Monday, February 26, 2007

Preseason Preview: Blue Jays

Will the team from Toronto, MLB's last Canadian representative after the Expos became the Nationals, be able to compete in baseball's most top-heavy division? They finished a surprising second last year, one game ahead of the Red Sox, but as usual, the Yanks and Sox have revamped. Can Toronto keep the pace? Let's examine.

The Toronto Blue Jays


1. Roy Halladay, RHP
2. A.J. Burnett, RHP
3. Gustavo Chacin, LHP
4. Tomo Ohka, RHP
5. John Thomson, RHP


1. B.J. Ryan, LHP
2. Jeremy Accardo, RHP
3. Brandon League, RHP
4. Matt Roney, RHP
5. Jason Frasor, RHP
6. Scott Downs, LHP
7. Dustin McGowan, RHP


1B Lyle Overbay
2B Aaron Hill
SS Royce Clayton
3B Troy Glaus
RF Alexis Rios
CF Vernon Wells
LF Reed Johnson
C Gregg Zaun
DH Frank Thomas

The 500 Word Rundown

The Blue Jays are a decent-to-good team that has the misfortune of being permanently squashed in the AL East beneath heavyweights New York and Boston. They have the pitching - former Cy Young winner Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett, if he can stay healthy – but the bottom of the rotation, after Halladay and Burnett, is less certain. Gustavo "Bug Man" Chacin, who wears insectile goggles and moonlights as a perfume connoisseur away from the ballpark, will almost certainly be occupying the third slot, but for the other two, I'm making educated guesses about who will occupy those places and in what order - offseason acquisition from the Brewers Tomo Ohka is an established, if not standout starter, and should be in the fourth or fifth spot. John Thomson, if healthy, should also be present. As for the bullpen, the only name I was certain to pencil in was big man B.J. Ryan, Toronto's ninth-inning go-to guy. Posting a microscopic 1.37 ERA to accompany a 2-2 record and 38 saves, Ryan is as good as Toronto's going to get and a lot better than some. His bullpen mates are also educated guesses on my part after scanning the current active roster, although those guys do have better-than-most chances of being in there. Injury, as with any club, could change the picture dramatically, especially when it comes to Burnett and Thomson. If two-fifths of their projected starting rotation go down, Toronto could be in a pretty pickle pretty quickly.

Aside from the Deadly Duo top-two pitching combo, Toronto sports a very scary three-headed monster in the offense, consisting of Troy Glaus, Vernon Wells, and Frank Thomas (the traitor who made all the right noises about staying with Oakland, a year that single-handedly revived his doddering career... and then split for the Jays and the fatter paycheck. Yes, well). Those three, if healthy, should be good for 30+ HR and 100+ RBI apiece, providing the Jays with a legit power jolt in the lineup. Thomas, of course, is coming off a rebound year – before that, he was destroyed with foot and ankle injuries. Wells was rewarded for his efforts with a monster contract extension the same size as Barry Zito's – 7 years, $126 million. He deserves it somewhat more than Zito does, as he's a feared hitter who's played in 159, 161, 134, 156, and 154 games over the past five years, only missing significant time in 2004. (There is, of course, the question whether anyone deserves that kind of money, but that's a topic for another post).

On paper, the Jays could be easily competitive in any other division besides the one they're in. Unfortunately for them, as long as the Yankees and Red Sox are throwing their weight around and spending freely (although the Jays got a little liberal with the purse strings in regard to Wells) they're just not going to be able to crack the top and take home the division crown. The AL East has stacked up the same way for a decade, excepting last year, in which the Jays finished second, but it may be the same order again. The Jays may give everyone a run for their money and make Yankees and Sox fans very nervous, but in the end, they're still stuck. Sad, because I'd root for them over either NY or Boston.

Projected Finish: 88-74, third place, AL East

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