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Springtime Storylines: Is anyone gonna want to watch the Blue Jays this year?

Mar 25, 2010, 9:00 AM EDT

Blue Jays old logo.gifBetween now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Ah, the Blue Jays.
The lambs to the AL East slaughter . . .

big question: Is anyone gonna want to watch the Blue Jays this year?

I’m not gonna lie to you, bunky: it’s going to be an ugly, ugly year in
Toronto. Doc Halladay is gone. Vernon Wells is still here. Edwin
Encarnacion has a whole season in which to show Jays fans how poorly a
fellow can play third base. Cito Gaston is going to spend less time
going over lineups and spray charts than he will spend looking over the
plans to the little cottage he and the missus are going to retire to at
the end of the season or when he gets fired, whichever comes first. 
Some promising young arms are going to get shelled because that’s what
happens to promising young arms, but only sick and twisted pitching
junkies like me are going to enjoy it for the learning experience that
it will be.

But that’s the nature of rebuilding, isn’t it? I lived with it — and
even grew to love it — in the mid-to-late 80s with the Braves. Sure,
Vernon Wells isn’t as likable as Dale Murphy was, but a rusty anchor is a
rusty anchor. Cito Gaston and Chuck Tanner may not look much alike, but
given that they each have an old championship ring laying in an ashtray
on their dresser at home and a fairly obvious case of short-timer’s
disease, they may as well be the same guy. It’s too early to tell if any
of the Jays’ young pitchers are a Tom Glavine in the rough, but there
are probably a healthy number of Kevin Coffmans and Derek Lilliquists
hanging around.

It’s hard to watch a team that finds itself in these dire straits, I
know, but if anything a true Jays fans will be better off watching every
single game
this team plays — to eat, drink, sleep and breathe the
whole messy experience in — than they are to check in once a week and
be disgusted from afar. For one thing, there’s high comedy in bad
baseball, and you’ll laugh a lot. For another, if you keep close tabs
you’ll know later when the GM is blowing smoke about the progress of the
rebuild. Casual Braves fans might have thought that German Jiminez was a
big deal when they signed him from the Mexican League in ’88. My
fellow dead-enders and I knew we were being lied to. I’m sure that experience
helped me at some point over the past 22 years. When I figure out how,
I’ll be sure to tell you.

But to answer the question: no, no one is going to watch this team. Jays
fans have had at least some glimmers of hope over the past few years
and, of course, they had Roy Halladay to look forward to every fifth
day, and that’s all out the window now. I predict small crowds at the
Rogers Centre and poor ratings on the telly for a team that wisely
chose to allow itself to hit bottom and do a proper rebuild than to stay
in third-place limbo indefinitely. It happens. Hopefully the Canucks
within the sound of my voice will resist the urge to look away, however,
and take in an experience — rebuilding — that fans in Boston and New
York haven’t seen for years.  It’s actually kinda enjoyable in a sick, twisted sort of way.

So what else is going on?

  • All of the above notwithstanding, there are some good players on this team. Aaron Hill and Adam Lind are Silver Sluggers (and Hill plays good defense too).  Travis Snider will get a wide open shot at starting from the beginning of the season. He raked in hitter-friendly Las Vegas for 50 games last season and was kind of meh upon being called up, but he is just 22. He’s been hanging around so long that it’s easy to forget that. Ricky Romero will be fun to watch. There could be a Kyle Drabek sighting as the first chill winds of autumn blow in off the lake.
  • The rotation is going to be where all the action is this season. Shaun Marcum, Romero and Brandon Morrow seem set. Others who will cycle through this year include Mark Rzepczynski, Brett Cecil, Brian Tallet, David Purcey,
    Dustin McGowan, Dana Eveland, Jesse Litsch, Shawn Hill, Kyle Drabek, Scott Richmond,
    Robert Ray, Dave Steib, Brad Mills, Zach Stewart and Reider Gonzalez.  If you can tell me what’s wrong with that list, you’re paying closer attention to this preview than I figured you would. Congratulations.
  • The Vernon Wells release watch. I don’t need to remind anyone that Wells’ contract is just about the worst in baseball history (pfun pfact! He’s only making $12.5 million this year! It doesn’t start getting really ugly until next year, after which he’s owed $21-23 million each year through 2014!). He wouldn’t be worth the money even if he went back in time seven years and replicated his best season ever. And it’s not like he’s some big name draw or anything. The fans resent his very presence on the team.  Unless he starts the season on an absolute tear, is there any reason to not simply release him? Sure, the White Sox picked up Alexis Rios last year, but the odds against anyone taking Vernon Wells off the Jays’ hands are astronomical. And I don’t mean simply long like surviving overnight on Hoth with nothing but tauntaun guts to keep you warm or successfully navigating an asteroid field. I mean effectively impossible.
  • There’s been an ongoing, much-publicized race for the closer’s role, with Scott Downs, Jason Frasor and Kevin Gregg battling it out.  Of course a 90+-loss team without a closer is like a fish without a bicycle, but at least covering this race has kept the Blue Jays writers off the streets.  Probably should have kept them off the track too. Sorry, Jordan.

So how are they gonna do?

My mother taught me four things when I was a kid: never get less than twelve hours sleep; never play cards with a guy who
has the same first name as a city; never get involved with a woman
with a tattoo of a dagger on her body; and never, ever bet on a rebuilding team who just shipped off the best pitcher in baseball and is paying Vernon Wells $126 million to do anything but finish last in the AL East.

Prediction: Last place, my friends. There’s really no escaping it.  Leafs camp opens in September.

  1. Rambo Diaz - Mar 25, 2010 at 9:15 AM

    Problem with the list? It’s Dave Wells, not Dave Steib.

