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Springtime Storylines: Have Toronto Blue Jays brought in enough help for Jose Bautista?

Apr 3, 2012, 11:33 AM EDT

Atlanta Braves v Toronto Blue Jays Getty Images

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2012 season. Up next: The Toronto Blue Jays.

The Big Question: Have the Jays brought in enough help for Jose Bautista?

Several times this spring I was asked “can Jose Bautista do it again?”  The “it” being doing something like hitting 40-50 homers and leading the majors in OPS again. My answer has been “well, maybe, but if he has to do that, the Jays are screwed.”

And the thing is, he doesn’t have to do that. He has to be a great slugger in the middle of the lineup, but the plan in Toronto right now depends less on him being an MVP-caliber player again and more on some guys with good track records and/or promise, simply living up to their reputations and/or expectations. I’m talking about the additions from last season in Adam Lind, Kelly Johnson and Colby Rasmus.

Rasmus is two years removed from an .859 OPS season that had him pegged as a future megastar. Lind hit 35 homers three years ago. That same year Johnson hit 26 homers and had an .865 OPS.  While that is probably on the outer edges of Lind and Johnson’s abilities, the point here is that all three of these guys have the potential to be solid — or in Rasmus’ case more than solid — complementary pieces to a Bautista-led lineup.  And that’s before you even get to Brett Lawrie, who we’ll discuss more below.

The point here is that there is a bit of a lightning-in-a-bottle element to the Jays this season, but it’s not comprised of a bunch of unreasonable risks and expectations. In the AL East things always have to break just right. The Jays are counting on that too, but the plan this year seems decidedly less pipe-dreamish than usual. I like the looks of this team.

So what else is going on?

  • Rasmus, Lind and Johnson aside, Brett Lawrie could be the real key here. After his August call-up, he hit .293/.373/.580 with nine homers and seven stolen bases in 43 games. Everyone is talking about Bryce Harper as the brash, powerful young stud about to take over the game. Lawrie is already ahead of him on all of that.
  • The rotation is worrisome. Rickey Romero is coming off his best season and looks like a solid top-of-the-rotation guy. Brandon Morrow is always interesting and, if he can put it together, could be ace-like as well. Beyond that it’s shaky, with Brett Cecil, Dustin McGowan — who, not surprisingly, is hurt — and Henderson Alvarez. I have this feeling that the Jays will be one of those teams who are rumored to be in the market for a starter all season long.
  • Speaking of McGowan, why on Earth did he get a contract extension after missing most of three years? I thought the Jays, coming off of two of the all-time epic salary dumps in the form of Vernon Wells and Alex Rios, would have learned not to do silly things like this. Yes, I know it’s low money, but c’mon.
  • The back of the bullpen looks different. In comes Sergio Santos, who struck out 92 batters in 63 and a third innings last season. He was actually with the Jays during his days as an infielder. Also in comes Darren Oliver who had a fantastic season last year. He never played for the Blue Jays, but he actually pitched in the majors the last time the Jays won the World Series. That’s not quite a Jamie Moyer fact, but it is something.

So how are they gonna do?

If things break right — and it’s a lot of things — they could challenge 90 wins and be in the wild card conversation all year. But I worry about that rotation. Unless it’s upgraded — or unless a couple of guys greatly exceed expectations — this looks to once again be the best fourth place team in baseball.

  1. rollinghighwayblues - Apr 3, 2012 at 11:36 AM

    Those uniforms are beyond sharp.

    The glove that resembles a blue tang…not so much.

  2. 24missed - Apr 3, 2012 at 11:42 AM

    Happy Cur-Day!

    • cur68 - Apr 3, 2012 at 12:44 PM

      Hey! You remembered. Aw, shucks. Thank you 24, you beat my entire family to it. 44 today and I don’t feel a day older than 43. . . my feet hurt, my back aches and I have to go to the bathroom about 8 times an hour…and those damn kids are on my lawn again! ….but I feel great!

