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Running down the rosters: Toronto Blue Jays

Feb 10, 2012, 12:30 AM EDT

Jose Bautista Getty Images

Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos has made a bunch of smart moves since taking over after the 2009 season and he was presented with one of the greatest gifts in major league history when the Angels took Vernon Wells‘ contract off his hands and sent back Mike Napoli in return, yet his Blue Jays are still a fourth place team. This winter has to be regarded as a disappointment, as the Jays simply wouldn’t go the extra mile to land a star. In time, they may be better off for it — Prince Fielder wasn’t worth a nine-year deal and Yu Darvish certainly came with some risk — but right now, fans have to be wondering what good that new-found financial flexibility is actually doing.

At least the future is promising. All of the Jays’ best players are under control beyond 2012, and there’s quite a bit more talent on the way.

Ricky Romero – L
Brandon Morrow – R
Brett Cecil – L
Henderson Alvarez – R
Dustin McGowan – R

Sergio Santos – R
Francisco Cordero – R
Jason Frasor – R
Darren Oliver – L
Casey Janssen – R
Carlos Villanueva – R
Jesse Litsch – R

SP next in line: Aaron Laffey (L), Kyle Drabek (R), Nelson Figueroa (R)
RP next in line: Luis Perez (L), Joel Carreno (R), Trystan Magnuson (R), Jesse Chavez (R)

It’s the rotation that figures to prevent the Jays from making a run at the AL East. Romero may be one of the game’s most underrated hurlers, but there are no sure things beyond him. Morrow ended up with a 4.72 ERA last season, while Cecil came in at 4.73. Since the Jays were unable to add anyone through free agency, the 21-year-old Alvarez appears to be nearly guaranteed a place, with McGowan, Laffey and Drabek competing for the fifth spot.

The guess here is that McGowan is the fifth starter, even though it might make more sense to stash him in the pen initially to manage his innings. The problem there is that the bullpen is simply too crowded after the late additions of Cordero and Oliver. Villanueva and Litsch seem redundant now that both are being viewed strictly as relievers, so perhaps one will be traded this spring. That’d open up a place for Perez as a second lefty.

SS Yunel Escobar – R
2B Kelly Johnson – L
RF Jose Bautista – R
1B Adam Lind – L
DH Edwin Encarnacion – R
3B Brett Lawrie – R
CF Colby Rasmus – L
C J.P. Arencibia – R
LF Eric Thames – L

C Jeff Mathis – R
INF Omar Vizquel – S
OF Rajai Davis – R
OF Ben Francisco – R

Next in line: 1B David Cooper (L), INF Mike McCoy (R), INF Luis Valbuena (L), INF Chris Woodward (R), OF Travis Snider (L), OF Moises Sierra (R)

The only real question of the Jays here is left field. Either Thames or Snider will win the job as a starter against right-handers, with the other returning to Triple-A. Francisco figures to play against lefties regardless, with Davis also available off the bench.

There’s also some chance that McCoy or Valbuena could beat out Vizquel for a bench spot, but it seems unlikely.

The lineup has a great deal of upside, and I’m pretty optimistic about the group as a whole. Lind drove in 114 runs in 2009 and is still just 28. Encarnacion may have finally put it together when he hit .291/.382/.504 in the second half of last season. Lawrie looks like one of the game’s best young talents. Rasmus had an .859 OPS as a 23-year-old for the Cardinals in 2010. If two of those guys play up to their potential, then the Jays should be able to win a bunch of 7-5 games. If the Jays instead end up with Bautista and a cast of .700-.750 OPS guys, then even matching last year’s 81-81 record will be difficult.

  1. missthemexpos - Feb 10, 2012 at 12:58 AM

    My fearless prediction for the Jays next season is a 86 -76 record.

  2. cur68 - Feb 10, 2012 at 1:34 AM

    No other team in the AL East has this much potential as the Beaver Men, IMO. Rasmus 2012 needs to produce like Rasmus 2010, ditto Lind: this is not ludicrous, given their age. Beyond Ramirez, the Beaver Men have a BSOHL pitcher in Cecil, who is 30lbs lighter (30lbs! He’s lost a pregnancy worth of weight!), a guy who put it together real well in his August starts in Morrow, and a very good up and comer in Alvarez. Dustin McGowan really showed up in his starts, too: an off season to polish it all up will have done both Alvarez & McGowan some good. Encarnacion was a beast in the last half and Lawrie was the most energetic, productive player to land on that team in quite some time. Throw in the always entertaining Yunel Escobar & Eric Thames and the steady work of Kelly Johnson. Bautista just needs to be Bautista. This could be good.

    • proudlycanadian - Feb 10, 2012 at 4:29 AM

      This team will win more than 90 games and will finish second in the AL East and just might finish first if the Yankee starters implode. The Jays bullpen blew a huge number of save opportunities last season. That problem has been fixed and will result in at least 10 more wins. Romero is solid. In his last 3 starts in 2011, Morrow showed that he had figured it out and only gave up 2 earned runs in those starts. Cecil is now fit. Remember that he won 15 games in 2010. Alvarez was a revelation when he was called up from double A last year. Anyone who saw him pitch is excited. McGowan is a wild card. He has always had great potential, but was done in by a long series of injuries. In his appearances late last season, he showed the stuff that excited Blue Jay fans before he got injured. Drew Hutchinson started the 2011 season in low Single A and finished it in Double A. At each of his 3 teams, his ERA was in the 2.50 range. The Jays expect that he will be ready for the majors by the second half of the season.

