The NFL season has come to an end, meaning it’s time to start thinking about the 2017 Major League Baseball season. The Toronto Blue Jays’ pitchers and catchers report to spring camp in Dunedin, Fla., on February 14 and the position players three days later. The team’s first Grapefruit League game is February 25. The Blue Jays play 33 spring training games this year, 18 in Dunedin and 15 on the road. Here’s a look at updated futures odds for the Jays and few others on Sports Interaction.
Blue Jays Offseason Acquisitions
Are the Blue Jays better than they were last time we saw them take the field? That was losing Game 5 of the American League Championship Series at Rogers Centre to the Cleveland Indians, 3-0. The answer would have to be no, considering Toronto lost one of the best sluggers in baseball, Edwin Encarnacion, in free agency to the Indians. He was offered a four-year, $80 million (U.S.) deal by the Jays but expected to top that significantly on the market.
Encarnacion’s agent overvalued his guy as he “only” landed a three-year, $60 million deal from Cleveland. Encarnacion tied with Boston’s David Ortiz for the American League lead with 127 RBIs in 2016, matching his career high with 42 home runs and batting .263. Encarnacion has 193 homers over the past five seasons, second only to the Orioles’ Chris Davis (197). Encarnacion is the only player in the majors with at least 30 homers in each of the past five seasons. The Indians make their only regular-season visit to Toronto from May 8-10.
The good news for the Blue Jays is that Jose Bautista’s agent also overvalued his client in a market saturated with one-dimensional power hitters. Bautista was brought back on a one-year, $18 million deal that includes $17 million mutual option for 2018 with a $500,000 buyout. It’s almost a sure thing that option isn’t picked up, as if Bautista struggles the Blue Jays won’t do so. If Bautista has a big year, he likely would want to try free agency again. The 36-year-old hit only .234 last in 2016 with 22 homers and 69 RBIs in 116 games, his fewest played since 2012. Bautista’s 265 home runs rank second behind Carlos Delgado (336) on Toronto’s career home run list.
Toronto also lost All-Star outfielder Michael Saunders in free agency. He signed a one-year deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. Saunders was fantastic before the All-Star break last year but then really struggled after. The Victoria native hit .253 with 24 homers and 57 RBIs overall.
The Jays’ biggest lineup acquisition was former Royals designated hitter/first baseman Kendrys Morales. After Encarnacion turned down his offer, Toronto quickly pivoted to Morales, who hit .263 with 30 homers and 93 RBIs in 2016. He got a three-year, $33 million deal. Toronto also added utility man Steve Pearce. He batted .288 with 13 home runs and 35 RBIs in 302 plate appearances with Tampa Bay and Baltimore. Pearce can play pretty much every position other than shortstop or catcher. He’ll largely play left field, first base or DH with the Jays.
The Toronto pitching staff should again be one of the best in the American League after leading the AL with a 3.78 ERA in 2016. The Jays will have lefty Francisco Liriano for the entire season after he was acquired around last year’s trade deadline. He was 2-2 with a 2.92 ERA in 10 regular-season appearances with the Jays. Liriano likely slots in as the No. 5 starter behind Aaron Sanchez, Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ and Marcus Stroman. The bullpen lost Brett Cecil and Joaquin Benoit but most of the key guys are back, led by closer Roberto Osuna. The team added lefty J.P. Howell to replace Cecil.
The Jays are likely done making any significant moves considering their payroll limit is in the $160 million range and sit currently around $154 million in commitments.
2017 AL Pennant & World Series Odds
Toronto is +628 on MLB odds to win the pennant and +1400 for the World Series. Win totals for each team will be out soon. FanGraphs projects the Jays to go 84-78 and finish second in the AL East.
The Boston Red Sox are the favourites among American League clubs at +475 to win the World Series, behind only the defending champion Cubs (+350). Boston is +151 for the AL pennant and will be the leader on odds to win the AL East when those are released later this month. The Red Sox lost the future Hall of Famer Ortiz to retirement but also traded for one of baseball’s best pitchers, former White Sox ace Chris Sale, and didn’t have to give up anyone of their major-league roster to get Sale. The Red Sox won the East with a 93-69 record in 2016, four games ahead of the Blue Jays and Orioles. That an AL East team wins the 2017 World Series is +350, tied for the shortest odds with the Cubs’ NL Central.
The Indians are +337 second-favourites on MLB odds to repeat as the pennant winners and +700 to end what is now the longest World Series drought in baseball. They haven’t won it all since 1948 after blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Cubs last year. Cleveland will be a heavy favourite in the AL Central.
The Houston Astros are +603 for the pennant and +1200 for the Fall Classic. They will be the AL West favourites. Houston might not be done with its offseason shopping list as the team is reportedly pursuing two ace-level pitchers in the White Sox’s Jose Quintana and A’s Sonny Gray via trade.
I believe the Red Sox, Indians and Astros will win their divisions – all chalk. For the wild-card spots, go with the Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners. Boston wins the pennant.