The Toronto Blue Jays made big news on Friday evening, executing a blockbuster trade with the Oakland A’s, receiving Josh Donaldson in exchange for Brett Lawrie and three prospects.
This comes after the Jays shelled out $82 million for free agent catcher Russell Martin on November 20.
Continuing the philosophy that general manager Alex Anthopoulos and the rest of the front office have implemented recently, the Blue Jays want to win now. The Yankees, Red Sox and Rays all struggled last year, but Toronto wasn’t able to capitalize, finishing 83-79 and third in the AL East.
However, they were without one of their best hitters for most of 2014. Edwin Encarnacion played in only 128 games because of a quad injury he suffered in Baltimore in July, and Brett Lawrie missed over half the season. Those two injuries caused the Jays to have to shuffle a variety of mediocre players at the corner infield positions.
But with Donaldson, who is one of the most consistent players in the game over the past two seasons, the Blue Jays offense has the potential to be among the most productive in the league.
Shortstop Jose Reyes starts it off at the top of the order, giving them a steady leadoff hitter when healthy. Even though he has lost a step at age 31, he still stole 30-of-32 attempts in 2014 and got on base at a solid .328 clip. If he can find a way to stay on the field for 140-150 games, he has the skills to be one of the best leadoff hitters in the MLB.
If Reyes can get on base on a regular basis, he will have no trouble scoring an abundance of runs. Jose Bautista, Encarnacion and Donaldson comprise one of the scariest 3-4-5 hearts of the order in the game. Manager John Gibbons has not yet announced where he plans to place Donaldson in the lineup, but I assume it will be either third, in front of Bautista and Encarnacion, or fifth, behind the two power studs.
And, if the Jays choose to re-sign Melky Cabrera, CBSSports.com’s Jon Heyman tweeted that they were interested, he would occupy the second spot and Toronto would have arguably the best top of the order in all of baseball.
Bautista and Encarnacion are monsters. Bautista has averaged better than 37 home runs and 93 RBIs in the past five years, and Encarnacion has averaged the same number of homers and 104 RBIs. Even when Encarnacion missed more than 30 games last year, he still managed to record 34 dingers.
Donaldson thinks along the same lines. He was very optimistic about his new opportunity in Toronto.
“You start looking at the capability of this lineup and the potential that it brings,” Donaldson told the Associated Press via ESPN.com. “I’m going to venture to say there’s probably not going to be another lineup as potent as this in major league baseball.”
Not only will the team be more potent with the addition of the All-Star third baseman, but Donaldson’s power numbers should rise significantly playing in his home park.
In a recent article in the New York Daily News, Bill Madden quoted a veteran scout saying this about Josh Donaldson:
“Donaldson, with his right handed power, could be a monster in the AL East. Just think about it – he’s trading home games in Oakland for home games in Toronto, as well as 19 games in Seattle for 19 games in Boston and Baltimore, each. It’s a great pickup for them and you’ve got to love their lineup now.”
Madden is talking about the reputation of the AL East ballparks being more hitter-friendly than AL West ballparks. Toronto, Boston and Baltimore are known for dramatically raising power numbers, while Seattle and Oakland are where power hitters go to die.
The Blue Jays are a team on the rise, a talented roster that has not yet been able to put anything together. They have not played in a postseason game in 21 years, the longest active streak in the MLB.
So it is pretty safe to assume that the Toronto offense is going to be very good, but they could use some help in the pitching department. They have a decent starting rotation consisting of R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Marcus Stroman and Drew Hutchinson, but they need to add an arm or two to the back end of the bullpen.
Even though they let Casey Janssen, the Jays’ closer the past three seasons, walk in free agency, they are back in contention for his services according to Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star.
They hope top prospect Daniel Norris can contribute at the big-league level in 2015, but it’s nearly impossible to project how he would perform out of the bullpen.
As they are now, the Blue Jays have added enough hitting help to improve their record by at least a handful of victories. But if they can add a pitcher via trade or free agency, or find a hidden gem in their farm system, the Jays have what it takes to end their playoff drought.
And, who knows, maybe they can be 2015’s version of the Kansas City Royals.