Last Five Years:
2010: 85 – 77 (4th in AL East)
2009: 75 – 87
2008: 86 – 76
2007: 83 – 79
2006: 87 – 75
Consistently good, not always as competitive in the toughest division to win in baseball.
Runs Scored: 755 (6th in AL, but 4th in the AL East)
Runs Allowed: 728 (9th in AL)
With this combination of run scored and allowed, you’d expect 84 wins, so Toronto was pretty much on the money.
Most everyone had them fourth – so no surprises here. Well, not at a team level anyway… A LOT of surprises at the player level – but we’ll cover that down below.
After trading wins and losses for a month, the Blue Jays got hot in May and raced toward the top of the division. Unfortunately, the Jays were equally cold in June and fell back to fourth. June was their only losing month – from July 7th on, the Jays were 14 over .500, so if they hadn’t gone cold for the 30 days from June 6 to July 6, it’s very likely that the Jays could have sneaked into the playoffs.
What made Toronto competitive on heals of losing the best pitcher in their team’s history, Roy Halliday, was a BUNCH of home runs. Jose Bautista hit 54, Vernon Wells slammed 31 dingers, John Buck had 20, Edwin Encarnacion hit 21, even Alex Gonzalez had 17 in just 85 games. Aaron Hill didn’t hit much, but clocked 26 homers. Adam Lind tallied 23, Lyle Overbay slashed 20, and even the half season of Travis Snider was good for 14. Toronto hit 257 homers but only allowed 150, a gap that covered for other weaknesses.
During the season, the Jays made a few minor deals, but the one that made a splash was the trade in July that sent shortstop Alex Gonzalez and two minor leaguers to Atlanta for Yunel Escobar and Jo-Jo Reyes.
As mentioned, Roy Halliday was gone, and the Blue Jays were forced to rely on a bunch of young arms – many of whom were returning from prior shoulder and elbow injuries. Ricky Romero improved on an impressive 2009 rookie season and made 32 starts, logged 210 innings and win 14 games, pitching like an ace for much of the season. Shaun Marcum returned to go 13 – 8 and missed by a start of hitting 200 innings. Brett Cecil, the #1 pick in 2007, raced through the minors and showed moxie – leading the team with 15 wins. Brandon Morrow, who never seemed to live up to the hype in Seattle, fanned 178 batters in just 146.1 innings, kept hitters off stride, and won 10 decisions. The fifth starter role was given to Marc Rzepczynski and Dana Eveland, but at the end was given to former Phillie prospect Kyle Drabek, who looks to make the rotation in 2011.
Looking ahead, Shaun Marcum is gone, having been moved to Milwaukee for Brett Lawrie, a top second base prospect. That leaves Romero, Cecil, Morrow, and either Rzepczynski, Drabek, Reyes, or Jesse Litsch – another former Jays starter coming back from hip surgery. Drabek comes with the most hype – the top prospect in the Toronto chain, having gone 14 – 9 for New Hampshire in the Eastern League. Reyes can pitch some, but more likely will start the year in the bullpen and pick up a start from time to time, which leaves Litsch and Rzepczynski battling for the fifth slot. I think Drabek can be every bit as good as Marcum was in 2010, and if Litsch or Rzepczynski can make 25 healthy starts, this will be a slight improvement – if only because you won’t have the nine less than stellar starts of Dana Eveland in the mix (or, for that matter, Litsch’s nine less than impressive starts).
Gone is Kevin Gregg, who saved 37 games last year. Gregg is NOT a dominant closer – but rather a tolerable one, He was ably supported by Shawn Camp, Scott Downs, Jason Frasor, Casey Janssen, and David Purcey.
For 2011, the closer looks to be former Ranger closer Frank Francisco, who can be much better than Gregg but historically is just marginally better. Other closers are in camp, including Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch, as well as Frasor, Janssen, Camp, and Purcey. This is a very deep staff and should continue to keep Toronto in games.
Last year’s duo of John Buck and Jose Molina were impressive defensively – above average in six different categories, and league average in terms of basic mobility. Buck also hit well – an all-star level performance.