  2. BC - Mar 25, 2010 at 9:31 AM

    Quick Quiz Question: Which contract is worse, Vernon Wells with Toronto or Mike Hampton with Colorado?

  3. The Common Man - Mar 25, 2010 at 9:35 AM

    Reider Gonzalez? It’s “I” before “E”, pal.

  4. Jay - Mar 25, 2010 at 9:38 AM

    “My mother taught me four things when I was a kid: never get less than twelve hours sleep; never play cards with a guy who has the same first name as a city; never get involved with a woman with a tattoo of a dagger on her body”
    Very clever! Kudos!

  5. YX - Mar 25, 2010 at 9:38 AM

    Thanks for reminding me how ugly their logo was.
    “replayed that”

  6. Andrew - Mar 25, 2010 at 9:40 AM

    I just got back from Dunedin and while it was a fun time, it did hit home how ugly of a year it’s going to be.
    Every game we watch is one less game we will have to see Cito manage again. While I can’t see them releasing Wells until they are either a) contending b) have a legit center fielder to replace him with and 2 good corner outfielders. This may be the last year he plays center if his defense continues its sharp decline. Batting 7th and playing LF he will do a lot less damage then batting 4th playing CF.
    By September we should see some of the future, and watching this year means you get to see everything from the start.

  7. Alex K - Mar 25, 2010 at 10:01 AM

    “Now you stick with that, and everything else is cream cheese”

  8. YankeesfanLen - Mar 25, 2010 at 10:02 AM

    Alan Ashby and Jerry Howarth are pretty good and very honest radio men and it will be interesting to hear them periodically during this, the worst team in years.
    Only know this because my radio drifts on clear summer nights and goes between WCBS and something that carries Blue Jays games, probably CKNX. Me and the hounds wonder where John and Suzyn went. Sometimes we don’t care.
    “Welcome telecast”-Biden whispering in Obama’s ear?

  9. Joey B - Mar 25, 2010 at 10:18 AM

    Always good to see Dave Stieb’s name. Outside of TO, not many have heard of him.
    Yet, he had a no-hitter, 5 complete game 1-hitters, and at least 7 games of varying length with only 2 hits.

  10. Curious George - Mar 25, 2010 at 10:21 AM

    There are some Koolaid drinkers in the Big Smoke who see the 2010 Jays as a potentially .500 team. Their optimism is, of course, heavily laden with provisos, not the least of which is Wells reattaining the level of his one good year in the past three. And a bunch of pitchers with recent owies now finding themselves all healed up good, real good.
    Watching the rotation — seeing which starters really might turn into something and which are going to break hearts and not bats — will be one reason to tune in. Another will be Snider. But there’s a whole lotta yuck in Hog Town including a leadoff hitter with a career line against RHP of 227/316/366. That just screams out “honey, where’s the remote?”.
    Oh, and it appears that Cito is intent on batting John Buck 6th, as if he has managed to find 3 worse hitters in the lineup.

  11. Tate Donovan - Mar 25, 2010 at 10:55 AM

    What are the implications of releasing Wells? They pay his entire salary every two weeks just like he was there?

  12. Curious George - Mar 25, 2010 at 11:21 AM

    “What are the implications of releasing Wells? They pay his entire salary every two weeks just like he was there?”
    Yep, except that Wells would likely be claimed by another team who would then have to pay him the league minimum ($400K), lowering the Jays’ annual liability by that small amount.

  13. Matt - Mar 25, 2010 at 12:29 PM

    Too bad the Leafs are as hopeless as the Jays.

  14. Old Gator - Mar 25, 2010 at 12:43 PM

    I suspect, based on conversations with my pals up in the Big T, that there’ll be some heartfelt enthusiasm for the new GM that’ll bring people in, at least unless or until the Feather Lice really begin stinking up the Rogers on a regular basis. The biggest loss of all will be those couple of times a year when Lice fans jam the place in hopes of watching the Borg being fed to Halladay like herring to a porpoise. Another bit of pathos: there used to be a real romance between Wells and the fans, and it’s soured bigtime – not without reason, of course, but compare that with the way the Beanbag fans still take Mike Lowell to heart despite the awful time he’s had for the last couple of years. Now, the relationship between Wells and the Rogers denizens is more like Woody Allen and Bette Midler in Scenes from a Mall. Even so, I get the feeling that if Wells got off to a decent start the fans would embrace him again. But of course, if anyone on that team gets off to a good start, the fans will embrace him. They’d embrace a goddamned porcupine at this point if he could hit.
    That, and I really enjoy my annual game at the Rogers. As soon as I find out when Cowboy Junkies plan to play a gig or two at home, I’ll go get myself some tickets and head up for a break from the summer swelter down here.

  15. DowntownCharlieBrown - Mar 27, 2010 at 6:18 PM

    Finishing 5th in baseball is the same as finishing 3rd, so no big deal there.
    At least it’s nice to see AA making quick work of this rebuild.
    For this season? Here’s my #1 prediction:
    Mark Rzepczynski will be the most consistent pitcher on the Jays staff in 2010. The man knows how to pitch. Give him 15 wins and he’ll be the opening day starter in 2011.
    As for the others…Marcum will be up and down. Romero the same. Both are 12-win MLB pitchers. Morrow will struggle and the Jays will consider moving him to the pen to to AAA and realize why the M’s flip-flopped on him so much.
    Lastly, the Jays will hit. Bautista won’t do anything remarkable because he’s not a remarkable player but he should have his best MLB season. Lind and Hill will anchor the offense. Wells will be better but won’t hit 25 HR’s and his AVG will hover around .270. Oh…and he’ll get hurt. 130 games max.
    Snider will struggle but the Jays need to either play him full time or play him full time in AAA. Cito is going to ruin this kid. He should get 500+ AB’s in MLB and let’s see if this kid is going to be a player or not.

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