Toronto facing key offseason after down year

Toronto facing key offseason after down year

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have remained adamant for months that the disappointment from 2017 will not result in a full-blown rebuild. Toronto instead plans to retool with the goal of getting back into postseason contention next season.

General manager Ross Atkins has his work cut out for him this offseason as he looks to overhaul a roster that has a lot of big names, but also some glaring holes. The core isn't getting any younger and the Blue Jays must find a way to inject some speed and athleticism into the mix.

Some of the big questions already have been answered. Barring something totally unexpected, Josh Donaldson will not be traded and Jose Bautista will have his mutual option declined and not return. Marco Estrada has been re-signed and John Gibbons will be back as manager.

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That doesn't mean the Blue Jays will just stick with the status quo. Here's a closer look at Toronto's biggest needs, possible fits and some of the overall uncertainty facing the ballclub during the offseason:

BIGGEST NEEDS

1. Right field
The Blue Jays need to upgrade their offense if they are going to have a realistic shot at contending, and right field is an obvious place to start. Bautista's bat was well below average in 2017, but he's not expected to return and that opens the door for someone else. Teoscar Hernandez could compete for the starting job in Spring Training or the Blue Jays might choose to keep him as depth and bring in someone else from outside the organization.

Possible free-agent fits: Lorenzo Cain, Andrew McCutchen ($14.75 million team option), Carlos Gonzalez, Curtis Granderson. Less likely: J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton.

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2. Middle infielder
Troy Tulowitzki and Devon Travis will be starting at shortstop and second base, respectively, but the Blue Jays desperately need to improve their depth. Tulowitzki and Travis have spent significant time on the disabled list during each of the last three years, and realistically there's no reason to believe next season will be any different. Richard Urena needs more seasoning in the Minors and the Blue Jays would benefit from finding an upgrade over Darwin Barney for a spot on the bench. The challenge will be finding a veteran who is willing to accept a part-time role.

Possible free agent fits: Jed Lowrie, Eduardo Nunez, J.J. Hardy, Asdrubal Cabrera.

3. Starting rotation
The Blue Jays have a starting four of Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, J.A. Happ and Estrada under control through 2018. That has the makings of an impressive group, but as the club learned this year, there needs to be a lot more depth than that. Emerging prospects such as Ryan Borucki (No. 13 in Toronto's system) and Sean Reid-Foley (No. 6) could become factors at some point and Joe Biagini showed flashes of promise, but Toronto would be well deserved to add another proven starter, plus additional depth on Minor League deals.

Possible free agent fits: Shohei Ohtani, Brett Anderson, Alex Cobb, Doug Fister, Jason Vargas, Clay Buchholz, Jaime Garcia.

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GRAY AREAS

1. Bullpen
One of the most positive developments in 2017 was the emergence of a reliable bullpen. Ryan Tepera, Dominic Leone and Danny Barnes all had productive seasons while rookies Carlos Ramirez and Tim Mayza showed potential late in the year. Add in closer Roberto Osuna, lefties Matt Dermody and Aaron Loup and possibly Biagini and this group looks pretty solid on paper. The problem is that relievers are notoriously unpredictable from year to year, and it remains to be seen how Tepera, Leone and Barnes bounce back from heavy workloads in 2017.

2. Left field:
For all the talk of the Blue Jays needing to improve their offense, they also need to upgrade their defense. Steve Pearce performed about as expected with the bat, but he also doesn't have very much range in left. Ideally, Pearce would receive some at-bats at designated hitter, but that's not an option with Kendrys Morales on the roster. It seems unlikely that the Blue Jays will find a taker for Morales, so that means the club must decide whether to shop Pearce or make him the everyday left fielder next year. The Blue Jays need to add speed and more athleticism to this team. If not in the corner-outfield spots, then where?

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X-FACTORS

1. Money to burn?
The Blue Jays have more than $35 million coming off the books from their Opening Day payroll in the form of Bautista ($18.5 million), Barney ($2.89 million) and the since traded Francisco Liriano ($13.67 million). That should provide quite a bit of flexibility, but not all of that money will be spent on the open market. Donaldson, Stroman, Osuna, Sanchez and Kevin Pillar are all due for significant raises through arbitration, while the salaries for Ezequiel Carrera, Loup, Ryan Goins and Travis will go up as well. Even so, the Blue Jays should have approximately $15 million to work with before factoring in possible payroll increases.

2. Travis' knee
Nobody on this team is a bigger X-factor than Travis. When healthy, he provides everything this club needs. Travis can hit at the top of the lineup, doesn't strike out a lot and isn't an all-or-nothing power hitter that the Blue Jays have become known for. The problem is, Travis has been hurt more than he has been healthy. Since 2015, Travis has been limited to 213 games, and when he goes on the shelf a lack of depth and lineup versatility is exposed. If the Blue Jays have doubts, they need to add another leadoff hitter and someone to play second base. If they rely on Travis as a significant contributor, then he comes with a ton of risk but also a ton of upside.

Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.