Tagged: colby Rasmus

Joey and Jays sitting in a tree…

Ever seen one of those Hollywood romcoms where all the friends see it but the couple can’t see they were made for each other right until the very happy end? Me too, and while it makes for an enjoyable film, it’s frustrating when taking place in front of us on the diamond. That couple is the Toronto Blue jays and Jose Bautista, and yes they need each other. That’s right, need. So let’s hope the much-reported recent meetings between the two in recent days result in a quick return of Joey Bats to Toronto.

Let’s start with Bautista. Although a five-time All star and one of the few certified home run threats in the game these days, the free agent market hasn’t developed like he would have hoped. While pitchers of even less-than-ordinary stature are making out like bandits this off-season (arr-cecil-cough-cough-thirty-mil-hack hack… something stuck in my throat there!) hitters aren’t finding much demand for their services. Witness Jose’s teammate Edwin Encarnacion, personally picked by David Ortiz as the heir apparent in Boston, rumored to be starting the bidding process at 5 years and $125M. Only the Sox weren’t interested, instead opting for Mitch Moreland at one-fifth the money and one-fifth the commitment. The end story, a smaller contract with Cleveland after turning down an $80M offer from the Jays. Mike Napoli rings in the new year “this” close to having a 2016 World Series ring…and without a job to go to in spring despite having 34 homers for the AL Champions. LA’s interest in Bautista apparently fizzled and Baltimore told him to go to hell since MD fans don’t like his pouting and arguing balls and strikes. Bautista’s .234 average and 22 homers last year don’t help his cause, although it was in an injury-shortened year. then again, a 36-year old who missed nearly 2 months the past year sends up red flags with some GMs.

Baltimore fans don’t like Bautista. I can say with good first-hand experience, neither do Texas fans (with the Rangers being one of the few teams rumored to want a power hitter added to their roster this winter.) His “bat flip” got him put on the boxes of cereal boxes in Canada, and was called by one over-enthusiastic Yahoo Sports columnist the greatest single moment in Canada for the past 25 years, but didn’t win him fans in middle-America. On a more purely business sense, the new CBA in baseball makes teams reluctant to go all-in on a big free agent this winter since to sign Bautista, they’d need to give up a first round draft pick to Toronto. Next year that rule changes, meaning a wild wild west scurry to bulk up the roster with no loss of young talent. then there’s all those promotional contracts JB has in the Great White North with the likes of Canada Goose clothing and Canadian Tire stores. Unlikely he’d get as many endorsements should he move on to LA, New York or Tampa (as has been laughably suggested as a dropping spot for him.)

Bautista has strong ties to the community in Toronto, does a great deal of charity work and is adored across Canada. He needs to stay there.

But make note of it- the team needs him just as much as he needs Toronto. The Jays for all their apparent hitting prowess made the playoffs last season on the strength of their pitching and nothing more. The offence was run of the mill at best and dropped over 130 runs from 2015. the loss of RBI-king Edwin Encarnacion isn’t made up for by the signing of Kendrys Morales, although he’s not a bad Plan B for a designated hitter. With Michael Saunders also gone, for the time being, Toronto look to be down about 60 homers and 140 RBI right now compared to the team they ended the season with; not good for a team with only so-so hitting to begin with. All the near no-nos of Marco Estrada and a storybook comeback from Marcus Stroman aren’t going to pitch a team that potentially only scores 600 runs in a strengthened division into the playoffs in ’17. As it stands now, an outfield of Gold Glove-worthy Kevin Pillar, good for a bench player E. Carrera and “vying for the most over-rated player in history of the game” Melvin uPton will assure the team of the worst hitting OF in the league. They need a guy out there who can hit, and a guy who will excite the team in the clubhouse. AKA- Jose Bautista.

