Elliott: Which opening day roster is your fave? Now or 2016?

Will Blue Jays clear the outfield -- and dugout -- fences to celebrate in 2017?

Will Blue Jays clear the outfield -- and dugout -- fences to celebrate in 2017?

By Bob Elliott
Canadian Baseball Network

It has been mentioned once or twice about the Blue Jays having a window.

Not the weather window that gets talked about when teams play in open-air stadiums, but the win-now window.

Perhaps you saw the Sports Illustrated 2017 preview. Maybe you read the Enemy Lines where a scout suggested how Jose Bautiista would bounce back and Aaron Sanchez’s sinker is behind Zach Britton) and Modest Proposal (release Justin Smoak).

Take a look at the graph accompanying the lineup, starting rotation and two relievers. That should be an alarming part for us. 

Besides listing the team MVP (Josh Donaldson), its defensive stars (C Russell Martin, CF Kevin Pillar and 3B Donaldson), those players with an injury risk (Devon Travis, Jose Bautista, SS Troy Tulowitzki), the bargains (CF Kevin Pillar, C Russell Martin), rising players and those of declining talents.     

Your Toronto Blue Jays have one RP Roberto Osuna, who opens the season on the disabled list.

The New York Yankees (Gary Sanchez, Greg Bird, Aaron Judge and Luis Severrino) have four players on the rise, while the Baltimore Orioles have three (2B Jonathan Schoop, RHP Kevin Gausman, RHP Dylan Bundy), the Boston Red Sox (Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi) and the Tampa Bay Rays (Brad Miller and Chris Archer) have two each. 

And if that does not get you fired up for Monday afternoon’s 2017 opener SI lists eight Jays on the decline (including the Nos. 3-thru-7 hitters: RF Jose Bautista, DH Kendrys Morales, SS Troy Tulowitzki, C Russell Martin, 1B Justin Smoak, OF Melvin Upton, LHP Francisco Liriano and RP Jason Grilli). Upton has been released.

Next highest teams for having the most players on the decline according to SI? The Baltimore Orioles with five. 

As of a means of comparison, five teams had five players on the rise: Cleveland Indians (Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar), Houston Astros (George Springer, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, Lance McCullers), Texas Rangers (Rougned Odor, Nomar Mazara, Jurickson Profar, Matt Bush), Oakland A’s (Ryan Healey, Kendall Graveman, Sean Manaea, Jharel Cotton) and the Philadelphia Phillies (Maikel Franco, Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez). 

Seven teams had three players moving on up: Minnesota Twins (Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Jorge Polanco) Seattle Mariners (Mike Zunino, James Paxton, Edwin Diaz), Washington Nationals (Trea Turner, Anthony Rendon, Tanner Roark), Miami Marlins (Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, Adam Conley), Milwaukee Brewers (Jonathan Villar, Keon Broxton, Orlando Arcia), Los Angeles Dodgers (Corey Seager, Anndrew Toles, Julio Urias) and San Diego Padres (Manuel Margot, Hunter Renfoe, Austin Hedges).    

Seven teams had a pair of players on the rise: Kansas City Royals (Jorge Soler, Danny Duffy), Chicago White Sox (Jose Quintana, Carlos Rodon), Chicago Cubs (Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez), St. Louis Cardinals (Aledmys Diaz, Randal Grichuk), Pittsburgh Pirates (Gregory Polanco, Chad Kuhl), Cincinnati Reds (Adaum Duvall, Brandon Finnigan) and Colorado Rockies (Jon Gray, Jeff Hoffman). 

The San Francisco Giants and the Arizona Diamondbacks have zero players on the rise  ... but only three on the decline (Dernard Span, Hunter Pence and Matt Cain). DBacks on the decline were Yasmany Thomas, Robbie Ray and Fernando Rodney.

Four teams were like the Jays had one player having an arrow pointing upward, the Detroit Tigers (Michael Fulmer), Anaheim Angles (Cam Bedrosian), New York Mets (Robert Gsellmann) and the Atlanta Braves (Dansby Swanson). 

That was SI’s picks ... already out of date as Osuna is on the shelf and Upton is headed out of Dodge City.

