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Comprehensive Toronto Blue Jays Season Preview

I wrote a big intro initially but let’s just get to it.

Overall Outlook
I’m no longer the budding optimist I once was. Ever the homer, I usually pick my teams to do excessively well. This year, though the Jays are better than in years past, I just can’t shake the feeling that we’re doomed for mediocrity yet again. The team is great, don’t get me wrong, but we have a few elephants in the room that could hurt our chances…
Karma – JP Ricciardi is a dick and the Gods probably dislike him.
Sitting Duck – John Gibbons’ contract expires this year and even if it shouldn’t affect the team, the media will make sure it does.
Injuries – Always the biggest concern with the Jays now, it seems, we have several players working their way back from injury and others developing new ones. Additionally, most of our young arms put career-high mileage on their limbs last season, something statisticians warn can lead to future injuries.
Geriatrics – We’re relying on Gregg Zaun (37), Frank Thomas (40), and Matt Stairs (41) to contribute consistently. While there are contingencies in place, this is still a risky proposition.
The Fans – Yes, we may be the problem for once. Foremost, I could easily see the fan base turning on the franchise (and individual players) if injury concerns return or if the team struggles. It’s not that we’re greedy, but we’ve been lied to and lead on a lot in the past few seasons. Additionally, you could see the fans getting on players if they perform poorly, given their well-liked backups or previous placeholders (Barajas, Eckstein, and Stewart all come to mind). Plus, if we don’t start filling the park, Uncle Ted may not find it worthwhile to make it rain on future free agents.

With all of these concerns and question marks and claims about less optimism, I’m still pegging the Jays for 88 wins and a chance at the Wildcard. I know, that’s still unreasonably optimistic. But we got a lot better, last year was an ‘absolute downside’ year, and we’ve added depth everywhere except in the rotation. It really should be a successful season, though success in Toronto is defined only as a derivative of Yankee and Red Sock performance. So, let’s get into it.

The Rotation
Roy Halladay
Synopsis: He is as steady as they come. Don’t listen to Ron Shandler, Halladay has not regressed. He is as expert a tactician as they come, is wildly dedicated to his craft, and may be one of the smartest pitchers in baseball. It seems unlikely for another karmic intervention to strike down such a good guy, so I’d expect no health problems for The Doc. Obviously, he is our rock and winning starts with him. Just the way he likes it, I assume.
My prediction: Another stellar year, Cy Young candidacy, 19 W, 233 IP, 3.50 ERA, 150 K
Dubious Honor: Looking like a piece of fried chicken when he throws.

AJ BurnettA.J. Burnett
Synopsis: He has more riding on this season than anyone. While he can exercise his player option for the next two years and earn a sizable $11M per annum, he could also opt out and score Zito-like riches. That depends on him being healthy and posting good numbers, only one of which he has trouble doing. His fingerbang injury forced him to further develop his change-up, which should seriously help him with game-film studiers, since they can’t flip a coin for fastball/curveball.
My prediction: A semi-healthy year with fireballer stats, 16 W, 180 IP, 3.75 ERA, 190 K
Dubious Honor: Other than the fake finger nail? If his finger woes exist, I’m going to make sure his nickname is Fingerbang by season’s end.

Dustin McGowan
Synopsis: After years of up-and-down, a Tommy John surgery, and an MLB-granted extra option, Dusty arrived in 2007. About goddam time. Seriously. Like, fuck. I’ve been hearing about this guy forever. Anyways, he’s here now and looked great last year, especially down the stretch. He has taken a shining to Roy Halladay this spring and that definitely can only hurt in the boxscore, substituting ground ball outs for Ks on occasion.
My prediction: He’s arrived, don’t even worry, 15 W, 190 IP, 3.95 ERA, 168 K
Dubious Honor: Having the ugliest facial hair of any heartthrob in sports. Also, looking like me if I decide to give birth to the chops again.