The case is made more clear when we look at the alternatives. Mark Trumbo has been suggested, although who knows if we can even get the California native to move north. Sure Trumbo led the league ih HR in 2016, and could no doubt power a few out of Rogers Centre. However, his 2016 47 homers was an outlier; he has a 5-year average of just 26 HR. He also struck out an alarming 170 times in ’16 while walking just 51 times, far inferior to BAutista’s numbers. And while Baltimore proved Trumbo could be used in the outfield, they also proved he shouldn’t be. Five errors and just one DP turned in over 90 games played in right last year show that as outfielders go, Trumbo’s a decent DH. Talk if you will about the slowing of Bautista in the OF but stats show that Trumbo would be worse. his 2016 WAR was just 1.6- almost identical to Bautista- due to a terrrible -2.8 rating in the outfield. That is, stats show Baltimore lost 3 games by having him play OF rather than an “average” minor leaguer. With slow-footed Morales now the DH in Toronto, Trumbo would need to be the everyday 1b, making Justin Smoak redundant. Now Trumbo would hit better than Smoak but therein lies the problem- it’d be hard to find a taker for the lacklustre Smoak and his $8M, two-year contract. So, we’d need to factor his contract into the amount to spend on Trumbo, meaning that unless Mark could be brought onboard for , say $11M a year (unlikely) he’ll cost the team more than Bautista and still leave them with a mediocre outfield.

Colby Rasmus? There was a reason the team let him walk away, and that reason was largely that hard-working players like Mark Buehrle named him specifically as lazy, that fans saw a player who seemed entirely indifferent to trying and a player who was run out of St.Louis previously for his outspoken unwillingness to listen to coaches. The 30 year-old Rasmus hit all of .206 with 15 HR last year and for him, a .234,22HR,60+ RBI season (like Bautista’s “off” season in ’16) would be a career year.

Bringing back Michael Saunders wouldn’t be terrible- if they can get him back at a bargain-basement price. The 2016 All Star from BC likes Toronto well enough but is a below-average fielder and had a remarkable drop-off in productivity in the second half. Whether it was from a surge of cocky indifference (I don’t think that to be the case), an unreported injury or just him getting burnt out after playing every day, he seems a risky proposition to rely on for more than a bat off the bench.

Which leads us to trade talk. Andrew McCutchen? jay Bruce? Both are said to be offered by their teams, and both are under contract for 2017 at “reasonable” rates – around $14M. But let’s not forget that Bruce had a Saunders-like drop off in the second half last year, with slugging pct. dropping from .559 to a weakling .391. His career best homer season was 4 years ago now, with 34. McCutchen, for all his reputation and smiling, is in a serious three-year decline. Batting average: .314/.292/.256. On base: .410/.401/.336 Stolen bases: 18/11/6. 143 K in 2016, zero RBI in 8 career post-season games, a negativeWAR last year (yep- statistically Pirates would have won more benching him and using a random minor leaguer)…is his decline a result of a team that seems to have lost direction or is the opposite the case?

Whichever it might be, the point is neither Bruce nor McCutchen are strong candidates to do fantastic things for Toronto in ’17. But both have big reputations and aren’t going to come cheap. Pittsburgh have already turned down good packages of young players for McC; toronto might have a hard time putting together enough young talent to wrestle him away from Pennsylvania and to do so would be reckless to say the least. Would, for example, a team with him but without Marcus Stroman (said to be one player asked for) and roberto Osuna be better?

The Jays need Bautista and to bet on him being healthy and rebounding, even if not to 50-homer levels, to perhaps .260 and 35 HR plus continuing to fire up the lower-key players around him. Bautista needs to realize Toronot is where he is loved and that his best offer is whatever Toronto is offering today, not what Tampa or the Dodgers might just think about offering in February.

Off season Report Card, Part 1

Fishermen, “old maids” have a lot in common with baseball general managers. No matter what else is going on around them, they are always preoccupied with the “one that got away.” The fisherman had the muskie pulling on his line, the Pirates had an inconsequential infielder called Jose Bautista they felt they could toss back in the pond for Toronto to scoop up. Which is a way of bringing us to today’s topic: how are the ex-Blue Jays doing this year and how have their departures affected this year’s club.

One of the most straight forward moves Alex Anthopoulos made in the off-season is the easiest to assess. And most positive. The trade with Oakland got rid of popular Canuck Brett Lawrie as well as promising pitcher Kendall Graveman and brought in all-star third baseman Josh Doanldson.

Lawrie has done at least one thing better on the left coast than he did in Canada- stay healthy. As of Friday afternoon (time of writing this) he’d not missed any time and had time at third as well as second base for the A’s. His .266 average is OK, and his 3 homers, 18 RBI aren’t embarassing but with few walks or extra base hits, his OPS of .657 is pretty low for a 3B and the lowest of his career. Perhaps more disturbingly for Oakland, he’s committed 7 errors already, resulting in a low .946 fielding percentage and he’s only been in on 6 double plays. Based on bench-clearing brawls provoked, he’s brought his feistiness along with him but based on the team’s last place standing, it’s not done much to motivate his colleagues. Graveman is a work in progress, but currently at 2-2 with a lofty 6.04 ERA and .297 opponents average, it would suggest there’s still lots of work to be done and, as bad as Toronto’s pitching has been on the whole , he’d likely not be playing in Toronto if he’d not been traded.

