The Blue Jays enter 2010 depleted of some depth. We traded our only front-end starter (Roy Halladay), let our best defense outfielder walk away (Alex Rios) and also traded our best defensive infielder (Scott Rolen).
The analysts don’t see the Jays getting any better any time soon. That
said, it is hard to get worse than the 75-87 record that saw the Jays
finish, once again, 4th place in the highly competitive A.L. East.
The only thing that could be worse is the Jays finishing behind the Baltimore Orioles
for dead last in the A.L. East. This is where most believe
the Jays are headed, as Baltimore seems to be going upward in the
standings with an array of emeging young players. Some even go further
to say that the Jays are going to be the worst team in the American
League. Hello Kansas City Royals! I’m not about to go nearly that far, but I do believe the Jays 2010 success is contingent on some key factors.
Every year I look forward to reading the Baseball Prospectus write-up that forcasts the Blue Jays future. Similar many other baseball fans, I use the intelligence and effort put into Baseball Prospectus
to supplant my own personal lack of baseball intelligence.
They do amazing work! More to their credit, they were dead on with
pin-pointing the downfall of J.P. Ricciardi in previous years.
Primarily, they critiqued Ricciardi’s string of questionable signings that
started with Cory Koskie and his low-risk, low-reward college draft
picks that produced a few good talents, but ended up depleting our farm
system as a whole.
For this season, Baseball Prospectus has pretty much agreed with
other publications saying that 2010 has been “clearly surrendered to
rebuilding’ with the signing of ‘stopgap’ players like John Buck and Alex Gonzolez.”
They also state the obvious by very briefly saying “trading the Doc
hurts, and the Jays will be in a tough battle to be ahead of the
Orioles all year.” What they are enthused about is the prospects of Hill, Lind,
Snider and the Walrus (Brett Wallace) all playing together at some point
this year, calling them the ‘Fab Four.’
I’m liking this ‘Fab Four’ analogy … a lot! So, I’m going with it as my number 1 ‘key to the season’ for the Blue Jays:
Keys to the Season
1. The Fab Four
It would be very nice to bank on repeat seasons from Adam Lind and Aaron Hill. If it doesn’t happen, then Baseball Prospectus
has entertained the notion of trading Aaron Hill at peak value to
further establish the Jay’s committment to rebuilding. Anthopolous
doesn’t seem headed that wa -, but it might be an idea?
Hill and Lind anchored our lineup last year. The Jays would not have won 70
games without them. For 2010 we need to count on their bats have to be back in full
effect. They are both a key component to our team now. They now have to show that the team can rely on them.
It will key to get help from guys like Brett Wallace/Lyle Overbay and Travis Snider providing more support near the back of the order. Going back to Baseball Prospectus, our home park (the Rogers Centre) statistically favors left-handed power hitters. Last year Jays radio analyst and former player, Alan Ashby,
stated that what really contributed to the Jays 1st place dominance in
April and May was one man – Travis Snider. Snider started the season giving the
Jays a great power element before totally tapering off in May. He was a
nice surprise for a team that could use ‘nice surprises.’ This season the Jays could
potentially get another surprise in Brett Wallace. Anthopolous acquired his
coveted left-handed power bat as a part of the Roy Halladay trade. The Jays hope that Wallace will be the future, as Lyle Overbay
enters the last year of his contract. Overbay suffered a
knee contusion last week in Spring Training, so the prospects of
Wallace in 2010 look more possible. If Snider and Wallace can somehow
find their way into the lineup and produce at expected levels for the
kinds of prospects that they are? The Jays will have a pair of surprise
‘left-handed’ power bats to compliment Lind and our home ballpark. Brett
Wallace didn’t have a very good spring, so the Jays will look to
rejuvenate Lyle Overbay for their left-handed production in 2010. Granted that Overbay’s knee contusion doesn’t become
serious. These guys all have to produce for the Jays to compete with the potent lineups of New York, Boston, Tampa and now Baltimore.
2. Leading the Way on the Mound
The absence of Halladay in the Jays rotation leaves the question: What starting pitching
talent(s) will emerge? It would be nice to see multiple guys have
success. For the Jays to have hope of doing anything this season, they
need some pitchers step up and make a name for themselves. The likely
candidates are Shaun Marcum and Ricky Romero. Romero is
coming off a fine rookie year going 13-9. At one point in the season,
some Yankees writers compared Romero’s stuff, notably his changeup, to Mets ace Johan Santana.