Shaun Marcum
Synopsis: He blamed last year’s end-of-season slump to poor conditioning, so he took to working out hard over the offseason and put on 10lbs. of muscle. This, for a guy who already looked pretty menacing. He has some good stuff in his repertoire and it’s really only the mental side of the game that could hold him back from being a serviceable, if not above average, #4 starter.
My prediction: About what we saw last year, with the odd gem, 12 W, 175 IP, 4.20 ERA, 150 K
Dubious Honor: Look forward to steroid jokes if he a) gets hurt, b) plays awesome, or, c) kills somebody.

Jesse Litsch
Synopsis: I’m not super confident in The Kid. He doesn’t have awesome stuff and I don’t like pitchers rising through the minors too fast. That said, he, too, has taken a shine to Halladay and was already a groundball pitcher, so it’ll be difficult for him to struggle mightily – good control and groundball tendencies tend to produce fairly consistent results. He’ll have a cushion, too, since we don’t have a great deal of depth.
My prediction: Not quite there yet but will improve as the year goes on, 10 W, 160 IP, 4.50 ERA, 70 K
Dubious Honor: Being one of the only Gingers in the Major Leagues.

The Bullpen
Jeremy Accardo
Synopsis: Was a fantastic surprise last year, though I don’t know why it was surprising. The guy was a highly touted fireballer that the Giants didn’t have the patience for (despite being awful), and he finally made it in 2007. His role will be that of set-up man for most of the season, but he may be the key to our ‘pen, considering Ryan’s arm trouble and the relative inexperience of the group as a whole.
My prediction: Saves decrease but his skills stay the same, 12 SV, 3.00 ERA, 9K per 9IP
Dubious Honor: He is the set-up meat in the lefty sandwich (Downs-Accardo-Ryan). I don’t know, he’s uninteresting for a young skilled player, no?

Scott Downs
Synopsis: Over the past few years he’s turned into a very reliable reliever, as a set-up guy and lefty specialist. His workload last year (top-5 in the AL in appearances) would worry me if he wasn’t a converted starter. Righties can’t hit off of him, surprisingly, and lefties can’t either, to nobody’s surprise. Very useful tool for Gibbons to misuse.
My prediction: You know what to expect, top-10 in appearances, 3.00 ERA
Dubious Honor: Snaggletooth, baby!

Brandon League
Synopsis: He’s healthy this year, thanks to the Jays training staff not fucking ignoring him all offseason and letting him do what he wants as an offseason routine. Seriously, how does that happen to your prized 24-year old future closer? Now, he’s a middle reliever and will need to get the velocity back up to the mid-high 90s to impress again.
My prediction: He’ll be good, but not as great as it once looked, 3.50 ERA, 7.5K per 9IP
Dubious Honor: Most tattooed Jay; will always be a ‘what if.’

Brian Wolfe
Synopsis: Relatively unknown last season, he dominated the minors and had some great Major League stats. I haven’t found any info backing this up, but he at least looks a lot heavier this spring than he did last year, which can’t bode well. He’s a 6/7 inning guy and is replaceable with our depth if he isn’t great.
My prediction: He’ll be largely invisible, 4.00 ERA
Dubious Honor: Fattest reliever, a role the Jays haven’t had in some time (we need our own El Guapo).

Brian Tallet
Synopsis: The Wolverine is always pretty unimpressive. However, the team and fans (why?) love him, and he’s a lefty, which we know can make you millions more than you deserve. His numbers aren’t bad but he doesn’t do anything great, just good, so he’s relegated to long relief.
My prediction: What we’ve come to expect, varying roles throughout the year, 4.50 ERA
Dubious Honor: Worst facial hair on the team, though he’s in competition.

Jason Frasor
Synopsis: Up and down over the years, he was once pegged as a closer and then expected to be released. He’s still around and is one of the more experienced men in the ‘pen, so he’s got that going for him. He is pretty inconsistent but overall has good stuff.
My prediction: I feel good about Frasor this year, his job is relatively secure and he’s healthy, 3.75 ERA
Dubious Honor: The Josh Towers of the bullpen.

