The Toronto Blue Jays appeared in the headlines this offseason for mostly the wrong reasons.
After winning their division for the first time in two decades, their general manager, Alex Anthopoulos, won the Sporting News' prestigious MLB Executive of the Year award. Normally good news, Anthopoulos announced that he would not be returning to the Blue Jays organization on the same day.
The successor wouldn't be appointed by newly-installed President of Baseball Operations Mark Shapiro until early December. Former Cleveland Indians Vice President of Player Personnel Ross Atkins would be the new GM.
For a team that had such an existential crisis, you may not expect an active -- let alone successful -- offseason. Let's see.
The Blue Jays made only a couple swaps of note, and one in particular was one of the better need-for-need trades of the offseason. In need of some bullpen depth -- and with some outfield pieces to spare -- the Jays sent Ben Revere to the Washington Nationals in exchange for Drew Storen.
With Roberto Osuna and Brett Cecil the two key contributors in the bullpen, the Jays had lockdown relief down the stretch of the 2015 season. However, leaning on the players after Osuna and Cecil would have been less-than-ideal. Storen will bring some closing experience to a bullpen that might be called upon quite a bit in 2016.
The Blue Jays also shipped one of their bullpen pieces away by trading Liam Hendriks for Jesse Chavez. In Chavez, the Blue Jays are getting a potential starter, but he could also be a bullpen piece. Chavez played with the Blue Jays in 2012 before getting traded to the Oakland Athletics for cash considerations to make room for Chad Jenkins.
Over three season with the Athletics -- two of which spent in the rotation -- Chavez accrued 4.3 WAR by FanGraphs metric. While he seems to be a bullpen piece for the Jays, he could also quickly see time in the rotation if one of their starters suffers an injury or falters.
The Free Agents
With David Price departing via free agency, the biggest glaring need the Blue Jays needed to address was the starting rotation. Even a batting lineup as good as the Blue Jays' needs a pitching staff.
The Blue Jays began the offseason by retaining the services of Marco Estrada, who was eligible for free agency. At two-years, $26 million, the Estrada deal could end up being a bit of a bargain. It's less average annual value than what the qualifying offer would have cost, while still not committing a longer term to the 32-year old. Since 2012, Estrada has posted three seasons in which he has been worth more than $13 million by FanGraphs dollar-per-WAR estimations.
The biggest commitment the Atkins made was to another former Blue Jays player, J.A. Happ. At three-years, $36 million, Happ seems to have benefited substantially from the Ray Searage bump. Omitting last season, Happ hasn't been worth more than $12 million since 2012.
However, some of that is unfair. While Happ did shine particularly well with the Pittsburgh Pirates, he was already having an okay year with the Seattle Mariners. In 108.2 innings, he had already accrued more fWAR than he did in all of 2014 with the Blue Jays. Regardless, in order for the Jays to get surplus value out of this deal, Happ might have to replicate whatever it was that made him so effective with the Pirates.
The Blue Jays made some additional moves that included Gavin Floyd, Darwin Barney, Rafael Soriano, Randy Choate, and -- perhaps most interestingly -- Domonic Brown. Brown, who hit 27 homers in 2013 for the Philadelphia Phillies, has struggled ever since. While his OBP seems to be an issue, Brown's BABIP has also dipped below .270 for the past two seasons. While that isn't necessarily abnormal, it could indicate some bad bat-luck. It could also indicate though that he's a slow slugger with a low line drive rate.
Regardless, it seems as though the free agent market for the Blue Jays was about acquiring depth rather than stars.
Reasons to worry
Despite relying on strong depth, the starting rotation isn't very good. Marcus Stroman -- despite being one of the best comeback stories of the year last season -- has never pitched more than 150 innings in a season.
While R.A. Dickey has become a very serviceable 200-inning knuckler, his effectiveness has waned since that magical 2012. He's heading into his age-41 season and underwent knee surgery in the winter.
Estrada outperformed his peripherals by a significant margin last year. Whether he actually made adjustments toward success is still up for debate, but it's not hard to be skeptical about a guy who doesn't strike out a lot of batters.
It's almost just as easy to hope on Happ than it is to worry about him. Sure, three guaranteed years seems steep. And it could just all be Searage devil magic. However, the left-hander seems to have figured out a better approach for keeping the ball in the park while his home-run-to-flyball rate wasn't especially low.
Reasons for hope
The batting lineup is still the best in the entire major leagues. Even if players like Chris Colabello are unable to repeat their outlier 2015 success, the lineup still gets to rely on Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Troy Tulowitzki, and Russell Martin.
Furthermore, Kevin Pillar cemented himself as one of the best defensive centerfielders in the entire game, despite playing in the same league as Kevin Kiermaier.
And despite the rotation not looking great, Jays fans can hope on quite a bit of young talent. Pitchers like Aaron Sanchez, who is currently competing for a rotation spot at 23 years old. Or Osuna, who already showed he can handle the top job in a bullpen at the young age of 20. Or Stroman, who, granted, may lack some experience, but seems to be the ace of the staff for a reason.
The AL East could be tough next year, but the incumbent division champs seem like they're still ready for October baseball.