How do we compare this year’s roster to last year’s ...
   
Opening day roster then and now
Rotation

2017: Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ, Marcus Stroman, Francisco Liriano and Aaron Sanchez. 
2016: Marcus Stroman, R.A. Dickey, Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ.

Estrada had never worked more 170 innings when he threw 195 1/3, including post-season play, in 2015 at age 32. He then turned around and threw 217 1/3 last year. It’s very rare for someone to throw that many innings at age 32 and then bounce back and toss even more innings the next year. People wiser than I say the chance of that -- 170 or more innings starting at age 32 or over -- happening back-to-back years as it did last at that age are roughly 20%.
  
Happ had never thrown more than 170 innings when he threw 172 in 2015 at age 32. He then turned around and threw 205 last year. Someone, again wiser than I, told me the likelihood of that happening -- 170 healthy innings a third straight year -- is 12%.

Coming off 166 1/3 innings in 2014, Stroman was injured in the spring of 2015, returned to work 54 innings and last year was up to 215 1/3 innings.

Lefty Liriano had a great spring and should not have any innings concerns. He worked 165 innings with the Pittsburgh Pirates (21 starts) and the Jays (eight starts) at age 32. He reached 191 2/3 innings in 2010 with the Minnesota Twins.

Sanchez, who will earn less than Dalton Pompey, despite winning the ERA title and leading the American League with 18 wins, pitched 203 2/3 innings ... compared to 109 1/3 innings in 2015.   
Projections are not impressed with either Estrada or Happ and Fangraphs has the Jays rotation rated the 16th best in the major -- hey it took 15 good teams to beat them.

In 2016, Estrada started the season on the disabled list but was back to start Game 7. In all, the Jays received 152 starts from their rotation of Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ, Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada and R.A. Dickey. Francisco Liriano made eight starts and Drew Hutchison two.

And the advantage goes to ... this year’s staff ... if healthy. The odds are against it and so is the depth. The Jays do not have a full five man rotation at triple-A Buffalo. They have Casey Lawrence, Lucas Harrell, Jarrett Grube, Brett Oberholtzer and TJ House. 

Relievers
2017: Joe Biagini, J.P. Howell, Dominic Leone, Aaron Loup, Joe Smith and Ryan Tepera.
2016: Drew Storen, Brett Cecil, Franklin Morales, Jesse Chavez, Gavin Floyd, Arnold Leon and Joe Biagini.

While most bullpens are doing the Kansas City Royals thing: hard, harder and hardest throwers on the back end, the Jays are nowhere near that. Who would you rather have as your best lefty Howell, at 34 or Cecil at 30? Biagini is the most trusted arm, as he was a year ago two months into the season when he was a Rule V until Joaquin Benoit and Jason Grilli arrived.

Only Biagini and Cecil went wire-to-wire last season.

And the advantage goes to ... last year’s staff ... simply because Grilli is not in his usual eight-inning spot as was expected a week ago.

Closer
2017: Jason Grilli.    
2016: Roberto Osuna.

Grilli has 78 career saves and at least as many third-out-of-the-inning gyrations and gestures. Osuna has 56 saves in less than two seasons, while Grilli broke in during the 2000 season and was converted from a starter to a reliever in 2006. He had four saves last year, two with the Atlanta Braves before Perry Minasian traded for Grilli, who had 24 in 2015 with Atlanta.

And the advantage goes to ... last year’s staff ... simply because no one pitches for ever, Grilli at 40, twice as old as Osuna, 20. Osuna was born Feb. 7 1995 as Grilli was preparing for his freshman season with the Seton Hall Pirates where he went 8-2 with a 1.85 ERA in 14 games.   

Catcher
2017: Russell Martin.
2016: Russell Martin.

Martin is a year older in year three of his five-year deal. He started six more games last year than in 2015. He had his third 20-homer or more season (20) and third year of 70 or more RBIs (74).

And the advantage goes to ... this year’s Martin ... he is healthy, despite what World Baseball Classic officials say and he has more help for days off than a year ago when Josh Thole was the back up.