Randy Wells
Synopsis: The beneficiary of the BJ Ryan injury, Wells is getting the chance to carry his 0.00 spring ERA (8 IP) into the regular season and win a regular job. As a Rule 5 pick, he would potentially be lost if sent to the minors (though some speculate he was the piece in the de facto Johnson release/signing, since he’s from the Cubs), so he’s likely to stay on if he’s even middling. He’s had good minor league numbers and added a new pitch this year.
My prediction: I love Rule 5 picks, and he’s likely to stick around, 3.65 ERA
Dubious Honor: The second best Wells on the team, and no shot at upsetting the incumbents for team heartthrob.

The Players
The Catchers
Rod Barajas
Synopsis: Brought in as an upgrade over everyone’s favorite back-up, Sal Fasano. Barajas can swing the stick, with a career high 21 homeruns and solid year-to-year doubles, but struggles to get on base. He’s a defensive upgrade over Zaun and will probably be closer to platooning than backing up by season’s end.
My prediction: A good showing and a push for the starting gig, 85 games, 10 HR, 15 2B, .240 AVG
Dubious Honor: Spurned the Jays last offseason and is therefore the polar opposite of Fasano’s popularity.

Gregg Zaun
Synopsis: He can swing a decent stick and is a great clubhouse guy, plus he’s a switch hitter which is big for a righty-dominated line-up. Unfortunately, he may have the worst arm behind the plate in the majors and is awarded too much love for being a ‘grit’ player, the most over-appreciated group in baseball. Still, he’s serviceable as a platoon player, though not ideal.
My prediction: He may not throw a runner out all season, 95 games, 10 HR, .255 AVG
Dubious Honor: The MLB player who most resembles a Terminator villain (T-1000).

The Infield
Lyle Overbay
Synopsis: The John Olderud Lite comparisons are a little much, but Overbay brings a good deal to the table. He’s a good-to-great fielder, hits for average, and has serious extra base hit power. You can also bat him all over the line-up and he’s the only lefty in the regular line-up. That said, he’s coming off of a pretty bad hand injury, though he’s showing signs of 2006 Lyle in spring training.
My prediction: I’m high on Lyle for this season on both sides of the chalk, 20 HR, 45 2B, .275 AVG
Dubious Honor: Always a bride’s maid, never a bride.

Aaron Hill
Synopsis: Hill really broke out last year and will probably keep evolving into a top-tier 2-bagger. He hits for average and doubles, could develop 25-HR power, and is turning into a premier defensive player. He’s also extremely well liked and is suitable to hit in several line-up sports. Additionally, he’s one of the most consistent players on the team.
My prediction: You’ve got to like his chances of continued development, .290 AVG, 21 HR, 50 2B
Dubious Honor: The most successful member of the Adams-Hill BFF tag team.

David Eckstein
Synopsis: Plucky, gritty, workman-like, and hustle are all words used to describe Eckstein. Here’s another: overrated. Don’t get me wrong, I like David and his style of play, and I liked the signing, I’m just not sure he’s a huge upgrade or an ideal lead-off hitter. People have also just written off his 2007 defense as an aberration but, uhh, what if it wasn’t? Regardless, he’ll get on base at a decent clip and steal a few bags while the fans clamor for Johnny Mac to get his job back.
My prediction: The usual, but J.P. will have to force Gibby to play him over McGlovin, .280 AVG, .333 OBP, 18 SB
Dubious Honor: Shortest player in the major leagues; second most prominent ‘scrappy player’ on the team.

Marco Scuatro
Synopsis: Acquired to provide depth across the infield, he’s been thrust into the starting third base role while Rolen is out. He’ll probably see some of the time go to Johnny Mac but will be an everyday kind of guy, for now. He brings a half-decent bat and decent defense – a great off-day replacement but not a guy you want playing big time.
My prediction: What everyone expects at this point in his career, .270 AVG
Dubious Honor: He’s 90% invisible. For real.