Donaldson of course, has been the best Jay so far and a strong contender for MVP. To start with the negative, his reputation for gold glove defense seems a bit of hyperbole thus far, with his numbers being similar to Lawrie’s so far: 7 errors, .949, only 8 double plays turned (last year he’d had 43). Perhaps the artificial turf is more of a challenge than anyone had imagined. But if the “D” is questionable, it would seem Toronto didn’t lose anything by replacing Lawrie and obviously, Josh’s hitting has been a driving force for what success the team has had. As it stands now, his .315 average, .582 slugging and .960 OPS are all the best of his career so far and he’s high on the AL leaderboard in most categories: leading in runs (41), third in homers, tied for 4th in ribbies, top 15 in batting average among everyday players. What’s more, like the weather, he seems to be heating up. Score one for Alex and company; the trade meant a major upgrade for the ’15 Blue Jays.

As we’ve much discussed here, it’s hard to support the decision to let Casey Janssen walk away. As luck would have it though, Janssen’s been battling shoulder woes all year and was only activated from the DL this week. In three appearances for Washington so far, he’s been great working as an 8th inning setup man, but with concerns about his throwing health, it may be the Jays didn’t lose out by not re-signing him. What that doesn’t change however, is the fact that Toronto erred by not bringing in anyone (John Axford, Andrew Miller, or any of a long list of other free agent relievers).

The outfield got a fair shakeup, so now that the dust has settled, did letting Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus sign elsewhere and trading Anthony Gose make sense?

The first two answers are pretty clear . Showing Toronto fans are always willing to grant second chances, a surprising number thought the Jays should have embarked on a bidding war to keep Cabrera and would have matched, if not bested the White Sox, 3 year, $42M contract. That after Melky had come to Rogers Centre straight from a PED suspension and spent two years here, one of which was forgettable at best and one which was good. It’s not quite a third way through the season yet, but the jury’s already gone out and come back with the decision on Cabrera and the verdict is the Sox got robbed. While he has played 46 games injury-free, he’s hitting a so-so .250, with just one homer and 17 RBI. Worse yet, his slugging pct. is a dismal .283 (down 173 points from last year) and if it holds up, his .574 OPS will be the lowest of his career (not counting a six game call-up in ’05), rather pathetic for an outfielder and proving one should call up his agent when buying a lottery ticket. Last year he was a contender for the All Star team, this year he’s a contender for most overpaid player in the sport. I’m glad I advocated against giving him a large, long-term contract and even happier the Blue Jays agreed.

Rasmus is not quite as black-and-white, seeing as how he only signed a mid-range one year deal with Houston. I was plenty happy to see him move along, as were (by all reports ) a number of his former teammates. Nonetheless, for all the reports of a bad attitude and laziness, something is working in Houston as the Astros have first place and don’t seem to want to wait til 2017 (Sports Illustrated‘s prediction last year) to win it all. Not to say Colby has inspired the winning ways, but at least he’s not dragged the team down. And while his .239 average is low, his other numbers- 8 HR, 10 doubles, .500 slugging (second best in his career) are pretty decent. On the negative end of the equation, despite his great arm, he’s yet to pick up an OF assist and he’s whiffed 55 times already in only 138 plate appearances, a rate even worse than last year’s. All of which suggests that he’s the same old Colby, one with a sky-high ceiling but a lack of patience at the plate that will keep holding him back.

Anthony Gose seemed the most inconsequential of the departed outfielders but has arguably been the best of the trio. In 38 games to date, he’s hitting a lofty .329 with the Tigers, and has 8 steals plus a .459 slugging percentage (over a hundred points higher than his Toronto career number.) With his speed adding to the Tigers defense, he’s been a big plus for the Motown crew. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see those numbers drop off closer to his career norms (about a .234 average with one extra base for every 18 at bats), but even if he keeps up what he’s doing now the trade looks good , as I expected since it brought in a big return…

Devon Travis.Rehabbing now in Buffalo after a shoulder problem, Travis shows every sign of giving Toronto something they’ve sorely needed for four years- a good, multi-tool second baseman. A .271 average, 7 HR, 26 RBI, .839 OPS are good numbers for any 2B- let alone for a rookie! And his mere one error so far and 20 DPs turned mean the Jays aren’t giving up much fielding by replacing Ryan Goins or Munenori Kawasaki there. Even if Gose keeps developing for Detroit, this trade earns a “thumbs up.”