      Know what I’m doing today to celebrate my being officially an age that no matter what the dyslexia does, it comes up the same awful number? Taking my new Callaway clubs to the driving range and killing some balls till my back gives out, just like old guys everywhere.

      • drmonkeyarmy - Apr 3, 2012 at 1:21 PM

        Shit Cur….44. I don’t know what to say…Happy Birthday I suppose. You should get yourself down to the blubber factory, get yourself a stick and go wrangle some beaver down by the stream. Favorite Canadian pastime I hear.

      • cur68 - Apr 3, 2012 at 1:34 PM

        Thanks man. But, gonna take me some sticks and murder some balls, instead. Beaver wrangling actually requires sweet reason, good cologne and the words “I got loots of wood” rather than a stick. Dang buck toothed rats are very materialistic, y’know?

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Apr 3, 2012 at 2:24 PM

        my feet hurt, my back aches and I have to go to the bathroom about 8 times an hou

        Are you pregnant? :)

        happy bday

      • 24missed - Apr 3, 2012 at 7:24 PM

        Curthdayboy,

        Coolness! I beat the fam to the punch! 44 ain’t too shabby. Then again, we really got TMI re: your bathroom habits. But, the Clint Eastwood reference just makes you that much more hip! And yes, you probably should get a bone density test, at your age.

        Fun b-day party at the range ~ careful of killing the balls, you only get one sack.

        Tonight should be a big phat humdinger of a partay, especially since your day is on a Tuesday. Here’s hoping you have a memory or two of it.

        Happy Birthday to the Steaming,
        Happy Birthday to this Arousing Genie,
        Happy Birthday Dear Cur,
        Happy Birthday to Lord of the Stimulating!

        Crap, if the b-day song didn’t go right, but naughty and raunchy intentions were there. After that little song, I’m going to slip into something a little more comfortable (think sweats) and have a very happy birthday on your behalf.

        Happy Day, Platonic Sweetheart!

      • cur68 - Apr 3, 2012 at 11:27 PM

        Y’know what the best part of having an HBT Girlfriend is? No one else has one! Eat your hearts out, boys!

        Thanks 24. I’ve had most of a bottle of wine with family (a very nice Chilean cab-sav: 2010) which involved a long, sentiment filled discussion with my sister in law, and an enlightening half hour with my brother, who explained why he could care less about baseball and why his son’s bathroom habits were of interest to the world at large. Done with that, here I am: ready to defend the Beaver Wrestlers against all comers.

  3. WhenMattStairsIsKing - Apr 3, 2012 at 11:54 AM

    Tornto would own most divisions.

    But not the AL East; though, with Boston in flux and Tampa depending a lot on guys like Pena and a recovering Luke Scott for offense, and with the additional Wild Card, Toronto has a solid shot this year.

    I think they could use another starter, actually. I wonder if they’ll trade for a guy like Gavid Floyd or Brandon McCarthy midseason.

    • proudlycanadian - Apr 3, 2012 at 12:00 PM

      They have 3 young starters in Double A whom they expect to be ready for the majors by the break.

      • WhenMattStairsIsKing - Apr 3, 2012 at 12:23 PM

        Should those young starters begin their careers rushed in a division race? If they’re ready, that would be awesome. I’d love to see them dominate.

      • pellypell - Apr 3, 2012 at 12:28 PM

        No such thing as young AA starters ready for the majors by break. They rarely exist. Very few teams have major league ready minor league pitchers in any given year, the Jays definitely don’t have 3 who could make an impact, especially guys in AA.

      • proudlycanadian - Apr 4, 2012 at 8:38 AM

        Toronto’s AAA team is in Las Vegas which is a hitters paradise. It is very tough on pitchers, which is why they stash their best prospects in Double A.

    • ezthinking - Apr 3, 2012 at 12:14 PM

      NL West is the only division they would be in the hunt. The starters aren’t good enough to to save the good offense.

