What’s in store for 2016 Blue Jays?

After the Cubs got knocked out by the Mets in the NLCS — got swept by the Mets, if you want to put an ultra-fine point on it — I did what I could to comfort Cubs fans, ultimately arguing that they’re exceptionally well-positioned to rank among the National League’s best teams for years to come. And over the weekend on NPR’s "Only a Game," I doubled down, saying the Cubs were best-positioned to win a World Series in the next five years. Better than the Blue Jays, even? Read on, True Believers …

When writing about the 2016 Blue Jays, the first thing you have to mention is that when it comes to run differential, the 2015 Blue Jays lapped the field. At +221, the nearest American League team was the Astros (+111) while the Cardinals (+122) were tops in the National League.

Of course run differential isn’t everything — even leaving aside October, I mean — but the Jays also paced the majors in BaseRuns and third-order winning percentage. If you don’t know exactly what that means, please trust me: What it means is that aside from wins and losses (and October), the Jays did more good things  than anybody else this year.

Which is both a mark of distinction and predictor of success.

For the players involved, anyway. For the Blue Jays, the problem is that a bunch of those players aren’t contractually bound to the club for next season.

Now, the lineup’s basically set. There will be some tinkering, perhaps. But for the most part, the guys you saw last week will be the same guys you see next spring. The only worries there are durability, as some guys who hadn’t usually been healthy were healthy for most of the season. And it does seem unlikely that Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion will again combine for 120 home runs.

Still, these are quibbles. The Jays led the majors in scoring this year, and they should be up there again next year.

It’s the pitching that makes it impossible, right now, to say anything except that the Jays should be good next year. For great, management’s got a ton of work to do this winter.

At the end of the regular season, the rotation would have looked like this is rearranged in order of talent:

1. David Price

2. Marcus Stroman

3. Mark Buehrle

4. R.A. Dickey

5. Marco Estrada

Or you can move Estrada up a couple of slots if you like. It doesn’t really matter much. Just don’t be fooled by his 3.13 ERA, or that start against the Royals last week; Estrada figures to give you innings but not much else.

Anyway, here’s the Blue Jays’ rotation right now, assuming they exercise their option on Dickey and make a qualifying offer to Estrada:

1. Stroman

2. Estrada

3. Dickey

4. Aaron Sanchez

5. Drew Hutchison

Buehrle’s retired or maybe he hasn’t retired, but there’s no telling where he’ll pitch, if he pitches. Probably not Toronto. Price is (famously) a free agent this winter, and there’s no telling where he’ll land. Maybe Toronto, maybe not.

Meanwhile, the Jays don’t have any hot prospects who are coming up soon. They did have two, but traded one to the Tigers for Price and the other to the Rockies for Troy Tulowitzki. This year in Triple-A, the Jays’ best pitchers were 34-year-old Jeff Francis and 38-year-old Randy Wolf.

Which is why Sanchez is heading back to the rotation, even though he’s never pitched more than 92 innings in a season, and even though his career strikeout-to-walk ratio is atrocious.

Which isn’t to say Sanchez can’t thrive in the rotation. He just hasn’t yet shown the ability to do that.

It’s worth mentioning that the Jays were actually playing quite well before Price came aboard in late July. So they can win without him, or with something like him. It’s just a little harder to win a lot without him.

At this point, we can say the Cubs will have one of the most talented teams in the National League for the next few years, absent a bunch of serious injuries.

I’m not sure we can say that about the Blue Jays in the American League. We can say they’ll be good next year, and predicting a postseason berth right now wouldn’t be terribly out of line. But I wouldn’t make them big favorites to repeat as East champs unless they grab a big-time starting pitcher this winter.

The Jays were legitimately great in 2015. But they’re not yet great, on paper, in 2016. Just too many question marks in that rotation.