Next time, we’ll look at what Adam Lind and JA Happ are upto and rate the other new Jays brought in to replace them and the outfielders.

Half way through- will ’12 be the Jays year?

 

Will the Blue Jays Make the Playoffs this Year? : well, last night marked the official half-way mark of the season and the Blue Jays end the first half at 41-40, remarkably similar to last year’s finish of 81-81. So I struggled with this question and how to word it. At first I considered, “can” the Jays make the playoffs and the answer to that is certainly, “yes.” But the reality of the situation is much more complicated.

 

While being in last place in the tough East division seems depressing, the good news is that the Jays are only two and a half behind the second place Orioles. And does anybody really feel the O’s will continue to contend in the second half? Those that answered yes would do well to consider that Baltimore is the only team in the division that has given up more runs than they’ve scored and are relying heavily on a pitcher who has a career ERA of 5 and has let opposition hitters hit .286 off him through his past. And that oft-injured second baseman Brian Roberts is once again injured.

 

The Jays hitters have come to life of late, and made john Farrell look like a genius with his alteration to the lineup putting Lawrie and Rasmus up front of Bautista. Of late, Bautista of course has regained his major league lead in homers and was AL player of the month for June and Rasmus has come close to making me eat my words by driving in 25 runs in June and upping his batting average by 25 points since May. Clearly this is a team which can score runs by the bushel and is never really out of a game.

 

That’s the good news. The bad news, as we know, is that the pitching rotation is decimated. Kyle Drabek is gone for years, Drew Hutchison , the come from nowhere suprise of the first half is maybe going to be back in September and Brandon morrow, who finally had it all together, is gone for another month at least. And that leaves us with questionable Henderson Alvarez, ricky Romero, reliever Carlos Villaneuva and whomever they can find in a Home Depot parking lot on game day for the other two spots. The bad gets worse when you consider that Villaneuva, while a more than adequate pitcher, coming from the bullpen is stretched to reach 6 innings, ironically causing more demand for arms in the bullpen like his own. All would not be lost if Ricky Romero was pitching like Ricky Romero, aka the team “ace”. But despite winning 8 games in the first half, Romero has lost increasingly lost out there , whispering his apologies in post-game scrums after pitching his team out of the game time after time of late. That in his last five starts he’s lasted 26 innings is surprising; that he has given up 40 hits and 27 earned runs in that time is appalling. One could almost wish he was injured but apparently he’s a-ok. He just can’t find the strike zone anymore unless he’s offering up a fatty right across the middle of the plate, belt high.

 

The prognosis isn’t good. Even a good-hitting team, which Toronto is, can’t be expected to put eight or nine runs on the board every night, which is pretty much what they will need to do with the current rotation. Nor can even a good bullpen, which the Jays are close to having, be expected to deliver four or five innings every night and stay fresh and sharp.

 

Which brings us back to the original question. Can the Jays compete? Of course. All that is required is the addition of a couple of good arms for the starting rotation. Don’t let the naysayers tell you this couldn’t be done: Ryan Dempster, Zac Greinke and Matt Garza are being openly offered up to the highest bidder and I steadfastly believe Seattle wouldn’t say ‘no’ to a good offer for Felix Hernandez, nor would I believe the Phils and Doc Halladay be unwilling to negotiate a way to bring Roy back to Toronto. It could be done. But the price for any of these arms wouldn’t be cheap. Which leads me to the answer to the question will the Jays make the playoffs? Unfortunately, NO.

 

Despite Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi assuring TV viewers last night that Alex Anthopolous is definitely trying to add to the Jays roster to make a run for it, we have lots of reason to be skeptical. Within days of three starting pitchers going down, all he’d done was acquire throaways David pauley (already off the roster ) and Sean O’sullivan. He did get veteran Jamie Moyer , which is a no-loss situation, but after two starts , Moyer remains in Las Vegas. He should be added to the big league roster; even if he is only so-so now, he can’t be worse than say Joel Carreno or Scott Richmond who have graced the mound lately, and perhaps some of his enthusiasm and 20+ years of experience might rub off on youngsters . Fellow soft-tossing lefty Brett Cecil in particular.