      • paint771 - Apr 3, 2012 at 2:26 PM

        I don’t think that’s true. The Jays consistently put up low to mid 80s wins playing arguably the three best teams in baseball more than anybody else in the league. I think how good this team is gets masked by fourth place finishes – just because a team finishes fourth doesn’t make it on-par with other teams that finish fourth. This is a Marlins/Braves//Reds/Giants level team easy.

        This is a 90 win team LAST year in most divisions – with a shoddy bullpen, lots of injuries, and about the same level rotation. I have a hard time arguing that they look worse this year.

  4. proudlycanadian - Apr 3, 2012 at 11:58 AM

    McGowan has looked sharp this spring. His injury is plantar fasciitis. He will return to the rotation by month end. Joel Carreno has been called up to be the 5th starter for now. Due to off days, he will not pitch very much. Cecil stunk in his last 2 starts and has been demoted. Drabek has pitched well and has made the rotation due to much better crontrol of his pitches and his emotions. Romero, Morrow and Alvarez have all been sharp this spring. This is the second best rotation in the AL East. The Yankees can crow about their rotation, but CC had a 5.00 ERA this spring and Nova has stunk. The only Yankee starter with a good record this spring has been Hughes. As far as Boston is concerned, Beckett has a sore thumb and their bottom 2 starters are Bard and Dubront. Neither of those pitchers would make the Toronto rotation.

    The team and the fans are excited. This is a break out season for the Jays.

    • thinman61 - Apr 3, 2012 at 12:31 PM

      Spring training stats are the epitome of small sample size. PECOTA projects the Blue Jays with the 5th best rotation in the AL East, behind the Rays, Yankees, Red Sox, and Orioles. That staff is going to allow a ton of runs.

      • Joe - Apr 3, 2012 at 1:32 PM

        Worse than the Orioles? That PECOTA must have a wonky Canadian conversion rate.

      • thinman61 - Apr 3, 2012 at 1:36 PM

        Worse pitching than the Orioles. The Blue Jays will score a ton more runs though.

    • cur68 - Apr 3, 2012 at 1:29 PM

      The Jays raked in ST this season. They pretty much dominated everyone. This is by no means a guarantee of anything for the upcoming season but it is a pretty sunny forecast for what might well be a breakout season, so your point, PC, is spot on. All the “its only spring training” comments can be read in the reverse: if they’d sucked this spring, then these same people would be saying “See, they sucked this spring. They are going to continue to suck all season long”. There’s a point there I’d like to make:
      With the caveat that the Twins were a 20- 12 ST team last season, so take it all with a HUGE grain of salt, here’s the reason for some cautious optimism:

      Last spring they put up 16 – 14 (.53) in spring and finished the season with 81- 81 (.5).
      2010 they went 12 – 13 (.44) in spring and finished the season with 85 – 77 (.53)
      2009 they went 14 – 17 (.43) in spring and finished the season with 75 – 87 (.46). That, ladies and gents, is a trend which goes something like this: For the last 3 years, this team’s spring training seemed to forecast their regular season reasonably well.

      And so we come to this Spring Training…

      This season they put up a 23 – 7 record. Make of this what you will, but I like their chances VERY MUCH.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Apr 3, 2012 at 2:29 PM

        Granted I didn’t run the numbers myself, but according to a poster in the Sweetspot Blog about Jays and ST record, from ’06 to ’11, ST records had a 0.29 correlation to regular season records.

        There’s a lot to look forward to from the Jays this year, but success due to ST record is not one of them.

      • cur68 - Apr 3, 2012 at 2:35 PM

        Different team back then (healmed by JP Riccardi & John Gibbons: nice people but not so great management, using a “take pitches” style of gamesmanship. They sucked) so it is my contention that you can’t compare them. Whereas, the last 3 years has a very similar team makeup, philosophy, and management as this one. ST means very little most of the time, but, given the trend with this team, I would be surprised if they tanked, and I believe they could, under the new playoff format, make the post season.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Apr 3, 2012 at 3:06 PM

        ’06-’11 was the record of all teams I believe, not just the Jays.

