Christopher Reina. 18th March, 2010 - 12:57 pm
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At least on paper heading into the 2008 and 2009 season, the Jays had enough talent to be fringe contenders in the unapologetically brutal AL East. Even though it wasn't the case in 2009, Toronto has consistently been amongst the better teams in baseball in terms of runs allowed, but offensive franchise cornerstones Vernon Wells and Alex Rios have been unquestioned busts. Wells had a -15% Reina Value in 2009 and his monster deal hadn't even began to kick in yet as he was still making just $4.69M. The Jays put Rios on waivers and let him leave to the White Sox without any compensation back whatsoever in what was one of baseball's most NBA-like salary dumps.
The Jays were sixth in the AL in OPS, but 10th in ERA with no support at all behind Roy Halladay's 2.79 ERA save for the 'finally we can stop hearing about Tulowitzki' emergence of Ricky Romero.
2009 Opsera Finish: 15th
What Happened In The Winter
The Blue Jays ended JP Riccardi's tenure by hiring Alex Anthopoulos, who was responsible for trading away Halladay as one of his first orders of business. Pitchers like Halladay don't come around too often, so it is always difficult to trade them away even if rebuilding is an absolute necessity.
I don't think anyone was completely floored by the haul in return, but Kyle Drabek, Brett Wallace and Travis d'Aranud are amongst the better prospects in baseball.
The Jays are in a clear rebuilding season and the moves they made (and didn't make) clearly reflect that. Toronto has bordered on being relevant in free agency, but nearly sat out completely with the exception of Alex Gonzalez, Kevin Gregg and re-signing John McDonald.
Toronto unfortunately couldn't extend their firesale beyond Halladay since Wells has a contract that cannot really be traded and there aren't any other veterans that would draw much in return via trade. One possible player that Anthopoulos could look at parting with in July is Lyle Overbay, who had a bounce-back .838 OPS in 2008.
Blue Jays Offensive Preview
Cito Gaston's lineup won't be completely ineffective with two through six (Aaron Hill, Adam Lind, Wells, Overbay, Edwin Encarnacion) all being very competent big league hitters. If they all have seasons above their mean and either Travis Snider or Jose Bautista pan out in 2009, they should score over 800 runs.
The blight of Wells underperforming in the middle of the field and in the middle of the lineup really has to change for the Jays to have a short rebuilding season. He needs to simplify his approach, shorten his swing and get that OBP back up before worrying about his power numbers.
Lind fully arrived in 2009 with a .932 OPS, which was even more impressive because of its consistency. His righty/lefty splits (.992/.780) are where you would expect them for a 26-year-old, but they have absolutely improved. Without question, Lind is the hitter Gaston can trust the most, along with Hill. Lind and Hill combined for 71 homers, an area of actual strength for Toronto as they finished fourth in the AL in that category.
Blue Jays Pitching Preview
As it largely was for Halladay's entire career with the Jays, the mound truly belonged to him. In 2009, Halladay had an ERA under 3.00 for the second consecutive season and was just two wins short of 150 for his Toronto career.
Halladay is now gone and Romero and Shaun Marcum will be at the top of the rotation for Bruce Walton. Since Marcum sat out 2009 with Tommy John surgery and Romero is a high risk, high ceiling southpaw, there are countless different ways for this to shake out.
There are a lot of respectable arms behind Romero and Marcum to fill out the rotation, most notably Dustin McGowan who is recovering from a torn labrum. I also like southpaw Marc Rzepczynski if he can keep his walks down, as he had a 3.67 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 61.1 innings in 2009.
Those two are the only potential options as a legitimate third starter, as Brandon Morrow, Brian Tallet and Scott Richmond will all struggle to keep their ERA below 4.50 against the AL East lineups.
In 2009, the Jays had a closer by committee system between Jason Frascor and Scott Downs. They both threw well, but will possibly be knocked down to setup men in favor of Kevin Gregg. Both pitchers are over 30 and are impending free agents, so it is unclear whether either will still be around after August 1st, as they may rather cash in on their trade value rather than offering arbitration and receiving compensatory picks this winter.
Given the uncertainty of the rotation, the Jays' rotation will undoubtedly see a lot of innings and I expect it to be one of the areas of strength for the club.
What Are Their 2010 Chances?
In order for any AL East team to compete against the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox, a perfect storm has to develop the way it did for Tampa Bay in 2008. Unmistakably, the 2010 Jays don't have the potential to shock the baseball world and reach the postseason. The Jays had potential for those kinds of seasons in 2008 and 2006 when they finished fourth in Opsera. With their rebuilding, it may be a few more seasons before they are in the top 10 again.
This will be a transition year where the front office will be able to evaluate their personnel and determine just how far away and how many players are necessary to acquire before they can piece together enough pieces to make a real shot at the playoffs.
With that stated and clear, the Jays should be better than expected and I believe they will outperform oddsmakers' expectations of 71.5 regular season wins. The judgments for Toronto unfortunately are always made under the prism of the gauntlet that is the AL East. If they were in the AL Central, I wouldn't rule out the postseason in 2010 and could envision them being amongst the favorites in 2011. Since they're so close to Detroit.. Realignment..?
Blue Jays Opsera History
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