That may be a bit strong as Romero struggled at times – compiling an ugly
WHIP of 1.52. He will need to do better than that to lead the Jays
pitching staff, but he is still learning.
I was really looking forward to watching Shaun Marcum in the Jays
rotation last season. He came off an impressive 2008 only to be sidelined in 2009. At times, the way Marcum changed speeds and commanded
the strikezone makes, he was unhittable against weaker hitting clubs. He seems
to have a great pitching IQ. I like that Marcum always looks
like he is in control on the mound – something that he probably
learned from Roy Halladay. Having Marcum back will be an asset that
the Jays didn’t have last season. Although, coming off an injury, that
will hard count on. The Jays making the Marcum the #1 opening day
starter is good sign that he will be one ‘key’ to watch in 2010!
As for the rest of our staff, the Jays look to be going with three of Brian Tallet, Marc Rzyepcynski, Brandon Morrow or Dana Eveland.
Eveland had a very strong spring that propelled him into the mix. It is hard to tell how he will fair with the Jays, but he has certainly opened some eyes this spring. He might be the most unlikely candidate to lead the staff, but these kind of players sometimes emerge. Look at Ben Zobrist last year?
The Jays gave up an intriguing young pitching prospect, Yohermyn Chavez and hard-throwing reliever Brandon League to get Brandon Morrow. Baseball Prospectus
called Morrow “an odd decision” since the Jays don’t look to be
contending anytime soon. I don’t agree with this because at age 25, Morrow is still young – making him a possible factor in the Jays rebuilding project. He is the kind of
player where the Jays are expecting the worse, and hoping for the
best. I’d say Morrow is ‘big key’ to this season because he could be
due for a breakout year capitalizing on his chance to start full-time. If Anthopolous hit a homerun with this trade, 2010 could be very promising!
Brian Tallet pitched very well for the Jays filling in rotation spots last year. He
has the most experience of the bunch and is a solid option. However, I don’t
expect him to ‘breakout’ year in 2010. I’d catergorize Marc Rzyepcynski
the same way. Zippy (as I call him) is very advanced for his age. He has four good pitches that he can command, but they don’t overwhelm batters. Both these guys are solid optionsm, but without a very high-ceiling.
If the Jays want to do something this year then having Kyle Drabek and Brett Cecil
emerge is key! Cecil overstepped his bounds getting some early
‘big-league’ experience when he should have been in the minors. Cecil
brings a great arm and a somewhat deceptive left-handed delivery.
Cecil’s development is not quite there, but in my opinion he has the makings of a front-line
starter. He will start this year in AAA and look to bounce back into
the rotation at some point this year. Kyle Drabek has had a very
impressive Spring Training. Drabek is now being considered for the
rotation earlier than we expected. Not having actually seen him pitch, I
hear he has a very effective, well-controled curveball that is featured
along with some other great pitching tools. Jays fans can barely hold
their excitement on him. I know better than the rely on a rookie though.
With the rebuilding project underway there is no reason to rush both
Cecil and Drabek. However, their contributions this season could be
‘key’ to the Jays 2010 season, although it is a bit of stretch to count
on rookies emerging in dramatic fashion.
It is also a bit of a stretch to count on players coming off the injuries to emerge. Dustin McGowan and Jesse Litsch
are both wildcards at this point. We may see them not pitch at all
this year? McGowan had a serious injury, and it is a terrible shame because of
his talent level. Litsch doesn’t have the stuff to be a top 3 starter in my
opinion, but I hope he proves me wrong. I’m counting more on the
contributions of Drabek and Cecil as possible ‘keys to the season’ … and the future for that matter!
3. Team Defense
The Jays lost Scott Rolen at third base, we picked up a decent
defensive shortstop Alex Gonzolez, stayed similar defensively at
catcher acquiring John Buck to replace Rod Barajas and got a little weaker in the outfield losing Alex Rios. The Jays outfield will now have Jose Bautista.
