BST&N AL East Preview: Toronto Blue Jays
What can the Blue Jays really accomplish in a stacked AL East? That’s what many are left wondering after seeing the projected lineups of the Red Sox and Yankees.
Key Offseason Additions: Frank Francisco (RP), Jon Rauch (RP), Octavio Dotel (RP), Carlos Villanueva (RP), Juan Rivera (OF), Rajai Davis (OF).
Key Offseason Losses: Vernon Wells (OF), Lyle Overbay (1B), John Buck (C), Fred Lewis (OF), Shaun Marcum (SP), Jeremy Accardo (RP), Brian Tallet (RP), Scott Downs (RP), Kevin Gregg (RP), Taylor Buchholz (RP), Shawn Hill (RP)
Projected Lineup: 1. Rajai Davis, CF 2. Yunel Escobar, SS 3. Jose Bautista, RF4. Adam Lind, 1B 5. Aaron Hill, 2B 6. Travis Snider, LF 7. Juan Rivera, DH 8. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B 9. JP Arencibia, C
Projected Rotation: Ricky Romero (L), Brandon Morrow (R), Brett Cecil (L), Jesse Litsch (R), Kyle Drabek (R)
Adam Lind needs to have a rebound season for this squad to have any chances of competing on offense. Yunel Escobar proved to be a very nice upgrade at the shortstop position when he was acquired from Toronto at the trade deadline, but he’s no anchor at the top of that lineup.
The team’s top two power options are Aaron Hill and Jose Bautista. The latter launched a ridiculous 54 bombs last season, and enjoyed a career season posting a .260/54/124 line. While it’s unrealistic to project he’ll finish in the mid-50s once again this season, I have every reason to think that this power surge is legit and is a candidate to lead the league once again.
Hill checked in with 26 taters of his own, but his lowly .205 average was a serious burden in the Jays’ lineup. Hill will have to prove that he can hit for both average and power if Lind is going to bounce back since the second baseman will most likely bat behind him in the lineup.
The outfield looks very different than it did at the conclusion of last season. The team added Rajai Davis and Juan Rivera and have finally decided to give Travis Snider the look that he deserves. Davis will serve as the Jays’ everyday leadoff hitter and is a threat to steal 40-50 bases as long as he can continually get on base. While Rivera was rather disappointing last season with a .252/15/52 line, the Jays will be hoping he produces something much more like his 2009 numbers of .287/25/88.
The biggest concern with Snider is that he’ll have to avoid yet another slow start. After a scorching spring, the Jays are really counting on him to be an integral contributor in the lineup but he’s yet to prove that he can sustain production at the big league level. With the team having brought in veteran OF Scott Podsednik as well, Pods could force his way into playing time if Snider struggles as he has in the past.
Brandon Morrow will begin the season on the disabled list, so the starting rotation will be without one of its horses at the onset. Ricky Romero has blossomed into a very solid front of the rotation starter, and prospect Kyle Drabek is poised to enjoy success in the majors since staking his claim to a rotation spot.
Brett Cecil proved solid last year posting 15 wins and is an intriguing name to monitor in 2011, but it should be interesting to see how he performs against a very improved AL East. The only question mark is Jesse Litsch, who was just 1-5 last season with a 5.79 ERA. He’s being relied on to be the team’s fifth starter, but much like Snider in the outfield, Litsch could quickly see his gig yanked out from under him if he gets off to a shoddy start.
The bullpen is very improved from last season but is currently a little banged up. Newcomers Octavio Dotel and Frank Francisco have battled some nagging injuries during Spring Training, opening the door for fellow new Jay Jon Rauch to stake his claim to save opportunities in the early going. They also have some reliable setup candidates in Jason Frasor and Carlos Villanueva, but the main area of concern is that they don’t become too overworked in the early part of the season. If they can keep from wearing down, the ‘pen has a chance to be sneaky good.
In a best case scenario, the Blue Jays aren’t going to finish any better than third overall behind both the Yankees and Red Sox. While the team is building for the future while remaining competitive in the short-term, the odds of a postseason birth for Toronto is rather remote in 2011.
Although the team has a new manager in ex-Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell, let’s not forget that he’s no Tito. He’ll be learning with every day that he spends on the job, and it’s rare that a new manager comes into a young clubhouse and finds success right away. He will be able to provide an insider’s view for a scouting report of his former club, but it’s unlikely that it will prove to be the point of difference for Toronto.
Check out BST&N’s other AL East Previews: