Laying The Big Hurt on the AL East – A Toronto Blue Jays Season Preview Part 1

This is Part 1 of a 2 Part Season Preview.

So when I originally thought of doing this piece, I thought it would be a pretty topical piece about the Jays’ chances at taking the AL East or the Wildcard. As I thought about it more though, I realized I’ve good some good information to dish out so why hold it in. So the following preview will be comprised of three sections: the competition, the players, and the overall outlook. The players section will be most in depth and should even have some fantasy tips mixed in for you fantasy ballers. Enjoy, and I hope everyone is as excited for a _______ season as I am (I don’t want to give away this article’s ending).

The Competition
The AL East is, in my opinion, the best division in baseball. People can argue that the AL Central is deeper and has better pitching, but that may be more of an abberation since none of the teams are that great and because the East’s batting prowess puts pitchers at a statistical disadvantage to those in the Central. While the Rays and Orioles are perennial basement dwellers, the East is much more top heavy than the Central, and the East held a winning record over the Central last season. Furthermore, the East improved more this offseason than the Central did, and this widening of the gap should be apparent this season. With that in mind, I’ll look strictly at the AL East teams, assuming the Wild Card will come out of this division and being mindful of the length of this article.New York Yankees – The cream of the crop in MLB, as much as it pains me to say. Their rotation isn’t great by any standards, especially with Chien Ming-Wang out to start the season. Their bullpen is also pretty weak. Unfortunately, they still have Mariano Rivers, which makes any pitching staff dangerous because they’ll only blow maybe 3-5 leads all season. So aside from Mussina, Wang, Rivera, and Pettite (playoffs only), this is a team you can definitely put up numbers against. At the same time, they may have the greatest 1 through 9 batting order of all time. The AL’s leading hitter last year batted 9th for them, which is unbelievable. Jeter, A-Rod, Giambi, Damon, Abreu, and Matsui are the most disgusting 1-6 no matter what order you put them in, and will easily combine for 150 home runs and 500 runs batted in, as well as probably 100 stolen bases. This team is extremely dangerous, and their lineup possesses speed, power, great patience, and that explosive element that makes no game over until the last out. If it wasn’t for the heavy AL East competition, this team could hit 100 wins (maybe in the AL West), but I’ll be conservative and say 99 wins for 1st in the AL East.

Boston Red Sox – This team is so grossly overrated it actually makes me sick to my stomach. Call it the plague of the AL East, but they have an awful bullpen as well; I don’t buy Timlin as a late-inning reliever at age 43, and Papelbon is the only saving grace out of that crew. Their rotation could be dangerous, but still has a lot of question marks. Schilling’s age has to catch up to him eventually – I’m not saying this is the year but it’s got to happen eventually. Josh Beckett is also a big question mark. He sucked last year but won 16 games, and has rededicated himself to his craft, and he is one of my favorite players but here’s hoping he reverts to 2006 form. Ok, I give in, Dice-K was probably a great signing. BJ’s 20-6, sub 3.00 ERA is probably a big stretch, but I don’t think 15 wins and a 3.50 are a stretch at all. The rest of the rotation are scrubs, with Clement trying to bounce back (again), Tavarez trying to stick as a starter (again), and Wakefield being extremely overrated (again). I hate to get repetitive, but their lineup is also, you guessed it, overrated. Other than Papi and Manny, there’s nobody in the lineup I’d be scared to pitch to. They upgraded at a few positions but they were small scale upgrades, and they also aged at a few key positions. They lack speed outside of Crisp, power outside of Ramirez/Ortiz, and lack on base ability outside of Youkilis/Ortiz. I can’t see this team competing with the Jays and Yankees depth, and I’ll predict 84-78 for 3rd in the AL East.