Bautista intrigues me because I want to see how much ground he can cover in the outfield. Bautista’s arm is also well above-average. I look
for him to step-up and be a key contributor to the team defense. With Adam Lind and Travis Snider possibly occuping the other corner
outfield spot, it could get ugly. Also Edwin Encarncion at third base is a very risky option. The Jays will need to play good ‘team defense,’ as they look to be deteriorating in that respect.
If all these things fall into place, the Jays will have a very good
year. If they don’t? And you will notice that I don’t expect all them
to actually happen. The Jays will – as every baseball preview predicts
– submit this season to rebuilding and likely end up in the ‘cellar’ of
the A.L. East. Notice how I used the word ‘cellar.’ Cellar are often opened by keys … ha ha. Yep, I’m a cornball.
Even though this year looks bleak Blue Jay fans, it will be entertaining to look out for my:
I will not bash J.P. Ricciardi for the eight year job he did in Toronto. The fact is we gave him two chances, through a pair of ‘3-4 year plans’ to make the Blue Jays a playoff team again. His failures speak for themself, and it is easy to point to a number of decisions he made that did not work out for the team. I won’t mock, gock, or make fun of those decisions, as it is so popular in ‘Blue Jay land’ to do … well not yet anyway.
To be perfectly honest, my opinion of J.P. Ricciardi is that he was a ‘mediocre GM,’ performance-wise that is. His cocky, egotistical, know-it-all stance with the media led him into many mistakes ‘running his mouth’ on certain issues. It is a well know fact, that if you can’t back up this attitude, you are going to fall … and fall hard! Year after year, the Jays would truly produce good baseball teams on the borderline of making the playoffs, yet the heat on J.P. swirled around him as if the Jays had finished dead last every year. Fans, the media, even people supporting other teams on this blog site ‘dished out’ the heat on J.P. Unfair? Maybe, but if J.P. were to ever claim that, and I that bet he has, he should take a long look in the mirror because the man definately brought it on himself.
At the start of his reign, J.P. was very open with media, took responsibility for his decidsions, and rarely shyed away from the truth. This openess inevitably led to some embarrassment, as it became clear that J.P. was just not a very good liar. General Managers in baseball have to make many very tough decidsions, and similar to politicians, they need to be able to avoid certain questions that might jeopardize them in a situation, or cause further embarrassment. There were instances where J.P. would be hiding something, and then tell the media flat out that he was hiding something from them!
Notable Failures With the Media (few listed here amoung many)
1. One of J.P.’s memorable quotes was: “It’s not a lie if we know the truth,” about infamous back injury story made up for B.J. Ryan when the left-hander was actually having elbow issues.
2. After enduring a season where the Jays endured poor offensive production, J.P. was asked if he would consider trading for Adam Dunn from the Cinncinnati Reds at the time. His response was overly amped with ego, basically telling a caller on a sports talk radio show that the caller knows nothing about Adam Dunn, and that Adam Dunn “doesn’t even like baseball.” To which Dunn replied the next day, “who is this goof?”
Oh well, I have started to bash J.P. a bit. Here are some of the successes that have set the current Jays up some relative hope, but in hindsight, can also be coupled with failure.
Notable Successes Amid Failures
1. Some very good draft picks. One of Ricciardi’s first pick-ups coming to the Jays was Aaron Hill. Amid some injuries and positioning questions Aaron Hill has quickly become one of the best second basemen in Major League Baseball. We would have liked to have him strong in 2007, and a key part of the team playing third base instead of Corey Koskie in 2005, but regarless of those questions around Hill – still a great pick.
2. Adam Lind was also a very good pick J.P. made in the draft, but similar to Hill, had troubled road to the middle of the Jays order. Lind was picked up in the third round of the 2004 draft, and quickly excelled in the minors. It took a couple of years of Lind contending annually for the batting championship in the AAA International League for the Jays to realize that ‘this kid could hit.’ Under Manager John Gibbons (J.P. Ricciardi’s man for the Manager position), Adam Lind wasn’t given much of a chance after some early struggles. The kid became so distraught with the Jays early evaluation of him, that Lind almost quit baseball altogether! With the efforts of newly acquired Manager, Cito Gaston, Lind salvage the 2008 season and ‘turned a corner’ with his bat. 2009 sees Adam Lind contending for the Silver Slugger Award as a DH, we as Jays fans wonder what HUGE, MONUMENTAL waste of talent it has been keeping this guy locked in the minors and doubting his career!!! Still, J.P. a good draft pick … lol Yes.
