Pre-Spring Evaluation of the 2012 Toronto Blue Jays

It’s January. For baseball fans, that means two months till spring training. For Jays fans, it means another hope for fortunes turned. As always, GM Alex Anthopoulos failed to disappoint with his ability to keep fans waiting for a big move during free agency. For all intents and purposes, Anthopoulos has already made it known that he expects the Jays to be a real pennant race contender in the 2013 season. For fans, this means another year of waiting. It also means that we should all stop expecting, hoping and praying for a miraculous big name signing. AA has indicated that he will not be pursuing any big names for free agent signings. Instead the Jays will find required pieces for their team through trades. With Yu Darvish possibly headed to Texas, this means that Matt Garza may also be off the radar. Unless, of course, AA finds a way to land him through a trade, which is always a possibility judging from past experience.

Without much further ado, here is a breakdown of the team as it stands now.

Bullpen

At the end of the 2011 season, it was quite obvious that the biggest question mark for the Jays was their bullpen. Over the past few seasons, the bullpen has shown inconsistency and the Jays have failed to find a legitimate closing threat to save key games. It was fitting then that the only significant changes that management made were to the bullpen. However, it remains to be seen whether the bullpen actually improved. The biggest move for the Jays is the acquisition of RHP Sergio Santos from the Chicago White Sox, in exchange for Nestor Molina. Santos was previously, and briefly, part of the Jays organization in 2006 as a hitter, failing to crack the lineup. Santos has since gone on to become a pitcher.

Last season was Santos’s first stint as the main closer for the White Sox. Santos had a respectable season, notching 30 saves. Santos is a hard throwing closer who mainly relies on a 90+ mph fastball and dangerous slider. If he can deliver the kind of output he had for Chi-Sox, the Jays will benefit from much needed 9th inning stability.

The problem in baseball is that single season anomalies are too common, especially for pitchers. The Blue Jays have tried a dozen different pitchers to take on the closing role, with no success. Why Santos should be any different is a tough, but honest, question for Jays fans to ask.

In support roles, Jays have the veteran presence of Casey Janssen and the newly returned Jason Frasor. Over the past few seasons, Janssen has battled injuries, while Frasor has battled inconsistency. Based on previous experience, our expectations from the Jays bullpen should be cautious at best.

Grade: C+

Rotation

The Jays have failed to (whether on purpose or not) pull the trigger on a good starting pitcher this off-season, and as such, their rotation should more or less look the same. Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Brett Cecil should be their top 3 pitchers, with Kyle Drabek, Henderson Alvarez, Dustin McGowan, and company fighting for the last 2 spots.

The Jays rotation took a step back in 2011. Ricky Romero was the only bright spot for the Jays, finishing with career highs in wins (15) and ERA (2.92). Brendan Morrow finished with more wins (11) than in 2010, but seemed to struggle with control all season long. Moreover, Brett Cecil was horrendous with his control. Drabek failed to be the saviour that Jays fans were hoping for.

In 2012, the Jays pitching squad will have to show the sort of promise it had in 2010. Many commentators are predicting that Drabek will improve with time, especially after much needed stints in hitter-friendly Triple-A. If McGowan can return to pre-multiple-injury form or Alvarez can step up and live up to his projected expectations, the Jays could benefit from stability on their rotation. With the farm-system depth for the Jays, pitching is an area we can always expect pleasant surprises. The Jays may also benefit from gaping holes in the Yankees pitching rotation. Our expectation of the Jays’ starting rotation is cautiously optimistic.

Grade: B

 Batting

For the past 2 seasons, batting has been the brightest spot for the Jays, largely thanks to Jose Bautista. Without any major changes to their batting order, the Jays should continue to be a good hitting team. With the delightful emergence of Brett Lawrie, Arencibia and Eric Thames as homerun threats, and the continued power of Adam Lind, the Jays should continue to hit aplenty. Power is not lacking on the team, even though they could benefit from a clean-up hitter with consistent 30-40 homerun ability to follow Joey Bats in the lineup. The Jays could also use a legitimate leadoff hitter, an area that has been lacking for the past few seasons. Although Yunel Escobar batted well at the top, the Jays may enjoy having a speedy threat to start with Yunel batting second. Rajai Davis showed speed but failed to get on base consistently enough while leading off.

In all, the Jays have plenty of depth within the organization to get on base consistently and drive home key runs. Batting will most likely continue to be great for the Jays in 2012. Our expectation is optimistic.

Grade: A

Fielding

With the departure of Aaron Hill, Lyle Overbay and John MacDonald, there may have been some questions last season regarding the status of Jays infield. However, Adam Lind and Brett Lawrie answered all the questions with solid fielding on the corners. JP Arencibia may not be the most defensively sound catcher, but Jays benefit from having a great defensive catching prospect in Travis D’Arnaud ready to step in to the show. Yunel Escobar has been a great presence at shortstop and Adeiny Hechavarria is a highly touted prospect waiting in the pipes. The real question mark for the Jays may be in their outfield. While Bautista has one of the best arms in Right Field, the Jays have never seemed intent on leaving him there. Moreover, center and left field seem to be inconsistent, especially with Travis Snider, Thames and Colby Rasmus failing to show high calibre fielding ability.

Regardless of the inconsistencies and question marks, the Jays have never been a bad fielding team. They tend to make highlight reel plays infield and have good speed and arm strength in the outfield. If this trend continues in 2012, the Jays fielding will definitely be relied on to help out the pitching. Our expectation of Jays fielding is somewhat optimistic.

Grade: B+

Overall Team

Overall the team should continue to build on positive improvement from the previous two seasons. The Jays batting order will need to show power and clutch-performance in order to balance out any pitching inconsistencies, especially in later innings. It may not be the season that the Jays finally crack the playoffs, but it should be an exciting season nonetheless.

Grade: B/B+

Predicted Division Ranking: 3rd

Predicted Wild Card Ranking: 4th

Predicted AL Ranking: 5th

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