Infielders
2017: 1B Justin Smoak, 2B Devon Travis, 3B Josh Donaldson, SS Troy Tulowitzki.
2016: 1B Justin Smoak, 2B Ryan Goins, 3B Josh Donaldson, SS Troy Tulowitzki.

Travis is an upgrade over Goins if he stays healthy, while the other three starters remain the same as a year ago. Donaldson is expected to be Donaldson and contend for another MVP trophy, while Tulowitzki continues to field as smooth as Davey Concepcion and be an offensive force -- maybe not Coors Field, but OK. Smoak started 76 games a year ago. It’s a power position and the Jays had 14 homers from him with a .705 OPS.

And the advantage goes to ... last year’s infield ... if we say Donaldson and Tulowitzki are a push from last year, Travis is better than Goins -- if healthy -- but Smoak is not as much as a power threat as most first baseman. And while a year ago Edwin Encarnacion could slide in at first base, Kendry Morales is pretty much a DH at his age. 
   
Outfielders
2017: LF Steve Pearce, CF Kevin Pillar RF Jose Bautista.
2016: LF Michael Saunders, CF Kevin Pillar, RF Jose Bautista.

Pearce is not an everyday player ... yet is that what is happening with Melvin Upton, Jr. released and Dalton Pompey still recovering from the concussion he suffered last month stealing second in the WBC. Pearce has never had more than 40 starts in the outfield or more than 338 at-bats. Will he be off to the all-star game like Saunders was? Pillar is Pillar in the field and perhaps more disciplined at the plate from what scouts saw this spring. Bautista will be better than last year simply because it will be difficult to jam his toe under the scoreboard in Philadelphia and trip on a Rogers Centre seam. He selflessly gave up RBI opportunities to volunteer to hit in the leadoff spot.

And the advantage goes to ... this year’s outfield ... despite the fact that left field another power position has Pearce -- not George Bell, not Carlos Delgado like his rookie year, not Joe Carter, who in later years rotated between left and right or even Adam Lind. Pearce had a high of 21 homers and 49 RBIs. TSN’s Scott MacArthur of the Scott MacArthur Show, with the host Scott MacArthur asked me last week: “Is the Jays No. 1 left fielder in Dunedin in camp?” Nope and he’s still not here. The Jays did sign former rookie of the year Chris Coghlan, 2009 rookie of the year with the Florida Marlins. That season Coghlan started 120 games.    

Bench
2017: INF Darwin Barney, INF Ryan Goins, OF Ezequiel Carrera, C Jarrod Saltalamacchia. 
2016: 1B Chris Colabello, OF Ezequiel Carrera, INF Darwin Barney, C Josh Thole. 

Saltalamacchia gives the Jays some thump, while Barney and Goins are excellent defensive replacements, although Goins might have a better future with an NL team (he can play four infield positions and left field as well as pinch run for a catcher or be used come double switch time). As one scout says “If Carrera starts more than half your games you have a bad team, but he’s a fine back up on a good team.”   

And the advantage goes to ... this year’s bench ... it’s not like manager John Gibbons goes to his bench a lot, but this one has more versatility by a little. 

DH
2017 Kendrys Morales.
2016 Edwin Encarnacion.

They made some mistakes this year, but this is the worst. “The reality is Morales is a nice player, he’s a good teammate and a good hitter,” said one executive. “But you do not let guys like Encarnacion get away. He created fear in opposing pitchers. Morales does not.” Plus it kind of clogs up the DH position. What if Gibbons wants to let Donaldson, Tulowitzki, Martin or Bautista have an easier day by DHing? You can’t put Morales at first, witness his two-error game at Tampa. “Encarnacion was not fast, but Morales will clog the base paths,” said another evaluator. “Morales still has that ankle problem from when he jumped on home plate after the walk-off homer.”  

And the advantage goes to ... last year’s DH ... Jays management won negotiations with Encarnacion, but did not make the better the team. 

Disabled list

2017: RP Roberto Osuna, OF Dalton Pompey and RHP Glenn Sparkman, RP Bo Schultz.
2016: RHP Marco Estrada, 2B Devon Travis, Aaron Loup, RP Bo Schultz.