3. The Roy Halladay contract extension was a great business decidsion by J.P. He made a couple other extension that did not work out so well (i.e. Vernon Wells and Alex Rios) but Halladay’s paid off in spades. The Jays currently have Halladay set with the team for another year, and he is still arguably the best pitcher in baseball. With deeply inflated contracts to guys like C.C. Sabathia and Johan Santana, J.P. extended Halladay to for what seems like a bargain compared to the two previously mentioned. Jays fans should feel lucky that they are able to enjoy Halladay for this, and another year. I commend J.P. for that move, but at the same time you can really fault him for tacking on the dollars, and the years, to Vernon Wells and Alex Rios.
J.P.’s Inevitable Big Failure
I’m of the opinion, shared by most analysts and people that follow the Jays, that the beginning of the end occurred for J.P. Ricciardi before the 2005 season where he drifted far from the ‘moneyball’ strategy that made him such a ‘hotshot‘ coming from Oakland to begin with. Before this season, one of the Jays top advisors (sorry as his name escapes me), a man highly adversed in sabermetrics, and well respected in baseball cirlces left the team. Coincidentally the Blue Jays expanded their payroll that year, and the money staying to fly as if we were trying to compete for free agents with the ‘big two‘ Yankees and Red Sox. Many talk about the ‘beginning of the end,’ when the Jays dished out a terrible three-year 17 million dollar contract to Corey Koskie losing some draft picks in the process. This aquisition baffled many? Yes, Koskie was Canadian, BIG ‘freakin’ DEAL, most in baseball knew he was nowhere near deserving of that money. The smart, ‘moneyball’ decision would have been to keep those picks, and move up and coming shortstop Aaron Hill to third base for his 2005 rookie season. Koskie hardly played a year for Jays before succumbing to injury.
Conclusion to this Mess
The point to remember with the Koskie signing is that it showed how far J.P. strayed from the his principles with the acquisition of more money, which in the Jays case, doesn’t always equal more value or production. Like any good business, you need seek ways to produce at high levels, with being as cost-effective as possible. Recklessly throwing money at problems works for some teams, but not most. After Koskie, the Jays risked buying a #2 starter, A.J. Burnett, that is still somewhat overvalued and in the long run ended up hurting club because of injury. We overpayed, and are still overpaying, for a supposedly ‘shut down’ c
loser with a bright future, in B.J. Ryan. One might wonder what the Jays might have become if we pursue this spots through other means?? Closers are often grown through the system, and 15-game winners can be made also without having to overspend on a player that comes with injury baggage.
J.P. Ricciardi came to Jays with a method, and it quickly turned into ‘money-flashing madness,’ that would make even the Yankees and Red Sox proud. If you are going to spend, you better make darn sure that you are getting that production in return. I wonder what J.P. thinks now when he sees Vernon Wells’ .311 On Base?
Scott Rolen was having a fantastic season as a Jay in 2009. As mentioned in previous posts, he made some necessary adjustments to his approach at the plate and became more of a contact hitter. The result was a steady .320 average, and a 28 game hitting streak mid-season.
Rolen was a true professional, and he will be missed in Toronto. Especially the hilarious commerical during Jays games where Rolen is at a drive through window ordering a burger.
Well, you always have to give value, to get value and I believe the Jays were able to do that this trade deadline. In the deal the Jays were able to acquire third baseman Edwin Encarnacion, relief pitcher Josh Roenicke, and relief/starting pitching prospect Zach Stewart.
Aquiring Edwin Encarnacion in the deal is a little bit of a risk. We don’t know what we are going to get from this guy?? He had very good year at the plate last season, but 2009 has seen Edwin hampered by injury and struggling at the dish. Defensively the Jays will definately take a hit, as Encarnacion cannot ‘hold a candle’ to perennial Gold-Glove candidate Scott Rolen. With this deal, the Jays make third base possibly a problem area in the future. I don’t think anyone is envisioning Encarnacion in our long-term future … right now at least.
Roenicke is a young hard throwing reliever that could be inserted into the Jays pen ASAP. With closing issues, set-up issues and overall wear and tear on the pen this season, Roenicke will provide some needed depth to the pen. Who knows? He could even step up to the closer role at some point???
