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:
If only all the Blue Jays decisions could work out like a Pearl Jam song? I guess that we would still be ‘Alive’ in the playoffs, and this ‘Jeremy‘ would be writing a lot more on this blog today.
The Blue Jay’s fix, for the forseeable future, is 32-year-old former Montreal Expo scout and Blue Jay assistant GM Alex Anthopoulos. Along with his scouting experience, Anthopoulos has an economics degree from McMaster University. Coincidentally, I also went to this school. Too bad I couldn’t catch his fall after doing a ‘keg stand,’ or something like that? It would have been a good networking opporitunity for me.
Anyway, Anthopoulos’ first priority came this week as he did a large revamping of the Jays scouting department. He also told the media that the Jays would committing more money to scouting and player development. Along with bringing in some new scouts, Anthopoulos hired an assistant named Dana Brown. The 42-year-old Brown left his position as scouting director for the Washington Nationals to take up the job with his old friend whom he worked with in the Expo scouting deparment.
It does seem a little trendy in baseball right now to hire a young GM. Anthopoulos is already being dubbed, ‘boy genius,’ but he is yet to prove anything. I do like the stance and measures that Alex is taking by committing himself to scouting and player development, but then again, every team committs themselves to that. Here is an old one, “the proof is in the pudding.’ Anthopoulos will inevitably be judged by the choices that he makes as GM. Working close with J.P. all these years, he must have learned a lot. J.P. did a lot of good things with the club, but he also made a large share of mistakes. I wouldn’t say that Anthopoulos has to totally rebuild the club, but he has a lot of holes to fill.
Here are a few:
Marco Scutaro‘s career might be in jeopardy, let alone his ability to play a demanding position like shortstop. Scutaro is a free agent, so the Jays will definately have to look into what they are going to do with him.
Jays catcher Rod Barajas is also a free agent. He did do some nice things, hitting homers and producing RBI’s this season. However, his .258 On Base Percentage is not exactly pleasing to Jay fans, or anyone for that matter. Barajas is definately NOT a long-term solution and it doesn’t see like some of our young catching prospects (i.e. J.P. Arrencibia) are making the necessary progression in the minors. Barajas was a temporary solution last season! Will he be that again?
The Jays pitching staff was in shambles last season. Injury plus guys being penciled then quickly erased due to performance, the Jays seeming had what looked like a 10-man rotation last year. We did have some young players progress into major leaguers, like Brett Cecil, Marc Rzepcynski and Ricky Romero but it also became apparent that the rotation could use some much needed depth. The possible return of Shaun Marcum may help Alex a little in that respect.
DH and first base are somewhat interchangeable in the American league some might argue. The Blue Jays are not getting the production they need from these two positions. They are usually filled with middle-of-the-lineup guys, but this is not true in the Blue Jays case. Kevin Millar did not have a comeback with the club, and Randy Ruiz, although incredibly impressive, might be too much of a risk to rely on for that position. Using Adam Lind as the primary DH will vacate another hole in the outfield, where the Jays desparately need athletes to run down balls. Lyle Overbay is nice player, he gives you a good On Base … yes. However, his trademark doubles have decreased and you’d be hardpressed to go around the league to find a firstbaseman that is just ‘a good On Base’ guy. We need a legitimate slugger at first! I say move Lind to firstbase, get some athletes in the outfield and use Ruiz temporarily at DH till we can find a better hitter.
Are we going to live with Edwin Encarnacion at third base? He showed some good things last year, but he does not look like a longterm solution.
When are we going to start benching Vernon Wells? The 20 million-a-year man would have a hard time hitting in the bottom of the order for any team in MLB. Sorry Vernon, but the Jays actually got more out of Jose Bautista last year in half the at-bats you had.
We don’t have a closer? We just don’t. Jason Frasor has proven ineffective in that role before? Can we live with him there?
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
I don’t envy your job Alex Anthopoulos. Wait, actually I do. If someone told me that I could possibly be the future GM of the Jays with a McMaster degree, I’d go crazy for it. I consider myself knowledgable in player evaluation. All I do is order and read ‘Baseball Prospectus‘ and ‘Baseball America‘ every year.
For the team right now, I say be bold, and think ‘out of the box.’ Our scouting system should have a wide range internationally. As the Jays have not made the splash into Japan yet. I say we go after one of the big two: either pitcher Yu Darvish, or outfielder Norichika Aoki. The amount of money the Jays would have to put into acquiring one of these guys would be catatrophic (especially Mr. GQ Japan Yu Darvish), but I wonder if that money could made back in endorsements, merchandise etc… marketing ourselves internationally? We all saw the Asian explosion in the World Baseball Classic, the Jays need to be bold and explore this a bit.
In times like these, it is important to stay positive. Some wise person said that … probably Yoda, or the Lord of the Rings Wizard guy. The Jays were definately outmatched in this past series versus the Yankees. They were close and hard-fought games, where the Jays could take away a number of ‘small victories,’ if not victories that actually show up in the standings.
Marc Rzepcynski, pronounced (Zip-Chin-Ski) if you were wondering, gave the Jays a decent start against a very potent lineup that did the same amount of damage against elite Jays pitcher Roy Halladay. Impressed with Rzepcynski’s mound presence, 3 quality pitches from the left side and command, Rzepcynski earned himself a nickmane in my long list of MLB nicknames (idea for a future post!), Zippy. Zippy might be the most clever thing I’ve thought of in while. lol. Not Really. For one thing, it is easier to say than his full last name, and for another, it can help other casual fans avoid the mental aggrevation of trying to concoct a word out of those oddly sequenced letters.
So, positive start for Zippy, I’m very impressed with what I’ve seen from the young pitcher so far. Jays lose two games to the Yanks. Bummer, but they were hard-fought games and I like our chances in our next series coming up against the Orioles of Baltimore.
Joe Carter Called Me! Me!
Friday night kicks off the ’92-’93 World Series Champion reunion series against the O’s. I will be in attendance for the Friday game, I believe? Today, I got an odd phone call from a (416) Toronto number during my Timmie Hortons coffee and a donut break at work. Who was it? None other than Joe Carter on a pre-recorded message personally inviting me to game on Friday! I said to the electronic device “Joe! Your callin me? I lov .. think you were a good player 🙂 … you can count me in!” I also thought since Carter invited me to an event, maybe I can invite him to dinner or something one day? We could have some great ‘Jays talk’ over a steak or something? Carter looks like the kind of guy that enjoys a good steak. To me at least. We will see if I can get a little ‘bromance‘ with Joe Carter after this? I still can’t believe he called me, even if that wasn’t really him.