      Bautista is Bautista. Last year Lind was learning how to play first. He also got married and became a father. He will be better this year. Rasmus should improve. Johnson seems to like playing in Toronto and looked good since the trade. EE shows signs of breaking out as a hitter. As long as he does not have to play third base, he should thrive. Escobar has been consistent while in Toronto. The young hitters (Arencibia, Lawrie and Thames) are no longer rookies. Both Lawrie and Thames were called up mid season. They should be contributors all year.

      • wendell7 - Feb 10, 2012 at 7:49 AM

        Dream on. You can expect their offensive production at home to drop significantly since their spies in centerfield were exposed last season signaling pitches to the Toronto hitters.

        They’ll contiue their trend of starting strong then fading into 3rd or 4th place by the season’s end.

      • proudlycanadian - Feb 10, 2012 at 7:54 AM

        One more comment about Drew Hutchinson because he has been overlooked by the “Experts” who rate prospects. In 3 Double A starts he was 3 & 0 with a 1.20 ERA. Overall, at three teams he was 14 & 5 with a 2.53 ERA over 149.3 innings. He had 171 K’s and walked 35. The 21 year old was a skinny beanpole when he was drafted in the 15th round in 2009. He would have gone earlier; however, he had accepted a baseball scholarship at Stetson. The Jays did pay him a signing bonus well above slot. He has front of the rotation potential and could easibly be in the rotation after the all star break.

      • Ari Collins - Feb 10, 2012 at 1:56 PM

        The prospect experts aren’t missing Hutchinson. He makes a lot of top 100 lists, and he’s down the Blue Jays list just because the Blue Jays have an incredibly deep farm system.

  3. hammyofdoom - Feb 10, 2012 at 2:15 AM

    Ugh, I remember a time when the Red Sox could waltz into Toronto, St. Pete or Baltimore and be secure in the fact that at least 2 out of the 3 of those towns would bring about some easy wins, oh what an innocent time. In all seriousness the AL east is stupefyingly talented top to bottom, hell even the Orioles have threats at the plate or on the mound and you aren’t guaranteed a win there. Can you imagine if the blue jays ended up getting 4th place with 87 wins? Third place had 90 last year for petes sake

    • baseballisboring - Feb 10, 2012 at 2:46 AM

      Ahhh yes, the good old days of the Devil Rays…I have so many fond memories of the Devil Rays. The Rays make my heart hurt.

      And like, 85-87 wins sounds about right for the Jays to me, and they look like they’re fairly certain to be the 4th place team. Can you imagine if Baltimore’s rebuilding plan, i.e. Jones, Markakis, Tillman, Matusz etc had ended up working out?

  4. Mark - Feb 10, 2012 at 6:41 AM

    You make it sound like a bad thing that a guy like Alvarez is forced to start in the majors. A > 50% GB rate combined with a strong k:bb makes him pretty damn valuable. And I’d expect Hutchinson to be one of the next guys in line for a rotation spot.

    Perez isn’t any good, and given the bullpen options I’d rather see them trade someone so Carreno can get in. Another strong arm out of the pen who deserves a shot. Having a second lefty for the sake of it is a waste of a spot.

    I’d really be shocked if the Jays had less than 84 wins to be honest. Keep in mind they were replacement level at 1B (still are), 2B, 3B (till Lawrie came in) and CF last year. So even average seasons out of Rasmus/KJ/Lawrie would net them a 4-6 win upgrade over those spots last year. The BP was significantly worse than last year and Alvarez is a huge upgrade over the back end of the rotation.

  5. cshearing - Feb 10, 2012 at 8:15 AM

    The bullpen help was the most needed. It seemed like the Jays blew 50% of leads they had going into 7-8-9.

    I am hoping AA is saving that new-found “financial flexibility” for the starting pitcher FA crop coming next year. :)

  6. Jonny 5 - Feb 10, 2012 at 8:29 AM

    I wouldn’t consider Nelson Figueroa a starting pitcher really. He’s never broke 100 innings pitched in 9 seasons.

    • proudlycanadian - Feb 10, 2012 at 8:37 AM

      I was surprised that he was even mentioned. Nobody in Toronto is counting on him.

      • Jonny 5 - Feb 10, 2012 at 9:24 AM

        I think he’s strictly BP material. And really, he’s not a “bad” reliever.

        So are you a leafs fan?

      • cur68 - Feb 10, 2012 at 11:48 AM

        Wait…the Leafs have fans? I thought those were itinerant seal wranglers in the stands: left out of work after PETA got done with them, they’ve had nothing better to do but sit around and yell at hockey players. Oh well, live and learn.

  7. cyanocittacristata - Feb 10, 2012 at 1:03 PM

    Yeah, 85-87 wins sounds about right to me. Santos locking it down at the back end will really help considering all the blown saves last season.

    This is the year for Snider to right the ship, him and Thames are similar batters in approach, but Travis has better tools (especially defensively, Thames is best at DH for me).

    Thames should get the gig to start out of the season, but suspect he will run into trouble with the league already figuring him out at the plate last Sept., Snider should finish the season in LF.

    Those two will be running out of time with Gose and Marsnick due to appear in the next year or two. The young guns remind me of a lesser version of Bourjos and Trout.

    • cur68 - Feb 10, 2012 at 1:40 PM

      In more games in the OF Thames had fewer errors last season than did Snider. I’m at a loss as to by which metric people consider Snider better defensively than Thames.

  8. foreverchipper10 - Feb 10, 2012 at 6:24 PM

    Hello former Braves middle infield!

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