Offseason losses not affecting Toronto's chances in 2016
By Hal Bodley
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Anyone who thinks the Blue Jays were one-season wonders in 2015 hasn't seen them play this spring.
There's no indication whatsoever this offensively explosive team will falter even though they've lost the likes of David Price, Ben Revere, et al.
I was lectured years ago that Spring Training games have to be put in perspective; once the Opening Day bell rings they're meaningless.
That might be true but after Friday night's 4-4 tie with the Phillies, the Blue Jays, at 15-4, own the best spring record of all American League teams.
That's much more than "meaningless."
"It's always difficult to repeat, but this has been a good spring," says manager John Gibbons. "There's a lot of energy here."
When the Blue Jays caught fire last summer, thanks mostly to midseason deals, and streaked to the AL East title, they returned to the postseason for the first time since 1993. Joe Carter's historic walk-off homer against the Phillies that gave Toronto back-to-back World Series championships had become a distant memory.
But from mid-August on, electricity and excitement returned to Toronto and Rogers Centre. All of Canada was buzzing. With the additions shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, Price and Revere at the July non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Blue Jays won 14 of 15 games en route to a 21-6 August during which they outscored their opponents by 87 runs.
They took over first place from the Yankees for good on Aug. 23.
When Tulowitzki was obtained from Colorado on July 28, the Blue Jays were 50-51, in fourth place. Price and Revere arrived three days later. "It was really a complete turnaround for us at the deadline," said Gibbons. "We just caught fire. We took off. No question, but before those moves we were basically a .500 team. That really set us off."
They were 43-18 after the trade for Tulowitzki, winning the division by six games.
Price is gone. As a free agent, he signed a seven-year, $217 million contact with the rival Boston Red Sox. Revere was traded to the Washington Nationals for late-inning reliever Drew Storen.
With Price, 9-1 with a 2.30 earned run average with the Blue Jays after being dealt by the Detroit Tigers, and the addition of reliever Craig Kimbrel, the Red Sox are picked by many to unseat the Blue Jays.
I believe there are too many question marks in Boston which leaves the door open for another championship in Toronto.
Yes, the Blue Jays have a lot to prove, but this spring they've showed that sense of determination.
"The sense of urgency is the opportunity," new general manager Ross Atkins told MLB.com's Anthony Castrovince. "We have an opportunity to have a really solid team. You have to recognize that those windows of opportunity don't happen every year."
Atkins took over as GM when Alex Anthopoulos, essentially the architect of the championship Blue Jays, resigned after turning down a five-year deal soon after the season ended. Paul Beeston also left, retiring as team president. He was replaced by the highly regarded Mark Shapiro, former Cleveland Indians GM who became the club's CEO/president.
This all melds into the mix as the Blue Jays prepare for their opener April 3 at Tropicana Field against the Tampa Bay Rays.
That urgency also stems from the fact middle-of-the order sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion will be free agents after the season. It's unlikely the Blue Jays will be able to afford both.
As potential free agents, Bautista and Encarnacion will be on a mission, aiming for big-bucks contracts.
Maybe the Blue Jays most important move during the offseason was signing their All-Star third baseman, Josh Donaldson, to a two-year contract worth $28.65 million, thus avoiding an arbitration hearing.
Donaldson, the AL MVP, batted .297 with 41 homers and 123 runs batted in.
The way the 2015 season ended for Toronto adds to Adkins' "sense of urgency." After a storybook victory over Texas in the Division Series, the Blue Jays kept coming back in the AL Championship Series, but fell short in the end, losing in six games to the eventual World Series champion Kansas City Royals.
Gibby says "had we gone down easy in that first round we wouldn't have had a good feeling. But we rebounded and had a great chance against Kansas City. Our offense was the key all year, but we struggled a lot in close games, one-run games."
The Blue Jays were 15-28 in one-run games. Improvement in that area has been a priority this spring.
"We're proud," Gibbons said earlier. "It turned out to be a great year for us. Kansas City had the most depth and was as well-rounded as any team out there."
The affable Gibbons, one of the game's best managers, was rewarded for ending the postseason drought in Toronto. He was given a contract extension through 2017, with an increase in salary -- much deserved.
"We always knew we had the talent, but there were a lot of players here, including me, who hadn't won yet," he said. "It's a huge hurdle, but when you can say you've done that, it goes a long way."
And a prime reason why Gibbons and the Blue Jays are determined to build on 2015.
Hal Bodley, dean of American baseball writers, is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. Follow him @halbodley on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.