 

But even adding Moyer would only be a small step up. The Jays would still need to add at least one more rock-solid arm, and there’s no indication they are wanting to do that. They still cling to the mantra of building for the future and talk of “untouchables” through the minor league system as far down as rookie ball. Clearly, they would have to give up something to acquire talent now, and though they have an over-abundance of young outfielders (Travis Snider, Moises Sierra, Anthony Gose and on and on) and good arms at A-level,if they won’t part with any of them we’ll be limited to acquiring the likes of the next David Pauley rather than the next David Cone (ala 1992). the Blue Jays cling too much to the “build for the future” and “five years” mantra to give the fans anything to hope for now.

 

The Blue Jays will, when all is said and done, have a record remarkably like last year’s. They will leapfrog over the Orioles who cannot continue to fly so high, but end up in fourth, watching baseball in October like the rest of us.

 

Sigh. Maybe I do have to move to Texas to have a winning club to cheer on.

 

So, half way in, who will now win the season?

Well, even though Cliff Lee won a game today, his first of 2012, it’s abundantly obvious I (and most other pundits) were wrong about the Phillies. Even if they played .600 from hereon in, they’d still finish at 84-78, out of the playoffs for the first time since a certain George Washington was boating across the river there. The Nats are for real, Bryce Harper is impressive (astounding for a 19 year old) and Washington should hold onto the NL East.

I liked ST louis to win the Central, and I still do, even without Chris Carpenter or a good Adam Wainwright. But the reds should hang on to challenge them. The Pirates, alas , won’t although Andrew McCutcheon is worthy of MVP consideration.

 

The Dodgers are sinking, Matt Kemp’s big mouth is coming back to haunt him- with his hamstring, he’ll be lucky to hit 20-20 let alone 50-50 and SF are coming on like gangbusters. But I stick with my original prediction of Arizona taking the division when all is said and done and Aaron Hill is finished hitting for cycles.

 

In the AL, New York seemed the obvious pick for the East. Then Rivera got injured, A-Rod and Teixiera looked old and people started to write the pinstripes off before, lo and behold, like the cat in the hat, they came back. No one’s gonna come close to them again this year, even though CC is as over-rated as he is overweight.

 

In the Central, the Tigers have been as disappointing as the city they represent itself, yet somehow are only three and a half games out. Yes, fans, if Toronto was only about 300 miles west, the Jays would be winning the division in a cakewalk (not only would their record have them right there but the easier schedule would no doubt have them in first), but tis not to be. So look for the mediocre White Sox (with resurgent but recently slumping Adam Dunn and hot arm most fans have never heard about, Chris Sale) to fight the tigers right down to the wire. My guess; Tigers will still take it, albeit with an underwhelmng 84 or so wins.

 

In the West, never mind the Rangers 19-2 loss yesterday. They have too much hitting and too much pitching depth due back from the disabled list soon to be seriously run at, although the Angels may still make the wildcard and could be trouble in the playoffs.

 

Short story: the Nationals go to the World series for the first time, and face off against texas. The winner may rest on which league wins next week’s All Star game, and thus home field advantage, and on how many innings the N’s will let Strasburg’s arm endure.

 

The Blue Jays… maybe next year. Again.

Rasmus raspberries

 

Well, if the season ended today, the Jays would squeak into the playoffs for the first time in almost two decades. Of course, the Orioles would also win the division for the first time since Bryce Harper was a mere glint in his father’s eye, the Red Sox Nation would commit collective hari-kari seeing their team finish dead last and some kid in Atlanta you’ve never heard of would best Greg Maddux’s ERA record for that franchise . Which is to say, this is why we actually play 162 games rather than just have pontificating blowhards like yours truly debate it and play games in our heads!

 

^^^ ^^^^

 

So, I’ve been busy moving and not quite got the TV hooked up to cable yet so the past week, when I’ve had time to follow the games, it’s been AM590 radio instead of the usual Sportsnet TV. I miss seeing the plays, but do like the radio crew and have been fascinated by the post-game call in shows.

 

At the start of the weekend, one ever-so-eloquent self-proclaimed expert phoned in to say he was “hatin’ on Colby Rasmus”. He then went on to say he meant “hatin’” in the best possible manner! Nevertheless, he asked the agasp hosts why everyone was so high on Rasmus, and was he really that much better than other outfielders?