John McDonald
Synopsis: Earned the starting job with his great glove work last season, and then lost it regardless with the Eckstein signing. Fans were upset, but J-Mac took responsibility, blaming his paltry hitting statistics. He said he worked on his swing but realistically, he’s John McDonald. He’ll be called to duty if Eckstein or the D in general struggle, but it’s tough to include hitting stats worse than Micah Owings’ in an AL line-up.
My prediction: A whole load of defensive gems and more playing time than you think, .255 AVG, 10 SB
Dubious Honor: The best defensive player on any bench in baseball.

The Outfield
Vernon Wells
Synopsis: Struggles every second year, it seems, but this time we’re blaming a shoulder injury. Hopefully that was it, because we need 2004 and 2006 Vernon to be competitive. He’ll be a Gold Glove outfielder for a long time, but we need his 30-100-.300 levels or he’s not worth that mammoth contract. Please, Vernon?
My prediction: He’ll rebound, though not to his peak levels, 28HR, .290 AVG, 12 SB, 99 RBI
Dubious Honor: The fastest fat man in the AL East.

Alexis Rios
Synopsis: While hilarious, who thought it was a good idea to have baby-Rios hitting on a teenage girl in a commercial when he had that quiet teenage girl scandal in his rookie year? Oh, did only I hear about that? Rios is primed to become a 3-time All Star and seriously elite outfielder this year. Hopefully he finds the motivation to keep improving that tends to disappear with fame and a big contract extension (pending).
My prediction: He’ll keep improving and frustrate me for missing him by a few picks in a fantasy draft, 31 HR, 105 RBI, 21 SB, .303 AVG
Dubious Honor: The best mohawk in all of baseball.

Shannon Stewart
Synopsis: Hasn’t had an awesome spring, but who has, right? He can hit from both sides of the plate and that’s already proving important since Stairs is feeling sore – Reed couldn’t play against righties reliably. Stewart can flat out hit the ball and get on base, and his defense isn’t as big a liability as people are making it out to be. A very valuable and inexpensive pick-up.
My prediction: He’ll play more than a platoon player normally does, 100 games, 15 HR, 12 SB, .290 AVG, .365 OBP
Dubious Honor: Best eye and patience on a wildly impatient hitting team; only two-time Blue Jay on the squad.

Matt Stairs
Synopsis: Had a great 2007 and it earned him a 2008 (and 2009) job. The team made it clear he’d be one half of a platoon regardless, but I seriously question his ability to perform and stay healthy with a regular workload, and I think the team will move to using him as a frequent back-up rather than a true platoon guy. In the meantime, he is Canadian and the most likable Jay, plus he comes out to Stone Cold Steve Austin’s theme music.
My prediction: Less playing time and some injury woes, 200 AB, 11 HR, .270 AVG
Dubious Honor: Best WWE-based theme music.

Buck Coats
Synopsis: Erik, did I not mention on the Podcast that this guy would break camp with the team? I believe I did, homie. Sure, it’s only because Rolen is hurt and the team likes his defense and baserunning, but he’s here and has a shot to prove himself a valuable bench player for 2009. I like him and he had a great spring, so hopefully he can seem some late-game action.
My prediction: Very short playing time unless Stairs goes down, 35 games, 8 SB
Dubious Honor: Best name on the team.

Designated Hitter
Frank Thomas
Synopsis: He was the victim of primacy bias last year, as people only remembered his rough April and atrocious May. He ended up posting good numbers for the year as a whole and really led the team down the stretch. This year, he’s had a slow spring but doesn’t care, and I’d expect a slow start but a less prolonged one than last year.
My prediction: A better season than last year and more respect, 30 HR, 100 RBI, .285 AVG
Dubious Honor: Rehabilitated television child abuser.

