2017 Blue Jays: Why they can prosper without Encarnacion

Up next: First baseman Ryan Tellez goes by Rowdy, which sounds more appropriate for football or MMA, but suits his results at bat. His approach at the plate is disciplined — he walked 63 times last year and only fanned 92 — and what noise he makes is with his bat. Tellez hit .297 and slugged .530 last year, improving his strike-zone judgment and and power. Tellez was a 30th-round draft pick, but with Edwin Encarnacion gone, he’s looking more and more like an eventual major-leaguer.

What he said: “We would have felt great about adding Edwin. But as it stands right now, alternatively, we feel like we are building a team that has just as good of a chance to win with several pieces instead of one.” Blue Jays GM Ross Atkins on Encarnacion leaving. What he meant: “At least he didn’t sign with the Red Sox.”

Outlook: The Blue Jays hit 11 fewer homers last year than in 2015, scored 132 fewer runs and won four fewer games, stats seemingly not at odds.

With Encarnacion and Michael Saunders gone, the Blue Jays may not hit 200 homers this year, which they’ve topped the last two, and their offense will decline further, but will their win total?

Perhaps not. Lost in all the bat flips and protracted negotiations is that the Blue Jays had the best pitching staff in the American League last year. They were first in ERA, first in batting average against, first in WHIP, and second in on-base and slugging percentages against.

With R.A. Dickey and his 4.46 ERA gone, they’re likely to be even better this year, though not as good as if they’d just kept Noah Syndergaard in the first place.

The 2017 Blue Jays lineup won’t be as good, no matter how Atkins explains it. They moved quickly but not necessarily wisely to replace Encarnacion with Kendrys Morales, whose 30 homers at age 32 were a career high and not likely to be duplicated,  and plan to platoon Melvin Upton and Ezequiel Carrera in left, a combination the numbers of which might look as if they’ve been adversely impacted by the exchange rate.

But while the Red Sox spent millions for free agent David Price, who left the Blue Jays, and traded prospects worth potential future millions to get Chris Sale, the Blue Jays might still have the best rotation in the AL East (they can thank the Pirates who rehabbed the careers of two-fifths of it in J.A. Happ and Francisco Liriano).

It’s a change of appearance for the Blue Jays, who made the playoffs in consecutive seasons last year for just the second time in their history. The Blue Jays have made the playoffs three straight seasons just once, while winning consecutive world championships in 1992-93, and have just seven playoff appearances in their 40 seasons of play.

The Jays went 21 years in between postseasons from 1994-2014 even as the guest list expanded. It’s convenient for them to blame their environment in the AL East, because no matter how big market they are, perception is they’ll never be as big market as the Yankees or Red Sox.

Except that the Blue Jays led the AL in attendance last year, drawing 3.39 million fans, 330,000 fans more than the Yankees and 440,00 more than the Red Sox. And that’s still almost three-quarters of a million fewer fans than the four million they drew three straight years from ’91-93. How small a market can you be if your audience is that large?

Maybe allowing Price to leave wasn’t about market size but market value, as the Red Sox are learning this spring. And maybe for the Jays to be successful it’s not about the size of the wallet, but the shrewdness of their decisions, which — aside from Syndergaard for Dickey — have worked out pretty well the last two years.

The Blue Jays have been to the ALCS the last two seasons and lost, and given the history, it’s fair to wonder how many more chances they’ll get. This year will be at least one more.

Team song: Leonard Cohen: Closing Time

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