Offseason Swap Series: Toronto Blue Jays
Staff Special | On 21, Nov 2011
By Matt Van Wormer
The Toronto Blue Jays took a bit of a step backwards in their second season without ace Roy Halladay. Playing in one of the most expensive divisions in baseball has its disadvantages but the Blue Jays are very good at playing to their strengths. John Farrell has a great system, but not the perfect players for it, so getting the right player in place and developing the guys who are coming up through the ranks is important. Jeremy from 500LevelFan.com answered five questions for me about his beloved Blue Jays and gave us some insight on the boys from Canada.
DTTWLN? 1 – 2011 saw the Toronto Blue Jays score a ton of runs (6th most in the Majors). Unfortunately, they also gave up a ton of runs (again, 6th most in the Majors). Is this area of concern caused by defensive position players, pitching or a combination of the two?
The main problem for the Jays in 2011 was pitching as injuries and inconsistency plagued both the starting rotation and the bullpen. Twelve different pitchers made at least one start for the team last year, never a good situation. Jesse Litsch, Carlos Villanueva, and Brandon Morrow all missed some time with injury, and young starters like Brett Cecil and Kyle Drabek badly disappointed and were forced to the minors. The bullpen was a disaster for much of the year as well. But it wasn’t all bad news, as Ricky Romero really developed into a staff ace, and 21-year old Henderson Alvarez impressed in his ten starts. If Drabek, Morrow, and Cecil can ever figure it out, the runs against number should drop substantially.
Question 2 – Jose Bautista is clearly the most important part of the Blue Jays lineup as he led the team in every major offensive category in 2011. How much longer can he carry the load for the Toronto lineup?
Hopefully for several more years! He just turned 31, so he is still considered to be in his prime, and I can see him keeping his production up for at least the next couple of years. Last year he hit 43 home runs with a 1.056 OPS with virtually no lineup protection for much of the year. Seriously, the Jays had Corey Patterson, Aaron Hill, Rajai Davis, and Juan Rivera hitting around Bautista for a good chunk of the season. But if Adam Lind can return to 100% health next year (he battled a bad back for much of the season), J.P. Arencibia continues to develop offensively, Brett Lawrie emerges as a threat, and Edwin Encarnacion plays the whole year the way he did the last half of last season, then Bautista should have plenty of protection. If he has protection, he doesn’t have to carry the load for much longer…
Question 3 – Toronto is clearly in need of an every day closer as the leader for the team had just 17 in 2011. Who do you see, or want, the Blue Jays to go after to man the back end of the bullpen?
Honestly? Nobody. I know that having a good closer is important – there is nothing worse than blowing a game in the ninth. The Jays blew 25 saves last year, so we know all about that sucker punch feeling. But I just don’t think a big-name closer is worth the money. Jonathan Papelbon got $50-million from the Phillies to pitch one inning every three days – insane! A week or so ago I wrote about how Ryan Madson would look good in a Jays uniform. He’s young, talented, and had a great 2011 season. But if he’s going to cost higher than $5-million a year (which he definitely is) then I would vote no. Closer is such a volatile position with such dramatic yearly change that it’s not worth having an expensive, multi-year guy (unless you can sign a non-human like Mariano Rivera). The Jays have several in-house options that are worth looking at, like Dustin McGowan, Casey Janssen, or Joel Carreno. I say keep the money and use one of them.
Question 4 – As John Farrell enters his second season at the helm for the Jays, what moves do you see him making as a manager, to get this team moving in the right direction?
I’m glad that Farrell is back for a second season, after a lot of October talk of both Boston and the Cubs wanting him for their managerial openings. One move I do see him making is maybe backing off the “Farrell Ball” concept just a bit. Last year he vowed to make Toronto a more exciting and unpredictable team by being extremely aggressive on the base paths, with hit-and-runs, steals, and sac bunts. The problem is that the Jays ran into a lot of outs by being a bit too aggressive. Manufacturing runs may be a good idea, but when you have the home run power of Bautista, Lind, Arencibia, Rasmus, Lawrie, and Encarnacion in your lineup, there are smarter – and less dangerous – ways to score.
Question 5 – With a tough division comes the tough task of trying to overcome the teams that are ahead of you. Where do you see the Jays finishing the 2012 season?
Very hard to say. The easy answer is to say fourth place – you can’t catch the big money teams of Boston and New York, and Tampa Bay is too talented and well-run to fade away (Baltimore is still several years away from being taken seriously). But, and granted it’s a big but, if Brandon Morrow and Kyle Drabek can re-emerge as ace-type starters, Travis Snider bounces back and regains confidence, Lawrie and Bautista continue to shine, and GM Alex Anthopoulos makes that one shrewd move that he is becoming famous for (i.e: signing a DH, or making a shocking trade for Joey Votto) then who knows. The Wild Card is a distinct possibility.
I have a bonus question into Jeremy about the amazing new jerseys that the Blue Jays unveiled this past week so hopefully I’ll have his opinion on those for you sometime in the next couple days. Make sure to check out his site, 500LevelFan.com to check out the answers I gave him to some questions he asked me about the Tribe. Next week, we hear from the Boston Red Sox and get some answers on their ’11 and ’12.
Photo: Brad White/Getty Images