MLB

Toronto Blue Jays 2017 preview

This is the latest of our 2017 team previews. Each week during spring training, we'll preview a division with a team each day (Monday-Friday). This week: The AL East: Boston Red Sox. Up next: Baltimore Orioles

LAST SEASON

89-73, tied for second in AL East (wild card; lost to Indians in ALCS)

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WHAT'S NEW

Key additions: DH Kendrys Morales (free agent from Royals); IF/OF/DH Steve Pearce (free agent from Orioles), RP J.P. Howell (free agent from Dodgers), RP Joe Smith (free agent from Cubs)

Key subtractions: 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion (free agent to Indians), OF Michael Saunders (free agent to Phillies), RP Brett Cecil (free agent to Cardinals), RP Joaquin Benoit (free agent to Phillies), SP R.A. Dickey (free agent to Braves), 1B Chris Colabello (free agent to Indians)

3 STRIKES

1. There is no way to replace Edwin Encarnacion. Since the 2012 season, Encarnacion is second in the majors with 193 homers and sixth with a .912 OPS. And he's a big reason why Toronto finished in the top 10 in OPS (.755) in 2016 and made the postseason the past two years. Now that Encarnacion and his parrot reside in the Indians' dugout, the Blue Jays will plug a pair of newcomers -- Kendrys Morales and Steve Pearce -- into what still is a potent lineup (see: Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Bautista). But the batting order is without its most feared and productive bat.

2. There are big questions at the corners. Specifically, in the outfield where Jose Bautista returns in right and Ezequiel Carrera and Melvin Upton Jr. will platoon in left -- a position manned primarily by Michael Saunders in 2016. At age 35, Joey Bats regressed offensively and defensively in 2016, partially because he was limited to 116 games by injuries. Carrera made promising leaps defensively last season, though his strikeouts remain a serious concern given his lack of pop. After seemingly reviving his career with the Padres during the first four months of last season, Upton stuggled mightily after his trade to Toronto, slashing .196/.261/.318 in 57 games.

3. The middle innings could get dicey. The free-agent departure of Brett Cecil created a couple of issues: a setup void and a vital need for a left-hander. Right-handed relievers Jason Grilli and Joe Biagini return, and Toronto recently agreed to deals with veteran lefty J.P. Howell (4.09 ERA, 1.40 WHIP with the Dodgers last season) and veteran righty Joe Smith (3.46 ERA, 1.25 WHIP with the Angels and Cubs last season). As good as 22-year-old Roberto Osuna has been in his first two MLB seasons (56 saves, 9.8 K/9, 0.93 WHIP), he can't protect a lead if the middle relievers can't deliver one to him.

BEST-CASE SCENARIO

The starting five -- which is impressively deep and quietly led the AL in rotation ERA (3.64), WHIP (1.22) and opponents OPS (.688) last season -- dazzles again and takes pressure off of the offense and bullpen.

WORST-CASE SCENARIO

Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin and Jose Bautista get off to slow starts again, and even perennial MVP candidate Josh Donaldson can't save the Encarnacion-less offense.

SURPRISING STAT

Kevin Pillar led all major-league center fielders in Defensive Runs Saved (21) and Ultimate Zone Rating (21.4) in 2016, according to FanGraphs, but again failed to win his first Gold Glove. His defense will be vital this season because of the uncertainty on either side of him.

BEST BETS

Projected win total (via Atlantis Casino Resort): 86.5
World Series odds (via VegasInsider.com): 20/1

TOP 5 FANTASY PLAYERS

1. Josh Donaldson, 3B: Donaldson is one of a quartet of fantasy studs at third base, and you'll need to use a first-round pick to get him.
2. Jose Bautista, OF: Joey Bats slipped to 22 home runs last season; maybe he expended too much time and energy following everyone in the world on Twitter.
3. Roberto Osuna, RP: The 22-year-old Osuna has become an elite closer, with 56 saves and a 2.63 ERA over the last two seasons.
4. Marcus Stroman, SP: Stroman's strikeout rate surged after the All-Star break, and his ERA dropped by more than a run compared to the first half. There's some breakout potential here.
5. Troy Tulowitzki, SS: Tulo might be fading as a hitter, but he's still a top-12 fantasy SS after hitting 24 homers last season.

(Courtesy of FOX Sports Fantasy Baseball)

PREDICTION

They won't catch the Red Sox in the AL East, but the Jays will remain in the thick of the wild-card mix.