The Disabled
Scott Rolen
Synopsis: Man, I was excited to get Scott. Loved the trade. Love Rolen. Unfortunately, he had that freak finger injury and will miss roughly a month of the season. Hey, at least it’s not a recurring shoulder injury. He had a great spring and has underperformed recently, so I’d expect an upswing in production if he can stay healthy. He’s also a perennial Gold Glove candidate.
My prediction: After missing a month, 19 HR, .285 AVG, 35 2B, 80 RBI
Dubious Honor: Top-5 most injury prone Blue Jay; funniest guy on the league’s least personable team.

BJ Ryan
Synopsis: Still recovering from Tommy John surgery, he was feeling okay in spring training before feeling soreness two weeks ago. He should be back in mid-April and back to true form by mid-May. As long as he’s in the line-up, you know what to expect, and he’s one of the most intimidating presences in the game.
My prediction: Wild injury speculation during every bad outing, 28 SV, 2.35 ERA
Dubious Honor: Best use of Slipknot music in MLB, though he can’t make the sprint all the way to the mound.

The Departed
Reed Johnson - Picked up by the Cubs, he should play very regularly. He’ll impress with his D and against lefties, but the Cubs will platoon him pretty quickly. He’ll be decent.
Sal Fasano - Yet to be signed, I can only imagine a Jake Taylor-like return to superstardom for Sal wherever he catches on.
Troy Glaus - Playing in St. Louis, I hope he rebounds on real grass and can get his career back on track. That said, I’m not crazy optimistic in his ability to stay off of the DL.
Jason Phillips - Forgot about him, didn’t you? So did everyone else.
Josh Towers - Got cut from the Rockies in favor of Mark Mulder. Ouch. Gotta think he’ll catch on somewhere though…I mean, he’s JT!

The Batting Order
So here’s how Gibbons is saying it’s going to go when everyone is healthy: Eckstein, Stewart/Stairs, Rios, Wells, Thomas, Overbay, Rolen, Hill, Zaun/Barajas. Uhh, that looks pretty good, but I have a few concerns. Why would you bat Stairs 2nd? Isn’t Hill too good a hitter to hit 8th? Do you really want someone as slow as Zaun/Barajas in front of your lead-off hitter? I’d lean towards this order: Stewart, Hill, Rios, Thomas, Wells, Overbay, Rolen, Zaun/Barajas, Eckstein. I’d bump Eckstein to the top when Stairs is in and then drop Stairs to 8th and the catcher to 9th. Of course, all of this is subject to wild, random, and inexplicable changes because of who our manager is.

On The Farm
I’ll have a very detailed minor league report for the Jays sometime in the coming month, but here’s a quick look at the depth we have at AAA/AA, looking only at those with a decent shot at seeing the Majors.
Starters - Not much here. Gustavo Chacin and a handful of unproven guys (Kane, Purcey, Parrish). Could get ugly if we lose a starter.
Relievers - Man, a lot of depth here. Carlson, Benitez, de Jong, Vermilyea, and Davis Romero are all potential call-ups, plus any starters could appear in relief, too. Safe to say, the Syracuse Chiefs will have the best bullpen in baseball.
Catchers - Robinson Diaz and Curtis Thigpen are both good-to-great prospects and will fight for the right to play for the team before the end of the year. Both are good, and a Diaz-Thigpen catcher duo seems imminent for 2009.
Infielders - A great deal of depth here, too, if the Jays decide to keep everyone. They stocked up on utility men throughout last season and are left with Adams, Inglett, and Luna all perfectly capable of filling a Major League bench role.
Outfielders - Adam Lind is the guy if any outfielder goes down for a serious amount of time, but he needs 500 AB this year to take his game the last step. Travis Snider is more long term but will be fun to keep an eye on. Wayne Lydon could be a call-up if we needed a bench guy, as he is a good fielder with serious wheels.

And Of Course, the Commercials
Courtesy of Drunk Jays Fans, the best Jays blog going.

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2 Responses to “Comprehensive Toronto Blue Jays Season Preview”

  1. Blake Murphy Says:

    Just a note: Doing a running diary of the opener today that’ll go up right after the game.

  2. Erik Says:

    1:00PM: Rain
    1:15PM: More Rain
    1:30PM: More Rain

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