When the Blue Jays lost in the ALCS for the second straight year this past October it seemed like their championship window had slammed shut. After losing David Price to free agency last winter Toronto was set to lose both Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista this off-season. Perceived as two of the three best bats on the market the thought was bidding wars would develop and effectively kill the Blue Jays' chances at re-signing even one of them.
But then a funny thing happened. Both their markets crashed hard. Toronto wasn't able to retain Edwin so they signed the underrated Kendrys Morales. Then they were able to get Bautista to stick around. He is probably considered too old at this point to get a giant contract next winter, but it's likely he'll bounce back offensively and get more than what was out there this year. The offense will likely take a hit without Encarnacion but an improved season from Bautista plus the addition of Morales means it won't be as steep a regression as previously thought.
That brings us to the biggest reason the Blue Jays could be better this year - the starting pitching. It's time people take notice of how good Aaron Sanchez is. In his first year as a full time starter Sanchez finished seventh in the Cy Young voting by going 15-2 with a league leading 3.00 ERA and a league leading 0.7 home runs allowed per nine. He also finished fifth in hits allowed per nine and ninth in total WAR for AL pitchers. While his rate stats were very impressive Sanchez has room for growth if he can go deeper into games and compile more innings pitched as he enters his age 24 season.
The Blue Jays Opening Day starter in 2016 had a rough year. Marcus Stroman's first full season attempt at becoming the team's ace did not go as planned as he finished the season with a 4.37 ERA and career highs in FIP and WHIP. However, he very durable for Toronto and pitched over 200 innings for the first time. He also looked much better over the final two and a half months of the season. During that time Stroman had a 3.24 ERA while striking out 8.4 batters per nine innings, well above his career rate of 7.3. Him and Sanchez have the ability to form one of the best 1-2 pitching duos in the American League this year outside of Boston and Cleveland.
The AL East is going to be very competitive in 2017. Only the Cubs have better World Series odds than the Red Sox, which makes Boston the clear division favorites. The Orioles have won more games than any American League team since 2012 so they can't be counted out. That leaves the Yankees and Rays, two young teams who are closer to being competitive than people think. Losing Enarnacion hurts because without him Toronto loses some of their swagger and identity. However, the offense is still really good and the team has a chance to develop a new identity behind the starting pitching. If that happens there's no reason to think the Blue Jays won't still be playing come October.