      • cur68 - Apr 3, 2012 at 11:30 PM

        Reading fail on my part, church. I’m not arguing stats with you man, but I’m gonna say I’m comparing apples to apples here. I like the Beaver Men’s chances.

    • dirtyharry1971 - Apr 4, 2012 at 2:03 AM

      whats funny about this is you wont hear from proudly say around july cause his team will have 4th place clinched if not last. So give the guy a break and let him brag about winning the grapefruit league. Him and Cur can have a party over that cause the regular season wont be so nice. Get ready for hockey boys cause thats all you got up that way, enjoy!!

      • cur68 - Apr 4, 2012 at 2:27 AM

        Yes, but we got you, ‘harry…and your parole officer, too. So you guys enjoy, too.

  5. hushbrother - Apr 3, 2012 at 12:01 PM

    You didn’t mention Kyle Drabek, who’s got to be considered a candidate to have a breakout season.

  6. thinman61 - Apr 3, 2012 at 12:27 PM

    The Blue Jays are going to score a ton of runs, but their pitching staff is going to allow even more. While there are definite signs of hope on the horizon, for this year at least the Blue Jays will once again be finishing 4th.

    • mathieug79 - Apr 3, 2012 at 5:35 PM

      They might finish 4th, but i think 2-3 is more realistic, boston’s rotation has beckett, lester, bucholtz after that they suck, as for the Orioles they dont even have 1 legit starter, and yankees well they’re the yankees lol so finishing 2-3 is not impossible, we don’t have Jo jo pitching this year and we have a better bullpen, i except nothing less than a 88-74 season, that could fetch us a wildcard. Drabek will bounce back, Henderson Alvarez will be good, also late callup hutchison should help!

      • thinman61 - Apr 4, 2012 at 10:55 AM

        The Red Sox had a run differential advantage of 156 runs (132 more scored, 24 fewer allowed) over the Blue Jays last season. The Sox have not fallen off by that much, nor have the Blue Jays made up that many by fiddling and diddling with their bullpen.

        I love how everyone is so quick to dismiss the Sox #4 and #5 starters, but think the back end of the Blue Jays rotation has what it takes to contend. Sorry, but that’s just funny.

      • mathieug79 - Apr 4, 2012 at 4:33 PM

        yeah like those stats matter, when jo jo reyes is pitching, our offence should be better this year, and im sorry but felix dubront, daniel bard will both get lit up and send back to the bullpen! and you guys have the clown managing this season, .500 season book it!!!!!

      • thinman61 - Apr 4, 2012 at 5:47 PM

        .500 for the Blue Jays? Yeah, that looks about right for them.

  7. Chris K - Apr 3, 2012 at 1:02 PM

    My feeling is that AA’s decision to extend McGowan had more to do with his attempt to change the culture of the baseball club and change the way the team is perceived by other players in the league. Given that the team is north of the border, has higher taxes, and doesn’t have the media coverage that other markets have, it would seem that Toronto needs to get whatever edge they can get in attracting players.

    With a fairly young team, developing relationships with the players and (at least pretending to) take a vested interest in their well-being and life…and showing they ‘care’, it can go a long way. Think of it in the same way perhaps that St. Louis paid Chris Carpenter goodwill and how he returned it (ironically after the Jays let him go). I think going against the stream in this sense and developing a family-like atmosphere is how the club will compete in the AL East. The timing just seems right.

  8. Gordon - Apr 3, 2012 at 1:16 PM

    They just need that guy wearing all white to sit in the CF bleachers relaying stolen signs, & their offense will be just fine.

    • Chris K - Apr 3, 2012 at 6:28 PM

      The KFC colonel?

      • proudlycanadian - Apr 3, 2012 at 9:10 PM

        It is actually a plant from ESPN who is pretending to signal the pitches.

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