This is part of a series of posts in which we call out all 30 teams for their wily offseason moves and tragic offseason blunders.
The Blue Jays surprised everyone, not least themselves, when they came in second in the AL East last year, bumping a Red Sox team ravaged by injuries (and heart scares, and cancer) down to third place.
And guess what? They found out they kinda liked that winning feeling. MLB’s only remaining Canadian team made moves this offseason to try and ensure another decent finish in 2007. But will it be enough? Let’s examine the evidence.
They decided to let Frank Catalanotto leave and they lost Bengie Molina, but they kept Gregg Zaun and signed Vernon Wells to a seven-year, $126m contract extension. The deal includes one of those increasingly popular “opt-out” clauses in 2011 and a no-trade clause. (Seems awfully one-sided, doncha think?) They also purchased the DH services of Frank Thomas at the price of $18m for two years. They signed a number of various spare parts: veteran shortstop Royce Clayton, perennial utilityman Matt Stairs, and, to a minor-league contract, catcher Sal “putting the Fu back in Manchu” Fasano. They were perennial contenders in deals for some other players (such as Julio Lugo) but came up short.
They also missed out on some deals starting pitchers they really wanted to get done. They failed to resign Ted Lilly and they decided Gil Meche was too expensive. Instead, they picked up Tomo Ohka, John Thomson, and Victor Zambrano (who will work his way back up through the minors after having surgery last summer). But they still have Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, and Gustavo Chacin, who is hoping to stay healthy this season after a bruising 2006. That’s not a bad one-two-three.
And looking at the 2007 lineup, they have a lot of power. Actually, say it in an Austrian accent and make that “powah.” That’s how much power they have. All eyes are on Alex Rios to have a breakout year, since last year he racked up some good numbers despite missing a chunk of time with a nasty staph infection.
However, with the Red Sox and the Yankees ahead of them, barring something catastrophic going down in Boston or New York, I just don’t see how the Jays are going to make the postseason this year. Their bullpen, aside from closer B.J. Ryan, isn’t great (they’ll miss Justin Speier) and getting stuck with Ohka and Thomson as their 4 and 5 pitchers might ultimately cost them a playoff berth. The fact is, despite Halladay and despite their lineup of sluggers, they’re in an extremely tough division and if they want to compete, they’re going to have to use a different stategy. Or, you know, any strategy at all would be nice. What they really need, of course, is a farm system. But though one of J.P. Ricciardi’s first pledges as GM was to rebuild the farm system, that still hasn’t happened yet. Instead, the Jays still have the fewest minor league affiliates of any MLB team and have made some lousy draft picks (Russ Adams springs to mind) under Ricciardi’s tenure. To return to the glory of ’92 and ’93, they need to think young and cheap and healthy, not old and expensive and broken.
Acquisitions: Frank Thomas, Royce Clayton, Matt Stairs, Matt Roney, Sal Fasano, Tomo Ohka, John Thomson, Victor Zambrano, Joe Matumoto.
Losses: Frank Catalanotto, Justin Speier, Ted Lilly, Bengie Molina.
Projected lineup, rotation, and closer:
Alex Rios (RF, .302 AVG, .349 OBP, .517 OBP, 17 HR, 82 RBI, 33 doubles, 15 stolen bases)
Reed Johnson (LF, .319 AVG, .390 OBP, 12 HR, 49 RBI, 34 doubles)
Vernon Wells (CF, .303 AVG, .542 SLG, 32 HR, 106 RBI, 40 doubles, 17 stolen bases)
Frank Thomas (DH, .270 AVG, .381 OBP, .545 SLG, 39 HR, 114 RBI
Lyle Overbay (1B, .312 AVG, .372 OBP, .508 SLG, 22 HR, 92 RBI, 46 doubles)
Troy Glaus (3B, .252 AVG, .513 SLG, 38 HR, 104 RBI)
Aaron Hill (2B, .291 AVG, .349 OBP, 28 doubles)
Gregg Zaun (C, .272 AVG, .363 OBP, 12 HR, 40 RBI)
Royce Clayton (SS, .258 AVG, 14 stolen bases)
Roy Halladay (16-5, 3.19 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 220.0 IP, .251 BAA)
A.J. Burnett (10-8, 3.98 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 135.2 IP, .264 BAA)
Gustavo Chacin (9-4, 5.05 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 87.1 IP, .266 BAA)
Tomo Ohka (4-5, 4.82 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 97 IP, .266 BAA)
John Thomson (2-7, 4.82, 1.56 WHIP, 80.1 IP, .295 BAA)
CL: B.J. Ryan (1.37 ERA, 2-2, 38 saves, 86 k’s)