Zach Stewart is another hard throwing youngster. It is always nice to see the Jays aquire a young player that has succeeded everywhere he has played in the minors! Stewart sports a 1.67 ERA at three minor league levels this year. He relieved 9 games in AAA, and managed to pitch at a 0.79 ERA clip, getting a couple of 2 inning saves. Stewart also started 14 games at the between class A and AA this season, doing very well in those starts. Sources say the Jays may be primarily looking at him as a starter. Starter or reliever, Stewart looks to be a valuable asset for the Jays moving forward.
Quite frankly, I can’t wait to see the young, hard-chucking Texas boy pitch!! Yee-Haw! Sorry, I sometimes spontaneously combust over new New Blue Jay talent.
I will miss Scott ‘the rock,’ but I’m glad the Jays made this deal. At least it is something!
Come 2010, we will see where we are in terms of the standings, and replay this Halladay thing all over again. Blah! I know you all can’t wait.
All sources indicated that we could only get ‘one’ solid prospect out of a Halladay trade. J.P. Ricciardi was looking for much more than that, and Halladay deserved much more that in my opinion.
With the offers that were apparently presented to us, I don’t see why we couldn’t get similar offers next season? The Jays were only getting presented with one legitimate guy, and a couple of low-to-mid level prospects. No doubt, we would get the same next season in Halladay’s contract year. We will see in 2010, barring any Blue Jay playoff run. What Doc will command in 2010? He will at least be worth ‘one’ good prospect next season. Mark my words! Mark’em.
I’m on J.P.’s side with this Rolen deal, and holding firm on Halladay … On the Record.
A certain Toronto sports radio station told me to look up this article on the Jays and their future. ESPN.com writer Howard Bryant wrote “Blue Jays Hoping Late Run is just the Beginning” on their website today.
He gives good a perspective on how other teams, and also other people for that matter,
percieve the Jays looking forward. More importantly, looking forward post-A.J. Burnett. Here is the link, for those that are interested:
He pulls quotes from Red Sox first baseman, Sean Casey, and J.P. Ricciardi throughout the article. I find it interesting that the article gives you the idea that the Blue Jays future success is only dependant on the return or departure of A.J. Burnett.
Don’t get me wrong here, A.J. Burnett has been a big part of our sucess this season. But he is only one player, and a pitcher at that. The reason for the Blue Jays being a scary team that no in the league wants to face, is the rotation and bullpen. Joe Maddon, Rays Manager, says “the Blue Jays have the best front-end rotation in the league.” He is right. We certainly haven’t been winning games, until recently, with our bats this year.
If the front-end of the Jays rotation is so feared, then what are we without one of it’s pieces? According to this article, and the impression of the Blue Jays ‘from the outside looking in’, is apparently not much.
This brings up questions, coming into next season, that Jays fans have been thinking about all year. Is A.J. replaceable? How deep really is our pitching (in the minors etc..)? Are our front-end starters really that dominant? What about Litsch, Marcum, Purcey, McGowan? Can they be one of the guys capable of replacing Burnett at the front-end? Can our offense be a strongpoint? (we’ve been a lot better under Cito)
Very Important Questions:
Is there a chance A.J. will not opt-out? Do we want to sign him if he does? (for a catastrophic amount) Do we give up on J.P. Ricciardi like we gave up on ‘his boy’ John Gibbons? Can we have the kind of year Tampa has had? Can this team beat Tampa?
The article ends with this quote from Sean Casey: “Look at Tampa. We feel like Tampa is winning every night. It seems like in order to win this division when you’re not one of those top two, you have to have one of those perfect years. You have to win every night like they’re doing, and we’re still right on their heels.”
Under Cito, do the Jays have to ability now, to put together one of these years? We have definately proved that during the second half of the season. Does that make you, as a Jays fan, confident? Or is the loss of A.J. Burnett the ‘end all be all’ for this team?
It will hurt, but I think that that is a bit of an exageration. If the fate of the Blue Jays, post-A.J. Burnett, turns into a mediocre and disappointing season in 2009. Then the ‘evil economics’ of baseball will have reared its ugly head on the Jays again. Succumbing, once again, to the ‘Evil Empires’ of New York, Boston and maybe now LA.