My Review of the 2009 Toronto Blue Jays
In this segment of the review of the 2009 American League teams I am going to be chatting about the Toronto Blue Jays. Our neighbor to the north has been one of the franchises i have been longing to visit for some time. More for the fact of staying in the hotel that actually has its hotel room window overlooking the turf in Rogers Centre. I must remind everyone again that these comments being made are my opinion and I am in no way trying to bury any actual facts or rumors within its content. But with that in mind, if I have heard any ramblings or even murmurs from within the whispers of the Internet, I will bring them to you in the review.
The Toronto Blue Jays started out the 2008 season on a high note, The team began to make a run starting in April by winning 4 out of their first 6 games, including a weekend sweep of the Boston Red Sox at home. But all the thrill turned just as fast into pain as the team ended that month going win less in 8 out of the last 9 contests in April. But in May the club posted a 20-10 record and looked to going upward in the American League East. The squad held onto the number three spot late into the season before the New York Yankees pull themselves out of the cellar and began their march towards the top.
The Blue Jays tried to stay in the A L East race with the Yankees, but a 15-9 record in September was not enough to catch the Bronx Bombers. Toronto ended the year in 4th place in the American League East with a record of 86-76. The Blue Jays did get some great pitching throughout the season, but it was not enough to pull them closer to the eventual A L East crown. The team did however did perform well against divisional foes, winning 36 games during the season. They split the yearly series with the Yankees at 9-9, and were held off by Boston 8-11 and Tampa Bay 7-11 during the years divisional series.
The Blue Jay will only be bring into camp two starters from the 2008 staff that posted at least 12 games last season. One member of that rotation is the 2008 American League Cy Young candidate, Roy Halladay. He posted a 20-11 record in 2008 with 206 strikeouts. It is actually a good thing when you have one of your returning starters being one of the best pitchers in the American League. The other returning starter is young Jesse Litsch, who went 13-9 with a high 3.58 ERA in his rookie season. In 2008, Litsch began throwing a four-seam fastball that lead to some of his late season success on the mound. After these two, the rotation might be a bit muddy until the middle of the Spring Training games.
The team had a bevy of good pitchers come up in 2008 who showed the talent and ability to get the job done at the major league level. David Purcey came up on July 23rd and made 12 starts for the team. He is suspected that Purcey might battle for the number 3 slot in the rotation this season. With starting pitcher Shawn Marcum out for the season with Tommy John’s surgery on his elbow. Dustin McGowan, who is also sidelined for the Jays was originally not expected to be back from his right shoulder surgery until at least May. But recent developments might even push that date back a month or two.
The rest of the rotation might be a bit of a piece-by-piece audition under fire for a few of the Toronto Triple-A candidates. A lot of that pressure will be pushed onto Craig Jannsen’s shoulder to come back from his shoulder injury in 2008 and pitch effectively for the Jays. With Jannsen hopefully manning the 4th slot in the rotation, the last piece might come from a group of four candidates. the first three have limited experience at the major league level, but Scott Richmond ( 1-3 ) and former Oriole Brian Burres ( 7-10 ) seem to have the early lead in taking the fifth spot. There is another candidate that just might work out for the Blue Jays and provide not only some veteran experience, but some much needed pitching skill in minor league signee Matt Clements.
It is not known yet what state Clements skills will be, but the team brought him in on a minor league contract, so the cost would be minimal to see if the ex-starter still has some gas in his tank. Clements has said that his velocity is up to about 89, which is where it was before his torn labrum took him out of the Red Sox rotation in 2006. The main question with Clements is if his mechanics have been sorted out and if he can be counted on for the entire season for the Jays. Another option available to the Jays might be in their off season signing of former Detroit leftie Mike Maroth. He also might be an interesting person to keep an eye on since he currently has a left knee situation, but has told the team he would like to try and pitch through it until the team can at least get McGowan back in the rotation. Maroth is two year removed from the major leagues, and is considered a long shot to make the team’s rotation.
One area that will not be a huge worry for the Jays in 2009 will be their Bullpen. Even with the recent news that reliever Scott Downs might be down after suffering a ‘twinge” the other day while throwing. Downs has previously had a Tommy John’s surgery and the team is taking precautions to rule out another injury to that region of his elbow. But on the good news side of the street is the re-emergence of closer B J Ryan, who is ready for the season. The Jay are hoping for a repeat of the 2006 edition of Ryan this year, but they will keep a close eye on him after some spotty control issues in late 2008. The Blue Jays also secured some pieces of the relief pie earlier in the year with the signings of Brian Tallett, Jason Frasor and Brandon League.
All three members will again be counted on to provide middle inning support for the team until they can give the ball to Ryan again in the 9th inning. Tallet went 51 appearances and struck out 47 last year. He held right handed batters to a .227 average last year. Tallet has seemed to found his niche with the Jays as a middle reliever. Jason Frasor is another one of the Jay relievers who seems to have found a way to confuse right handers at the plate. They hit only .174 against him in 49 appearances in 2008. Frasor has been known to throw a 12-6 slider at around 80-86 mph. the pitch is very deceptive and has given him a great weapon on the mound.
