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Playing Pepper 2012: Toronto Blue Jays

Posted on March 28, 2012 at 12:00 PM
Filed Under: Playing Pepper | Toronto Blue Jays
In 2009, I decided to get a feel for other teams around baseball by asking bloggers for those teams some questions about their squad.  Not only has this series been very popular, but it spawned the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.  With camps opening up again and spring training getting into gear, it's time once again to play a little pepper.

Toronto Blue Jays
81-81, fourth in the AL East

Where else can you go .500 and wind up trailing three other teams?  (OK, technically they'd have finished a game out of third in the NL West last year also, but that's not quite the same.)  Toronto has to sometimes wonder, "Just what do we have to do to get out of this division?"

Instead of complaining, though, the Jays are quietly building a team that can go head to head with the big spenders of the division, hopefully being ready to exploit any window and rush into a postseason berth, whether by divisional title or one of the wild card slots.  Whether 2012 will be that year remains to be seen.

To shed some light on the team, though, I've contacted a number of Toronto bloggers for their expert analysis.  Ian Hunter is the BBA Toronto Chapter president and writes for The Blue Jay Hunter.  You'll find him on Twitter at BlueJayHunter.  Jeremy surveys the team from the high ground of the 500 Level Fan and Tweets under the same handle.  Chris puts his thoughts down at Infield Fly and on Twitter at infieldflyrule.

Coming up, we talk about the pitcher that will stand out in 2012 and, of course, their thoughts on a former Cardinal.

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C70: What was your opinion of the team's offseason?

BJH: I thought the Blue Jays off-season was okay. The bullpen was unquestionably an area of concern, and Alex Anthopoulos did a good job of overhauling and upgrading the relief corps. Outside of that, it was mostly just depth moves with a few other trades and signings here and there. 

For the Blue Jays though, I think this off-season was perceived about what they didn't do as opposed to what they did do. They didn't win the Yu Darvish bid, they didn't sign Prince Fielder, and they didn't sign any big name free agents. That might be perceived as a failure to some, but I think it's just a sign of the front office sticking to their plan.

500: I liked the team's offseason. I doubt that you would have heard much of it where you live, but there was a LOT of negative press about the Blue Jays here in Toronto about their activity (or lack of it) in the offseason. Fans wanted to make a big splash, and were expecting (some were demanding) the team to sign Prince Fielder and/or Carlos Beltran and/or Yu Darvish. When Alex Anthopoulos signed none of those three, and no big bats period, many were furious. I was not one of them. The Jays most glaring weakness last year was the bullpen, with 25 blown saves, and way too many nervous innings. So in the offseason Toronto brought in Sergio Santos to close (a great trade in my opinion), Darren Oliver, and Francisco Cordero, and re-acquired Jason Frasor. Those moves likely transform the bullpen from one of the league's worst, to one of the best. Sure it would have been nice to add a huge bat to pair with Bautista, but if Lawrie continues to progress and Lind and Rasmus rebound, that should help a ton. A big if, but I'd rather a big if than a big contract weighing the team down in a few years.

IF: While it would have been great fun to see GM Alex Anthopoulos sign Prince Fielder and/or Yu Darvish and while his failure to do so brought a lot of criticism from media and casual fans, I think the Jays had a great offseason. They didn't tinker too much with their great young core, they didn't panic and overspend on a starter whose need -- outside of a true ace -- is questionable, and they shored up their one real weak point: The bullpen. The deal to bring in Sergio Santos has been widely praised as one of the best moves of the offseason by any team, and I have a feeling that that praise will prove true.

C70: What's the opinion of Colby Rasmus in the fan base and what are the expectations of him this season?

BJH: A lot of fans were ecstatic at first to have Colby Rasmus come over to the Blue Jays. But as the season wore on and the injuries piled up, that Rasmus honeymoon ended very promptly. The wrist injury hampered Colby's play, so I don't believe the second half of his 2011 season is a true reflection of his potential. 

Luckily, 2012 is a chance to wipe the slate clean and hopefully an opportunity for Colby Rasmus to show that he was worth the talent the Blue Jays gave up to bring him to Toronto.

500: Speaking for myself, I am excited about Colby. He was an elite prospect a few years ago who went through a rough patch. I think he can turn it around, and working with hitting coach Dwayne Murphy (the man who helped turn Bautista around) should help a lot. I am expecting a pretty big season out of him this year. As for the opinion of the fan base in general about him, I think it is still mostly positive. Sure he disappointed when he was here last year for a bit, but the fans seem willing to give him a full season before giving up on him.

