Saturday, March 31, 2012

30 Teams in 30 Days: Toronto Blue Jays (Part 2)

The Blue Jays offseason did have one apparent failure. According to Alex Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston, the Blue Jays could have and should have done a much better job of managing fan expectations. There was some attempt at this, when they tried to introduce “payroll parameters” to fans vocabulary mid-way through the offseason, but even that came with mixed results. Fans with ideas of an unlimited budget had to adjust to the idea of Alex Anthopoulos working within “payroll parameters,” and while fans knew that every other GM had to work within certain guidelines, the idea that AA was being treated the same was somehow surprising. So despite a rollercoaster of expectations throughout the offseason, fans were excited to see how the team would fare in Spring Training. The results have only raised expectations for the upcoming season to new heights.

In 1989, the Blue Jays had their best Spring Training record with 21 wins, and would go on to win their second AL East division title that year. The franchise record of 21 Spring Training wins would go on to stand for 22 years, until March 29, 2012 when the Blue Jays won their 22nd game of the spring over the Boston Red Sox, and as of today have a record of 23-5-1, or 25-5-1 if you include their spring training exhibition games. It seems the Blue Jays may have failed to manage expectations once more, but I don’t think anyone is too upset or wishes spring training would’ve gone any differently. So as Spring Training draws to a close, how do things look for the upcoming season?

To the surprise of many, John Farrell began tinkering with the lineup throughout the spring, and the lone position up for grabs was LF, which was a two-horse race between Eric Thames and Travis Snider. Both played incredibly well throughout spring, but having Thames essentially as the incumbent LF gave him the advantage, and but here is how I see things shaking out.

  1. Yunel Escobar (SS)
  2. Kelly Johnson (2B)
  3. Jose Bautista (RF)
  4. Adam Lind (1B)
  5. Edwin Encarnacion (DH)
  6. Brett Lawrie (3B)
  7. Eric Thames (LF)
  8. Colby Rasmus (CF)
  9. JP Arencibia (C)

Nothing too surprising but it’s highly unlikely that this will be the lineup in August. I expect there will continue to be some tampering with the lineup done and players play their ways up or down the lineup. I think the only real locks will be that Bautista and Arencibia will likely spend the entire season in the spot in the lineup. I expect Thames and Rasmus to be the first to flip spots in the lineup and by May I see Lawrie and EncarnaciĆ³n switching places as well. From everything being said by both Farrell and Anthopoulos, everyone has to play for their spot, because there are a lot of talented people in the minors waiting for their shot.

The rotation has been known for most of the spring, but it was recently announced that Dustin McGowan, long known to have been the probable fifth starter, will begin the season on the DL creating a need for someone to fill his place. So how does the opening day rotation look?

  1. Ricky Romero (L)
  2. Brandon Morrow (R)
  3. Brett Cecil (L)
  4. Henderson Alvarez (R)
  5. Kyle Drabek (R)

The only real spot open in the rotation is the fifth spot due to Dustin McGowan’s trip to the DL, which opened a new competition. It really will come down to Kyle Drabek or Aaron Laffey, but I will give Drabek the edge because the experience will benefit him over Laffey, and Drabek is an important part of the organization’s future. Laffey may have had the edge for the majority of the Spring, but his two most recent outings may have handed Drabek the job, at least until McGowan returns from the DL.

It’s a long season, everyone knows it, and it won’t be so easy to just guarantee the Blue Jays another fourth place finish again in 2012. The potential for a big season is there, and as everyone will remind you, a second wild card will change more than just the post-season format. Playoff races will stretch out longer, more teams will be buying at the trade deadline, and the prices for such trades will as a result be higher. The real test of this team will come at the trade deadline. Areas that truly need to be addressed will become apparent by the All-Star break, and Alex Anthopoulos has the pieces to make deals, and if the Blue Jays are going to make it to the post-season for the first time since 1993, that is when they will really need to strike.

The Final Count: 86 – 76, Fourth in AL East

It’s an unfortunate numbers game for the Jays. They have the unenviable task of calling the AL East home, which means they play the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays more than any other contending teams, which have hindered their playoff chances considerably. Over the last four years, if you remove games played vs the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays, the Blue Jays have a better record than any NL team (except the Phillies), but have nothing to show for it. The Blue Jays Plus staff have the Jays slated for a good season, posting a record of 86 – 76, again fourth in the AL East, which is a conservative opinion and a realistic one. This is a team that has a very real chance a 95 wins as well, but I don’t know if they are there just yet, which this prediction holds. Injuries could derail the success of this team, and if the trade deadline is a bust due to prices being too high, the Jays may lack the necessary depth for a post-season run. In a perfect world, I see the Jays winning a wild card spot after a terrific regular season, but I don’t see much post-season success just yet. A lot of things have to go right this summer for the Jays to have the season Jays fans are expecting, and if Spring Training is any indication, we are certainly getting closer to that goal.

You can follow Brandon on Twitter @Bam_86

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