Getting ready for Jays’ opening day 2016

I know what you’re thinking. We just had a massive dump of snow earlier this month and the NHL playoffs haven’t even started yet. How in the world can this guy be thinking about baseball season already?

Here’s the thing. Like I recently said, our Canadian NHL teams are awful this year. I can’t bring myself to watch another game where the Calgary Flames give up a three goal lead in a single period. Or worse, lose to the Leafs. It’s just too painful.

But you know what isn’t painful? Watching the Toronto Blue Jays tear up the Grapefruit League during spring training this year.

After last year’s whirlwind season that saw the Jays win the AL East title and make it all the way to the ALCS before losing out to the Kansas City Royals, expectations are set extremely high this year for Canada’s team.

But I’ll be damned if they haven’t kind of met them so far, though it is still spring training.

Several things have impressed me about the Jays. Chief among them is their pitching staff.

Coming out of last season, the Jays’ staff was kind of anemic, to say the least, after losing ace David Price to Free Agency and veteran inning-eater Mark Buehrle to retirement. That’s two starting pitching jobs, including the top of the rotation, left very glaringly empty. They also lost several key bullpen arms to free agency and had very little to no minor league talent ready to take on those roles.

But the Jays didn’t panic, instead making a couple of signings that could potentially help fill those gaps.

While I can’t say that I agree with every move the team has made over the off season (you signed J.A. Happ to a $35 million contract? Are you insane?), I have to admit that many of the signings that they made make a lot of sense.

What the team has essentially done is take a bunch of guys like Gavin Floyd and Brad Penny — proven starters that have had setbacks in recent years due to injuries — and sign them to very cheap, often minor league contracts. Basically they’re throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks.

And it’s working pretty well. While Penny didn’t pan out and decided to retire after giving up five ER in two innings pitched in just his second start with the team, Floyd has been one of the bright spots and was competing with Jays’ hotshot Aaron Sanchez for the fifth spot in the starting pitching rotation until the team finalized it earlier this week, with Sanchez in the number five spot.

With the young gun taking up that starter job, Floyd will slot perfectly into the team’s bullpen as a fifth or sixth inning guy, with the ability to take on the starters’ or long-relievers’ role in case of an injury.

What the team has done is given themselves a few options on the mound, and options are always a good thing, especially when you play 162 games in a season.

That’s not to say that this team is without its problems. They are heavily banking on starters like Happ and Marco Estrada to repeat career performances from last year and there’s also the little issue of having to re-sign both (or even just one of) Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista whose contracts are up at the end of the season and both of whom want a substantial raise, for good reason.

But hey, live on the edge right? Who wants to go into a brand new baseball season with all of the major question marks addressed? That’s just no fun.

Besides, this team still has pretty much the exact same offensive lineup that they had last year. A lineup that was, by nearly all accounts, the best in the Majors’ last season leading the league in runs scored, home runs and total bases and coming in second for batting average.

So I say put all of those little, nagging doubts of a team collapsing in on itself out of your mind. It’s a very long baseball season and opening day is just around the corner. Anything can happen (and usually does), so let’s all just grab a pack of peanuts, gather ‘round the TV and watch some Blue Jays baseball.

zcormier@reddeerexpress.com

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