 

Hate is a strong word which should be reserved for child molesters, Nazi dictators and perhaps the majority of Canadian politicians. Rasmus seems a reasonably nice man, certainly not deserving of hatred.

 

That said, I do agree with the callers sentiments! Rasmus was a failure in St Louis and has been a collossal disappointment since being acquired in a move which is rapidly making the Halladay trade seem not the worst thing Alex anthopolous has done to the Jays. Since arriving with the Blue jays mid summer last year, Rasmus has managed all of a .188 average through 75 games. A supposed sweet swinger has managed 6 home runs in 266 at bats, a pace destined to rank him right up there with luminaries like Wilson Betemit or Trevor Plouffe should he be given ongoing playing time. His .188 average slightly bests his average against southpaws whom he clips for a .184 average this season. He swings at pitches far outside the strike zone and while, yes, he is better in the field than some of the horrors inflicted upon fans last season, ala Corey Patterson and Mike Mccoy (a fine backup infielder but nobody’s centerfielder), he is spotty at best in his ability to make stellar catches or track down fly balls. I have seen Devon White, and the man who’s dropped fly ball yesterday was the difference in the one run loss to NY, is no Devon White.

 

The Jays manned up on Adam Lind and admitted he just can’t cut it right now. Lind was a player with a storied history in the organization and an all-star past. It’s past time they did the same with Rasmus and shipped him down to Lansing , assuming they can’t find another organization silly enough to buy into the “best thing since Willie Mays “ hype that surrounds Rasmus like a Cosby sweater.

 

^^^ ^^^

 

If Rasmus constantly disappoints this fan and makes me question the organization’s scouting prowess, I am excited about the signing of Vladimir Guerrero. A career .318 hitter, who last year in a disappointing year hit .290 with 63 rbi? Right now, if he could duplicate that feat, he would lead the team in batting average and be on pace to match the much ballyhooed Brett Lawrie in driving in runs. Furthermore, he brings a new veteran , mature presence to the young clubhouse … kinda like Dave winfield, an older outfielder when joining the Jays, did back in 1992. An I think we all remember what happened that season. The one thing that has been lacking in the Blue Jays organization lately is an older star wanting one more kick at the October can. Something they had in both of the glory years.

 

^^^ ^^^^

 

Hope the Fan590 is correct; all week they’ve been floating stories saying Toronto’s AAA affiliate next year will be Buffalo after the Bisons end their contract with the Mets. Las Vegas is a poor fit for the Jays, given the 2500 miles and the league being one with parks so biased towards hitting rather than pitching and Buffalo has always been T.O.’s “American twin”. The Bills already play a few games in toronto and the local PBS station there refers to itself as a “Toronto-Buffalo” station despite the fact that it is public broadcasting only in the united States. Having our minor league farm team there only makes sense . How great would it be for Buffalo to have that additional fanbase and for us to be able to hop in the car and see the emerging stars, ala Chad Beck, Deck mcGuire and Anthony Gose play in a small stadium two hours away? Go for it , Toronto!

Jays , Rays… waiting for a miracle?

 

Tampa Bay: never has a team done so much with so little. The Rays annually are at or near the bottom of the league in terms of attendance and budget yet have managed to create a powerhouse that now stands shoulder to shoulder with the baseball behemoths. Credit great scouting and a veritable ball genius in Joe Maddon for the two division titles in the past four years.

Nevertheless, fans hoping that their recent trend of winning the East in even-numbered years are likely to be disappointed. TB looks pretty good on paper again, which given recent seasons will probably translate to being very good on the field. That said, it’s hard to imagine a club which was 13th in AL batting average, and merely 8th in scoring being able to knock off a rejuvenated yankees squad. And the return of Carlos Pena isn’t going to improve their next to worst rate of striking out (1193 times last year without Mr K himself, who struck out 161 times in 493 at bats). Expect Evan Longoria to return to form after some injury problems, and with “form” being an average of over 100 RBI a season at only age 26, that will win some games particularly if Pena can re find his sweet swing. If BJ Upton ever lived upto his real potential, the team could be an offensive juggernaut, but then again although only 27, he’s five years removed from what’s rapidly looking like his ‘career year” and only a year or so away from earning the nickname Alex Rios Part II.

