Blue Jays could boast prolific offense again in 2016

TORONTO (AP) Bad news, pitchers of major league baseball. While the 2015 Blue Jays are done for the year, the painful poundings their batters handed out this season might not be. If Toronto chooses, it can bring back all nine everyday players from the lineup that finished as the runaway leader in runs scored.

Still, just about everything else with the Blue Jays is likely to look a little different in 2016, whether it’s the starting rotation, where left-hander David Price and right-hander Marco Estrada are key free agents, or the front office, where incoming president Mark Shapiro is set to replace longtime executive Paul Beeston, the team’s original employee. General manager Alex Anthopoulos is expected to be retained but is currently without a contract.

The Blue Jays ended baseball’s longest active playoff drought by winning the AL East for the first time since 1993. They powered their way back to the postseason with a ferocious attack led by the trio of Josh Donaldson, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, whose 120 combined home runs were the most by any threesome in Toronto history. Canadian catcher Russell Martin, in the first season of a five-year, $82 million deal, hit a career-high 23 more as the Blue Jays bashed an ML-best 232 homers and scored 891 runs, 127 more than the second-place Yankees.

Despite the abundant offense, Toronto’s season turned on a busy week of trade deadline deals that saw Anthopoulos add Price, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, outfielder Ben Revere, and relievers Mark Lowe and LaTroy Hawkins. After a 50-51 start, the reinforced Blue Jays closed on a 43-18 spurt, overhauling New York to take the division title.

”We battled all year and made some key acquisitions at the trade deadline,” Martin said after the Blue Jays were ousted from the American League Championship Series in six games with a 4-3 loss at Kansas City on Friday night. ”From then on it just felt like we had what it took to take us all the way. Unfortunately, we hit a road block here.”

The Blue Jays, who fell behind 0-2 to Texas in the Division Series, were playing their fifth elimination game of the postseason. Donaldson, a leading candidate for AL MVP honors, grounded out to end it, stranding runners at second and third.

”It’s been an amazing season,” Donaldson said. ”Obviously, we wanted it to continue. But there are so many guys here who really stepped up and became better players and really contributed throughout the entire year.”

It’s unclear whether the Blue Jays will be willing to pay to retain Price, who won nine of 11 regular season starts with Toronto, including three against the Yankees, but was winless in three postseason starts. Much was made of manager John Gibbons’ decision to use Price out of the bullpen, but the 2012 AL Cy Young winner said that wouldn’t impact whether he considered returning to Toronto, saying he was ”absolutely” open to it.

”We’ve got a very strong core of guys,” Price said.

Free agent left-hander Mark Buehrle is another likely loss from the rotation, but the Blue Jays have a $12 million option on knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, and were encouraged to see right-hander Marcus Stroman make an accelerated return from a torn knee ligament in spring training to contribute down the stretch. Righty Aaron Sanchez, who started in the rotation but moved to the bullpen after a mid-season injury, will likely be stretched out again next spring.

After dealing more than a dozen prospects over the past year to acquire Donaldson, Tulowitzki and Price, the Blue Jays don’t have much young talent knocking on the door. In Toronto, however, the team’s youngest player is closing the door instead. Mexican righty Roberto Osuna, who’ll turn 21 next February, saved 20 games and could be a candidate for the rotation down the road.

”It’s been a fun ride,” Donaldson said. ”Give us some time to breathe. Coming into spring training next year we’ll have some momentum.”