2009 TORONTO BLUE JAYS PREVIEW
The Blue Jays had a strong 2008, finishing with an 86-76 record. Unfortunately, in a tough American League East Division, that was only good enough to give the Blue Jays a 4 th place finish! However, the Blue Jays did receive solid starting pitching for much of the year and welcomed back closer BJ Ryan from a lengthy injury layoff.
Unfortunately, the Blue Jays will begin the year with only two members of last year’s rotation returning. After losing starter AJ Burnett to the Yankees in free agency, the Blue Jays also ran into some injury troubles and will have to replace a lot of talent.
The Blue Jays only return two starters who started more than a dozen games last year. Roy Halladay (20-11, 2.78 ERA, 34 starts, 246 IP, 206 K in 2008) is one of the best pitchers in all of baseball and will be a rock in the rotation. The other returnee is Jesse Litsch (13-9, 3.58, 28 starts, 176 IP), who will look to follow up his stellar rookie campaign. Behind them, it gets confusing. David Purcey (3-6, 5.54 ERA, 12 starts) is expected to be the third starter after pitching nearly half a season last year. Purcey will need to improve his numbers if the Jays hope to find any depth. Meanwhile, the final two spots would have belonged to Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum, but McGowan won’t be back until at least May and Marcum will not pitch this year due to injury. That leaves Casey Jannsen, who missed much of last season to injury as well, to fill the 4 th spot in the starting rotation. The final rotation spot is up for grabs among three candidates: Scott Richmond (1-3, 4.00 ERA, 5 starts), rookie Ricky Romero, and former Oriole Brian Burres (7-10, 6.04 ERA, 22 starts). Richmond is the early leader but he will spend some time on Team Canada during the World Baseball Classic, so how he performs there could decide his fate. Either way, the Jays don’t have a lot of experience and face injury concerns in the final three spots in their rotation.
The bullpen looks a little better, though the injury bug could be a problem there as well. Closer BJ Ryan (2.95 ERA, 32 SV) returned during the year in 2008 from a long layoff and is expected to continue his effectiveness in shutting down opponents in the 9 th inning. In front of him, setup man Jeremy Accardo was very effective as the closer in Ryan’s absence two years ago but missed much of last year due to injury. If they can both remain healthy at the same time, the Jays’ bullpen will be much stronger. Expect Toronto to have a decent bullpen if Accardo and Ryan are leading the way.
The Blue Jays infield is underwhelming in many regards. First baseman Lyle Overbay (.270, 15 HR, 69 RBI, .358 OBP) is a solid hitter but doesn’t provide a lot of power. Third baseman Scott Rolen (.262, 11 HR, 50 RBI, .349 OBP) is in the twilight of his career and isn’t the threat he once was, though he is still a very good defensive third baseman. Up the middle, the Jays have a number of options. At second base, Aaron Hill missed most of last year because of a scary collision but is expected to be healthy this year. However, Joe Inglett (.297, 3 HR, 39 RBI, .355 OBP) played well in Hill’s absence and will push for playing time as well. Meanwhile, shortstop Marco Scutaro (.267, 7 HR, 60 RBI, .341 OBP) is a decent run provider but doesn’t have a lot of pop. At catcher, Rod Barajas (.249, 11 HR, 49 RBI, .294 OBP) will play the lion’s share of games for the Jays but he isn’t a major offensive threat either. Toronto’s infield suffers from a serious lack of power and only Inglett hit better than .270 last year. The Blue Jays’ infield is by far the least productive in the AL East.
The Blue Jays can boast a little bit more when their outfield comes up. Centerfielder Vernon Well s (.300, 20 HR, 78 RBI, .343 OBP) is one of the best in baseball but he had a disappointing year in terms of power numbers last season and will look to improve this year. Meanwhile, right fielder Alex Rios (.291, 15 HR, 79 RBI, .337 OBP) is also a very good player and can get on base and wreak havoc. In left field, Adam Lind (.282, 9 HR, 40 RBI, .316 OBP) and young Travis Snider (.301, 2 HR, 13 RBI, .338 OBP in 14 games) will split time, with the other likely occupying the DH position. While the Blue Jays’ outfield is one of the division’s weakest, they should at least provide some run production when compared to their light-hitting infield.
The Blue Jays appear to be headed for a long season at the plate. They don’t have one player on their team who hit more than 20 Home Runs last season and their leading RBI man last year had only 78! For the Blue Jays to be a productive offensive team, they’re going to need some of their younger players to step up in a big way. Even worse, the Blue Jays have a lot of questions surrounding their starting rotation. Outside of Halladay and Litsch, there is very little experience.
Unfortunately for the Jays, when you don’t have a lot of pitching or hitting then it generally means that it is going to be a long summer. Look for the only team north of the Border in the Major Leagues to slide back from last year’s 86 win total and end up with around 70 wins and occupy the basement of the American League East.
By Matt Baxendell
> View all of the 2009 MLB team previews from Pro Baseball Fans