The pitching will keep the Rays competitive this season; james Shields was alledgedly dangled on the trade market in the winter but returns a Ray, and why not? Besides leading the AL in complete games last season, his WHIP was fully a quarter better than CC Sabathia or Jon Lester and given some more run support would be a shoo-in to top his 16 wins. David Price is still developing but already among the best in the league and there was a reason jeremy Hellickson was rookie of the year last year. Shields perhaps better continue to finish what he starts though; the Tampa bullpen is a little wobbly and with Kyle Farnsworth injured they now have Fernando Rodney as closer. A week or so in, he’s not imploded yet but this is a guy who last year walked more men than he struck out and has put an average of three players on base every two innings this decade. Assuming he doesn’t tap into the Roger Clemens Special Anti-aging Remedy, at 35 he’s not likely to sparkle much in the 9th by the time August rolls around.

Ace: Evan Longoria- when he’s on his game, Tampa wins as we saw last year.

Wild Card: Desmond Jennings- said to be the “next Carl Crawford” there is no doubt as to his ceiling but is he yet a certified Big league star?

Joker: Carlos Pena- certainly he hits home runs. Unfortunately except for the 35 or so times he’s doing that during a season, he’s not doing much except killing rallies.

 

2012 Prediction: 92 wins, 2nd place. Which should be good enough for a trip to the playoffs again for the disinterested west Floridian fans. Maddon adds about 6 victories to an otherwise run-of-the-mill squad

 

Toronto: the Jays are already winners in one respect: there is more buzz about the city for the birds of summer than there has been in over a decade. The uniform change (recommended here several times last year) has been a massive success, so much as to make it impossible for this Jays blogger to even find a new cap for sale in Oshawa last week… everywhere I went they were sold out. I’ve had senior citizens stop me in coffee shops when I’ve been wearing my (old) cap and talk up the fantastic team and great promise it shows. The slow decline in patience of long-suffering Maple Leafs hockey fans has only helped garner interest for the only major sports franchise in the area to post a non-losing season this decade. So, the world is Rogers’ oyster… what will they make of it?

I will of course, look at this team in more depth soon, and throughout the year. They are my team and the main subject of this blog, after all. However, to speed things through…

Last year the Jays were the absolute picture of mediocrity. Not terrible, not good. 81 wins, 81 losses. 42 wins at home, 42 losses on road. Average hitting, close to average pitching. If not reverting to the traditional blue tones for the hat and uniforms, they could well have picked 18% photo gray, completely neutral and bland. Despite public agreement that they needed to upgrade the starting rotation and add at least one big bat, and rampant rumours of them going after Prince Fielder, roy Oswalt, Felix Hernandez, Joe Nathan they managed to come up with less than a new guy to sell Nathan’s hot dogs in the stands or a scratched up Prince CD…and sold the public on this being a significant upgrade to the team!

That said, there is some reason for restrained optimism. The team is better than it was three or four years ago and has a solid minor league system. They learn from the Tampa system, which is to find and develop young talent of course. What they lack is mature talent, which can play and win now on a consistent basis.

 

The Jays once again remain the model of mediocrity. Nothing on this team stinks. Neither is anything on this team exceptional. Yunel Escobar is quickly becoming one of the best all-around shortstops in the game, Kelly Johnson to his left can hit but didn’t much last year (mere .222 average and .304 on base) , but early this season he seems to have regained his stroke of years gone by. Jose Bautista, of course, is now recognized as one of the game’s best hitters and may just lead the league in homers for a third straight year. Don’t be too concerned by his slow start this season, and if he can have some solid bats behind him in the lineup look for him to increase his average still and come close to Carlos Delgado’s team record for RBI in a season (145).

Where there is reason to be concerned is with Adam Lind, since 2009 a major underacheiver at the plate -particularly for a first baseman– , JP Arencibia, improving as a catcher but despite occasional big blasts, not very good at getting on base and of course the extraordinarily over-rated in both leagues Colby Rasmus. Rasmus alledgedly ws once the third highest rated prospect in all of baseball. He alledgedly has talent coming out of the wazoo. Maybe so, but since Toronto sold the farm to get him, he’s hit all of .176 with four mighty homers in three months. Yet he’s etched in stone as the everyday centerfielder for the Jays, even as he tells the media that he doesn’t like Toronto (for the record he didn’t like St Louis either). He’s a small town boy who doesnt’ like cities, maybe explaining why he seemed to have peaked in the low levels of the minor leagues— Knoxville and Springfield, MO are not quite St Louis let alone 5.5 million people metro Toronto. Colby could still develop into one of the game’s best. And pigs could still fly across a glittery rainbow-bedecked sky. The silver lining for the Jays offence is everyday Edwin encarnacion, who had a solid second half last year and now with his job guaranteed and the tutelage of Bautista seems to be on a tear. He led the team in doubles last season and this year seems poised for a breakout season. Given the decline in the quality of Dhs around the league, he will give Ortiz and Morales a run for the money as best designated hitter. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him hit .290 and drive in 90, especially if John farrell bats him in the cleanup role more often.