League is the fire baller of the bunch, which is added by his low angle delivery and can throw to 100 mph with movement on the bal
l. League made only 31 appearances in 2008, but he struck out 23 in 33 innings of work. The last member of the Bullpen might be Jeremy Accardo. It was Accrado who stepped in most nights in the closer role for the Jays while Ryan was rehabbing his injury. Accardo went 4-6 in save opportunities in 2008, and will move back into the set-up man role for the team in 2009.
The Blue Jay infield is a bit of an enigma. Lyle Overbay is a solid first baseman and can be dangerous at the plate. But his lack of power might have been the reason for the Jays to sign former Oriole Kevin Millar to a minor league contract. Millar will probably be on the Jays Opening Day roster because of his right handed power and ability to play multiple positions on the field. His clubhouse demeanor might also be a welcome addition to the Jays team because he is known for his low key positive attitude and enthusiasm for the game.
The Jays do have some power on the other corner of the infield in the form of third baseman Scott Rolen. He is not the bold power hitter he was years ago, but he is a solid defensive corner man who hit .262 and 11 homers for the team in 2008. At second base, the team is hoping that Aaron Hill can overcome that scary collision in 2008 to regain his confidence and position. the Jays need a fresh and restored Hill, who only played 55 games for the team before he suffered a concussion in a routine play in Oakland in which former Jays shortstop David Eckstein accidently slammed his elbow into the side of Hill’s head. The injury that day took him out of the lineup for the rest of the year.
Hill is proclaiming he is ready for the year, and with shortstop Marco Scutaro will be a part of one of the better double play combination in the American League. Scutaro is a contact hitter who has little bouts of power and hit .267, with 60 RBI’s in 2008. He is a decent run provider, and has good speed on the base paths. The infield of the Toronto Blue Jays were their weak spot in 2008. Not in the defensive department, but at the plate. The infield doesn’t have the power they have had in recent years, and that might also be a cause for concern early in 2009. But the Jays do have experience behind the plate. After letting go of long time catcher Gregg Zaun in the off season, the job now falls to Rod Barajas. Again we have a guy who hit only .249 last season, with 11 homers and 49 RBI’s.
The outfield of the Toronto team is considered by many to be the weakest outfield in the American League. This is not based on talent or ability, but on their collective batting averages and power numbers in 2008.. Starting out in center field will be Vernon Wells, who by his own admission struggled in 2008 and did not post the type of numbers he expected out of himself. But Wells did manage to hit .300 with 20 homers and 78 RBI’s. Recently Wells suffered a hamstring injury during a Spring Training workout, but the injury might keep him out of the lineup for the first month in 2009. If you might remember, Well suffered a Grade 2 strain on his left hamstring against the Orioles on July 9, 2008. The injury might actually be some of the scar tissue tearing from the last injury, which he recently suffered on the same leg. Wells is hoping that the injury will heal fast so he can make up for the number he posted during the 2008 season.
In left field, the Jay will send out a platoon of Adam Lind and Travis Snider. Both might get a chance to swap positions during the season, with one of the two probably manning the Designated hitter spot for the Jays during the year. Lind posted a .282 average with 40 RBI’s last season Snider, who batted .301 in his 14 games in 2008 should provide some insurance and some more power numbers for the 2009 edition of the Blue Jays outfield. But the gem of the outfield has to be right fielder Alex Rios. He only hit .291 with 15 homers and 79 RBI’s, but his power number have gotten steadily better in the last few years, and his strong arm keeps runners at bay on the base paths.
The overall outlook for the Toronto Blue Jays might not be great if you notice that not one returning starter hit 20 home runs, and their leading RBI guy ( Rios) had only 79 for the year. This might be the year that a few of the Jays players come out and prove their worth to their club and Jays Manager Cito Gaston. The team will depend on young players and starters to try and go beyond their current potentials to have banner years for the team. With their rotation in a state of flux, the main thing might be to get some long inning starts out of their young staff and then put it in the hands of the Bullpen to secure the games for the Jays.
I think we might have to forecast a long summer for the Toronto team. If their hitting and their pitching picks up, they could go above the 75 win plateau. that might be a backslide from the 86 wins in 2008, but with a rotation with so many questions at this time. I do not see them making a threat like they did in 2008 for third place, and maybe not even fourth place in the division. Also not out of the question might be the trading of Halladay sometime late in the summer to another team. I hope this does not happen and they begin to dismantle this team piece by piece. Toronto has a great bunch of players who will sweat and bleed for their manager this season. I am not sure it will be enough to post over 75 wins, but you can bet they will do everything in their power to secure a winning season.