpark hitting just five home runs while driving in 17 runs batting .239. He then missed the remainder of the regular season and was sidelined on September 12 with an injury but was able to come back and play in the postseason.
With the AL East becoming a division on the rise this off season, the Blue Jays chance of another championship season is uncertain. They still have the big bats in its order, but did lose its trade deadline gem Price within the division to Boston as they’ll see him in Fenway for the next seven seasons. A long with Price the Sox bolstered its bullpen by acquiring Craig Kimbrel from the Braves to close games for them. To counter Boston’s moves, the Yankees went out and traded for Cuban fire baller Aroldis Chapman to complete a deadline trio in the Bronx Bullpen joining top relievers Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller.
The bats will be fine for the Jays in 2016 as Donaldson and company will be back swinging for the fourth deck at Rogers Center but the pitching comes off as a little bit of a question mark. Losing Price to free agency puts Stroman at the top of the rotation for Toronto with his great upside but he’s only pitched 150 innings in his big league career. J.A. Happ signed with Toronto to replace Price as the fifth starter in the rotation but the Blue Jays don’t have the guy like Price that can stop a losing streak when needed to and expect a win every five days unless they’re counting on Stroman to do that in his second full season in the show.
With the best offense in the big leagues a season ago Toronto will have to put up an immeasurable amount of runs in the upcoming season if they want to battle with the rest of the division and support its light starting rotation.