Everyone wanted to slag the jays bullpen last year, and why not? It blew 25 saves and was an adventure every time it was called upon late last season. BUT, too many people ignored the fact that the pen was overused and if the starting rotation had done its job, maybe the bullpen might have not sucked. (not to mention that the best arms in the ’11 bullpen were mostly all traded away for Colby Rasmus). Alex Anthopopolous, to his credit, did do some work to improve the bullpen by re-acquiring Jason Frasor and bringing in classic old man Darren Oliver and the guy whose #2 in saves among active pitchers- Francisco Cordero, of 37 saves last year with Cincinnati fame. Unfortunately , for reasons known only to Alex, he chose to trade off a quality young arm (Nestor Molina) for a supposed new closer, Sergio Santos. The same Sergio Santos who not long ago was a mediocre infielder in the Toronto minor league system. Santos so far has delighted his wife by being present for the birth of their child ,and delihted Jays fans by taking time off to be there for the birth of his child and hence not throwing away even more games. His two blown saves already are the difference between first place and humdrumness for toronto.

The biggest disappointment for the Jays and their fans though, is the lack of improvement to the starting rotation in the off season. Ricky Romero is the real deal. Few other pitchers have gotten consistently better over the past three years and spring training (can you say”Zero ERA”?) and his recent start against onetime bugaboo Boston suggests he will do the same again for a fourth year. No surprise if he wins 18 and is in top 3 in ERA this season.

 

Beyond that though, the rotation looks like a bit of an adventure. Kyle Drabek has looked poised and solid through his two starts this year and young (22 this week) Henderson Alvarez has an array of effective pitches and maturity beyond his years. But youngsters often have to take two steps back before taking one forward so it’s a risky shell game to count on them to continue to dazzle, and then there’s the enigma that is Brandon Morrow. One of the hardest throwers in the game, capable of tossing a no-hitter and imitating Nolan ryan (no toronto fan has forgotten his 17 strikeout one hitter against Tampa in ’10) but other days worse than ordinary. If he can keep his fastball low in the strikezone and trust his fielders once in awhile (therefore not try to strikeout every batter and run his pitch count off the chart in 5 innings) he could be dominant. But despite his great finish last year, he still had a craptacular 4.72 ERA in 2011 and just last night served up taters to Tampa like a McDonald’s fry cook. Potential is uncommon; potential realized is extremely rare. Morrow has potential. Three, four years from now, the Jays could have quite a roster of potential arms for the fifth starter’s role: Deck mcGuire,Chad jenkins, Jesse Chavez and others all show great stuff in the minors. But for 2012, there is no obvious #5 starter and no chance of the team rivalling the likes of Tampa, LA/Anaheim or Texas for a competitive rotation.

 

Ace: Jose Bautista. Not just that he leads majors in home runs two years running, it’s that he leads Albert Pujols by 18 in that time!

Wild Card: JP Arencibia. Developing as a catcher but despite winning awards and batting titles in minors shows little poise or discipline at plate. His 2 for 32 start this year is reason for concern.

Joker: Colby Rasmus. He can makes some good catches on days when he’s motivated. He can’t hit even if or when he is . Memo to Jays- ditch this over-rated dude (too old now to still call a “kid”) while you can still get a sack of baseballs for him.

 

2012 Prediction: 83 wins, 4th place. It is to weap, jays fans. Had Alex A done what he said he would– get a good starter to add to mix (ala Gio gonzalez, Michael Pineda or maybe felix Hernandez) and added in one more big bat (perhaps an outfielder or dare we dream?a first rate first baseman even if the cost added 10 cents a month to people’s cable bills in Ontario) the Jays could go for 90 and be back in the playoffs again for the first time this century. But the Jays management assure us that willhappen in 5 years and they mean it this time.