Baltimore Orioles – Does this team actually spend as much as the Jays and remain this awful? This is a really poorly run franchise and I won’t waste much time on them but I’ll ramble a few quick notes. Nick Markaikas is a great talent and should continue to improve this year before his eventual departure to a big market club. Their rotation is in shambles despite the Canadian presence and I hardly recognize a name from their bullpen. Their best depth is at catcher. They have some run scoring potential with Markaikas/Tejada/Huff/Patterson, but I’m sure at least one of these guys will want to be moved by mid-season. 4th in the AL East at 72-90.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays – Always an exciting team to watch and follow (because chances are all their players will soon play for a real team). Unfortunately, the economics of major league baseball make it much more profitable for the D-Rays to suck. Because of revenue sharing, they receive major cash from the Yankees and Red Sox each season, and by only having young players and letting bigger teams syphon their talent for peanuts, the Rays keep a low payroll with a steady revenue stream. I think maybe the owners are doing this for 10-20 years, saving up and then one season they’ll buy every free agent and dominate. Anyways, Delmon Young and BJ Upton are good young talents to keep an eye on, especially in fantasy ball. Also, the Carl Crawford and Scott Kazmir trade winds will be blowing by the 2nd weekend of the season, so they’ll definitely keep you interested. Last in the AL East at, and yes I’m being generous here, 63-99.

The Players
Gregg Zaun. I’m not a big fan of T-1000, but I do like we have a defined #1 backstop for once. His numbers aren’t bad and catchers don’t normally regress statistically as they age, especially when they were mediocre to begin with. 15 home runs and 60 RBI is acceptable for Zaun, but I’d really like to see him hit north of .275. The biggest thing here is that he’s a clubhouse leader and knows the pitching staff (especially the bullpen) really well.

Bench – Jason Phillips is a good enough backup and can hit the ball pretty well; he’s definitely underrated or unnoticed or something. Maybe the sunglasses take away some credibility. At AAA we have veteran and Matt Rego look-alike Sal Fasano, as well as probable 2008 roster player Curtis Thigpen, who is looking like a great prospect.


Lyle Overbay – First Base. One of my favorite players, and the SkyDome crowd has finally taken to the “Ooooooo” that was popular in Milwaukee. Overbay has more doubles than any player over the last 3 seasons and his spray hitting makes him an attractive support piece for this powerful lineup. I’d look for Overbay to improve even further over last season, hitting 50 doubles and 25 homers, and hopefully he maintains that .312 average from last year.

Aaron Hill – Second Base. I think it’s realistic to expect that average to climb back to .300 from .291, especially with a guaranteed job all season. The switching from short stop to second base doesn’t seem to phase him at all, but another mid-season switch if Russ Adams were to do well could ruin a lot of the progress he’s made at second base.

Royce Clayton – Shortstop. I like Royce a lot, even though most hate on him because he’s old and can’t hit. Why should that matter in a lineup like this? He doesn’t need to break the Mendoza line to be valuable as an everyday defensive stopper at short, and his teammates apparently love his approach and dedication to improving his game. Also, his shades and facial hair make him look bad ass.

Troy Glaus – Third Base. Look, I’ve gotta be negative about someone on this team, and Glaus is my scapegoat. Foremost, I think he’s upset at the Thomas signing and being bumped to #5 in the lineup, especially after a great season last year. Injuries and age are a big concern, as is the declining speed (since he’s hitting ahead of Rios). 100 RBI may not be out of the question, but I don’t see the batting average getting any better than is .252 clip from last year, and he may be limited in the number of games he can play.

Bench –Jason Smith is a fantastic Rule 5 pickup. I love that draft and am surprised more teams don’t take advantage of it. He was basically free, has a low base salary, can play all four infield positions and the corner outfield spots. While his MLB batting average has been low for his career he’s hit like a madman in Spring Training, but his flexibility is his best feature. With Glaus getting older, he could get a lot of run this year. John McDonals will again be the middle infield utility man. He really didn’t handle the starting role last year, self-admittedly, and he’s more comfortable as an occasional starter or defensive replacement, but neither of these will really be necessary with Clayton/Hill/Smith. I can’t see Johnny Mac having a big impact at all. In the minors, Russ Adams is an option if his defense improves; he’s still only 26 can can hit the ball pretty well, so it’s an option. Sergio Santos, Ryan Roberts, and John Hattig all made appearances last year but probably don’t figure big into 2007 plans. Ray Olmedo is also a call-up possibility, assuming he cleared waivers, I don’t know for sure. We’re pretty shored up at the middle infield though.

Reed Johnson – Left Field. I’ve gotta be honest, I don’t see Reed repeating last year’s success. Ball players just don’t have breakout seasons at age 30. Plus, we don’t know how he’ll hold up to an everyday role, something he’s never been asked to do before. Also, he may fall victim to the Billy Goat Curse, which you can expect an article on in the future (previous victims include Billy Koch and Josh Phelps). Anyways, I think the batting average might have been a one-year thing for him but here’s hoping, and his D is great so it’s not a huge deal if he regressed to the .280 range.