IF: People seem split on Rasmus. There's the "OMG TORONTO WOULD WIN WORLD SERIES WITH RZEP AND DOTEL LOOK AT ST LOUIS OMG OMG AND HOLY COW RASMUS CAN'T HIT" crowd and the "This guy has obvious potential to be amazing or at least well above average. Awesome!" crowd. I'm firmly in the latter camp and I would not at all be surprised to see him return to his 2010 form, or something close to it at least.

C70: What pitcher do you think will make the biggest strides in 2012?

BJH: I'm going to go out on a limb here and say Kyle Drabek will make up the most ground this season. Part of that has to do with the fact that his 2011 was so disappointing, that there's nowhere else to go but up for Drabek. 

He will certainly have to fight for a spot in the rotation though, as there are a few starters like Brett Cecil and Henderson Alvarez that are ahead of Drabek on the depth chart.

500: Brandon Morrow. He is a premium strikeout pitcher with elite stuff, but he has struggled to put it all together over the past few seasons. A lot of the problem is his own fault due to his many inconsistencies. He walks too many batters and goes through long slumps. But he has cut his BB/9 number down in each of the past two seasons, and showed signs of putting it together at the end of 2011. The biggest reason why I expect him to break out is because he has finally settled into a proper role. When he was a Mariner, Seattle converted him from a starter to a closer, then back to a starter, then back to a closer. When he came to Toronto, the Jays intended on starting him, but held him to an innings cap in both 2010 and 2011. Now in 2012, it's all systems go - no cap, and no threat of bullpen demotion.

IF: Brandon Morrow. Guy led the AL in K/9 last season. His peripherals were great and, watching him pitch, it's obvious his stuff is easily the best on the team. It seems the only thing really holding him back from being a true ace is pitching with runners on base. He's going to get better at that (he has to, right?) and when he does, he's really going to raise some eyebrows.

C70: Is there a prospect that will make an impact on the team this season?

BJH: The one prospect who might be an early favourite to get a look at the big leagues is Drew Hutchison. He basically came out of nowhere last year and quickly rose to the top of most Top 10 prospect lists for the Blue Jays. 

Management has raved about Hutchison, and manager John Farrell even noted that he's one pitcher the team will be keeping a very close eye on during Spring Training. If for some reason any of the pitchers in the starting rotation go down due to injury, Hutchison could be on the first plane up to Toronto to take their place.

500: The number one prospect in Toronto's system is catcher Travis d'Arnaud, acquired in the Roy Halladay trade a few years ago. If he continues to dominate minor league pitching, he might get a call-up to the big leagues this year. It's hard to say at this point. So I'm going to go with pitcher Henderson Alvarez. Not sure if he is still considered a prospect or not (he made his debut with the club last August), but he is slated to be the number three starter in the rotation and looks like the real deal. In 10 starts at the end of last season Alvarez went 1-3 with a 3.53 ERA and only 8 walks in 63.2 IP. I think he'll have a nice season for Toronto.

IF: Does Brett Lawrie count as a prospect?

C70: Where will the team finish in their division and what are you most excited about for 2012?

BJH: Fourth place might not seem like very high aspirations for the 2012 Blue Jays, but I think it's a realistic expectation. The AL East is undoubtedly the toughest division in baseball, and what used to be a two horse race between the Yankees and the Red Sox has now turned into a three horse race with the prominence of the Rays. 

I predict the Blue Jays will float around the .500 mark again this season, and a win total of 85 or so doesn't sound all that unreasonable. There are a lot of unknowns going into 2012 for the Blue Jays, which could vault that win total even higher.

500: Playing in the AL East is always difficult. Toronto could finish with 90 wins and still come fourth (!!!). I think the safest bet is to peg them at fourth again, as the Yankees and Red Sox are still the Yankees and Red Sox, and Tampa looks strong again. If things come together, I can see them sneaking into third and maybe snagging the second Wild Card (if that is in play in 2012). I am most excited about the continuing development of our young players next season. Brett Lawrie, Colby Rasmus, J.P. Arencibia, Henderson Alvarez, Eric Thames, Travis Snider, Ricky Romero, and Brandon Morrow are all in their early to mid 20's, and should only be getting better. The speed of their development will determine how fast we finally get back to the playoffs.‬

IF: I've got the Jays down for somewhere between 82 and 86 wins. And that will likely get them 4th place in the AL East. I feel like a broken record this time of year, but I've got to say it: Any other division and it's playoffs! 

As for what I'm most excited about: It's got to be watching Jose Bautista rake again. The guy is special. His at-bats are the definition of must-watch.

Thanks to Ian, Jeremy and Chris for taking the time to inform us about our neighbors up north.  It's a Herculean task in front of them, but it may be one they can eventually accomplish.

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