We are less than 2 weeks away from Christmas and two of the Blue Jays’ prized free agents remain unsigned. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion were two of the team’s best hitters over the last four seasons.
Under normal circumstances, losing these two to another team without a player compensation would be devastating. But even if Bautista and Encarnacion did return to the Blue Jays, it would not address the most important need of the team, and that is balance in the line up. The Blue Jays still lack a lead-off hitter and some left-handed bats to level what is a right heavy line up. Yes, this is coming from a guy who likes to lean to the right. It is not enough to have the core group back for next season, they need to shake things up.
The top five hitters last season were Josh Donaldson, Bautista, Encarnacion, Troy Tulowitizki, and Russell Martin. Add Kevin Pillar and Devon Travis and that’s 7 of 9 hitters in the starting line up batting from the right side of the plate. The best left-handed hitter the Blue Jays had last year was Michael Saunders. He had his best offensive output of his career but struggled down the stretch and wasn’t much of a factor in the postseason. Saunders is also a free agent but appears to be down on the Blue Jays’ priority list behind Bautista and Encarnacion. Assuming Saunders does not re-sign with the Blue Jays, that leaves them with Ryan Goins and Ezequiel Carrera, two lefty bats that don’t necessarily put fear into opposing pitchers. They did retain Justin Smoak and newly acquired Kendrys Morales, two switch-hitters who can provided serious pop from the left side against right-handed pitchers.
There are three positions where Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins can fill with a left-handed hitter: left field, right field and first base, the latter two were occupied by Bautista and Encarnacion respectively. Replacing them with quality left-handed bats would put the issue about whether or not to re-sign the pair to bed.
Not only are the Blue Jays lacking lefties in the line up, their bullpen is also thin on southpaws. With the departure of Brett Cecil to St. Louis as a free agent, that leaves the Blue Jays with just Aaron Loup coming out of the pen from the left side. He alone won’t be enough to neutralize the likes of Chris Davis and Robinson Cano for the entire season.
Then there’s the lead-off position. Travis had been there for much of last season. He is a great hitter but he is often injured and is not patient enough to take pitches and draw walks. If Bautista does come back, I sure don’t want him in the lead off spot like he did for parts of last season. His bat would be better served to drive in runners instead of trying to get on base. One would hope Mississauga’s Dalton Pompey can fill that role next season after spending the past two seasons in AAA Buffalo. There is plenty of speed in the line up but it is kind of useless if they can’t get on base.
We are a little more than two months away until pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training so the Blue Jays still have time to address those needs. The starting rotation and the back end of the bullpen are probably the only areas that are stable. If they want to make a serious run at the World Series and not just settling for a third straight postseason appearance, it would be wise for Atkins to cross off those items on his off-season to-do list.