Vernon Wells – Center Field. Yah boy, this is my man right here. Gotta love V-Dub, and this should be the most reason he gives us to love him yet. After signing that big extension there are no distractions for Vernon, and the addition of Overbay ahead of him and Thomas behind him mean he’ll be protected really well and have lots of ducks on the pond. Vernon should easily reach his 30 HR and 100 RBI, and I think 40 and 125 might be more realistic, and definite maintenance of that .300 average. Another gold glove would be great too.

Alexis Rios – Right Field. Rios was having a great year last season before a freak staph infection sidelined him and he never got his groove back. Well, the numbers say we can call Rios Stella, but he says otherwise, claiming he’s still not as comfortable with his apparoach as he was last year. Maybe he should have played winter ball. Alas, I think 20 homers and 75 RBI is probably the floor for Rios and he has big potential to move up hitting in the 6 hole behind Thomas and Glaus. A .300 average again would be great but the important thing is that he’s back to 100% health and comfort soon. Again, his D and arm are bomb. Oh, one more note is that Rios is probably not going to get many green lights to steal since there are two slow slow men ahead of him. With the bags empty he might get the go ahead, but the whole point of him hitting 6th is that the bases shouldn’t be empty for him often.

Bench – Canadian Matt Stairs is our 4th outfielder, which I love. He’s Canadian and has a .350 career average at SkyDome, plus can play a bit of first base if needed. He’ll have the same numbers he’s put up the last 40 years, 10 homers in sporadic playing time. Adam Lind is the #1 call-up in the event of any injury to an outfielder or Frank Thomas, and the kid can straight hit. If the signing was anyone other than the Big Hurt I would have been disappointed that it cost Lind his job this year, but it’s Thomas so what can I say. Look for Lind to make a big impact at AAA and make his way into the Majors. A bold prediction: Lind takes over as starting left fielder over Reed at some point this season.

Designated Hitter
Frank Thomas. The Big Hurt baby, my 2nd favorite player of all time (to Junior Griffey, obviously). He’s a little bit old and an injury concern, and is probably overpaid but come on, it’s the BIG HURT! If he puts up two thirds of what he did last season it’s worth it, and the real story will be the effect on the pitches Vernon sees all year. 500 at bats might be a stretch at this point, but even still 30 HR and 100 RBI is within reach. THE BIG HURT!

That’s all for today. Tomorrow or early Thursday I will throw up the second part, a break down of the pitching staff and the overall outlook for the Jays’ season.

No Responses to “Laying The Big Hurt on the AL East – A Toronto Blue Jays Season Preview Part 1”

  1. Erik Says:

    First of all, great post… Solid breakdown, but I’ll chime in with just a few points:

    - One thing that worries me more than a lot of people (I hardly hear anyone mentioning it) is the effect Frank Thomas will have on our boy Troy Glaus. I believe a lot of Glaus’ success last year was drawn from his ability (for the most part) to stay away from injuries. The reason: he had the luxury of significant DH time. With Big Hurt blocking his DH ABs, he’s gonna need to play the field significantly more than last year and I really hope that he can avoid any knee problems.
    - That said, the combined OBP of Glaus and Thomas is one of the most intimidating stats of all time. These guys do two things: hit Dingers and take walks. For this reason I’ve been preaching Thomas and Glaus going 3-4 to have another big bat BEHIND them, but they’ll mash the ball enough with Reed, O-bay and Wells on base. Left handed pitchers are going to be shitting bricks for weeks in anticipation of a matchup with the Jays.
    - The Yankees WILL blow leads… like many teams, they’ll blow a lot of them. Rivera will keep the 9th on lock down, but I really believe that rotation is shaky and a key injury to Wang has already exposed how top-heavy it is.
    - I really don’t think the Red-Sox are THAT overrated. Yes, just hearing the word SOX makes me want to puke and if anyone says “that’s just Manny being Manny” one more time I’m going to shoot somebody, but they have a SOLID team. Drew and Lugo are going to have a big-time impact on the top of that lineup and Manny+Ortiz will ride dirty all season long. In my mind, if Beckett avoids being a pussy this year and Schilling pitches 3/4s of the season… THIS is the team to beat. SideBar: The never should have moved Paplebon from the closer roll to begin with.

Leave a Reply