Looking ahead, Toronto will be depending on rookie J.P. Arencibia. After struggling through a rough 2009 season in Las Vegas, Arencibia pounded PCL pitchers to the tune of 32 – 85 – .301 in 104 games. That translates to about 20 – 65 – .250, which is not too far from a typical John Buck season. Molina remains as a capable defensive backup.
The changes continue from the infield that started the 2010 season. Basher Jose Bautista showed to be more consistent at third than Edwin Encarnacion, who will move to first or DH in 2011. Yunel Escobar can find his groove and hopefully contribute like the hitter he was in 2009, and second baseman Aaron Hill will rebound from his .205 2010 season and hopefully retain his power. Adam Lind moves to first base, replacing Lyle Overbay. I’m nervous about this unit. The left side will be marginally better than 2010 defensively, but the right side will not be. Lind has yet to produce as many runs as Overbay, and the 85 games Alex Gonzalez played were productive and hard to immediately replace.
John McDonald is still around to back everyone up – as is Encarncion.
Left field will be manned by former Angel Juan Rivera, who replaces Fred Lewis – a fourth outfielder at best. While an improvement, Rivera is starting to get old and in ten seasons has never played 140 games in a season. Vernon Wells is gone, replaced by Rajai Davis. Davis is faster than Wells, but about 25 runs behind him as a hitter. In right is Travis Snider, who replaces Bautista’s role. Snider is due to step forward as a hitter, but hasn’t been a strong fielder.
Down on the Farm:
AAA Las Vegas wasn’t loaded with prospects other than Arencibia, who will start on opening day, and Brett Wallace, who was traded to Houston for Anthony Gose – a low level centerfielder with speed to burn, but a problem with contact and little power. (I’ll be honest, I don’t see the reasoning there unless one thinks Wallace didn’t have a future in Toronto, but I think he’s better than Encarnacion.)
AA New Hampshire had Drabek, but also Zach Stewart, who is a year older but not quite as good. David Cooper is a first baseman who has stats that look like Lyle Overbay – but at AA. He might be a year away, but he’s not quite there yet. Eric Thames has more power and a touch of speed. He could replace Juan Rivera and you might not lose a step. Darin Mastroianni is a leadoff type hitter, great speed and good on base percentages. At 25, he’s getting old for a prospect, but he could help somebody for a months if needed. The guy who is really interesting is Cuban import Adeiny Hechavarria, who looks like Davy Concepcion did when he was 21 years old – great glove, could grow into a hitter (but not yet). Tristan Magnuson was successful as a reliever in AA, with great control, but Danny Farquhar has better stuff – 79Ks in 76 innings, just 50 hits allowed. He’s a touch wild.
Alan Farina didn’t look like a prospect after a season of struggle at A+ Dunedin, but he DOMINATED A+ in 2010 and moved up to New Hampshire and kept right on going (74Ks in 55.2 innings). If he does this in Las Vegas, he may make the roster in September, 2011. Joel Carreno is a starter with moxie who will start in AA this year after a successful run in 2010 with Dunedin. Catcher Travis D’Arnaud will get to build on a reasonably successful 2010 season, but it would help if he shows a little more power.
There are things to like. The outfield defense should be stronger. The team will be spending less money at a couple of positions, which helped pay for a Jose Bautista contract. The pitching staff is rather deep, especially in the bullpen. The only slip defensively is at first base – which means the team will likely stay around 715 runs allowed, if not a few less than that.
The things that make you nervous? I think the offense has to fall back. I can see Bautista having a good season, but will it be as good as last year? Probably not. You have a drop in offense at first and center and possibly at catcher against potential improvements in left and second. But there are too many “downs” to make up for the possible “ups” – and I see this as being sixty to eighty runs less than 2010. As such, I see Toronto falling below .500 to about 77 – 85, which could very well be last in the AL East. This isn’t a BAD team, just a team in the wrong division and falling back because a couple of guys were over their heads last year. On the other hand, there are signs that this team is trying to build a new foundation of young players that can get them over the 90 win plateau and finally get back to the playoffs.