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The Toronto Blue Jays contention window

The Blue Jays are very much alive in the 2016 playoff race, but how many more years of contention do they have?

MLB: ALDS-Texas Rangers at Toronto Blue Jays Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Blue Jays and their fans are coming off a rough weekend that saw the Boston Red Sox take two out of three in Toronto and lead the Blue Jays by two games as of Monday morning. However, the Jays are tied with the Orioles for the first Wild Card spot. There are three weeks to go in the regular season, and with the potential departures of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion looming, the question has to be asked — how much of a window do the Blue Jays have for contention?

As dark of a picture as I have painted in the first paragraph, it is not all that bad for Toronto. The Blue Jays are very much alive in 2016, but that is not the focus of this article; the focus is for 2017 and beyond.

After the 2016 season, the Blue Jays will face the potential losses of Bautista, Encarnacion, Michael Saunders, and R.A. Dickey, to name a few. Personally, I think Toronto will be able to bring back one of Bautista or Encarnacion — mainly because after 2017 the Blue Jays have only a little over $57 million in guaranteed money. They have to keep in mind that after 2018, Josh Donaldson will be a free agent, but he will be 33 at that time, which means he may start to show a decline. As currently projected, here is what the Blue Jays have for 2017 with age on Opening Day:

C — Russell Martin, 34

1B — Justin Smoak, 30

2B — Devon Travis, 26

SS — Troy Tulowitzki, 32

3B — Josh Donaldson, 31

LF — Melvin Upton Jr., 32

CF — Kevin Pillar, 28

RF — ?

DH — ?

Toronto’s lineup does not have as much youth as their pitching does, but they should still be productive over the next three years — much depending on your opinion of Tulowitzki. Donaldson continues to be a MVP candidate and has shown no sign of cooling off, although as mentioned earlier, the Blue Jays have him signed through only the 2017 season.

In regards to the aging players in Toronto’s lineup, the Blue Jays have a trio of youngsters awaiting their turn to make an impact north of the border. Richard Urena, a shortstop, and Anthony Alford, an outfielder, are both projected to make their MLB debuts in 2018, according to MLB Pipeline. The third player is catcher, Reese McGuire, recently acquired from the Pirates in the trade that brought Francisco Liriano to Toronto as well. McGuire is further along than Urena and Alford and may see time at the big league level in 2017.

If the Blue Jays keep Bautista and lose Encarnacion, I can envision them making a run at Napoli to DH, but if they keep Encarncaion and lose Bautista, I think Saunders would return and play right field next year. In either scenario and with capable replacements, Toronto should have an offense capable of contention.

The pitching of the Blue Jays has been a key to their success in 2016. As of Monday, September 12th, the Blue Jays are second in the American League behind the Indians in ERA at 3.94, third in BB/9 at 2.78, and second in RA9-WAR at 19.2 — again trailing only the Indians.

Fortunately for the Blue Jays, they are well equipped for the next few years in their rotation. Here is how much control the Blue Jays have for their young arms:

Francisco Liriano and Marco Estrada — through 2017

J.A. Happ — through 2018

Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, and Roberto Osuna — through 2020

No matter how much the Blue Jays offense is broken up or declines over the next few years, Toronto has a potentially scary 1-2 punch in Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez at the top of their rotation. Over the next few years, Toronto will need to find other pieces to go behind that duo, but they are ahead of the game already with those two. The Blue Jays may have a special ending in 2016, but their window of contention should extend out another two years — at least through 2018.

. . .

All stats are as of Monday, September 12th, and projected payroll is from Cot’s Contracts.

Carl Triano is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score and Minor League Ball.