I wanted to wait until the very last minute before making my season preview announcements because I knew there would be some roster surprises that would change what it is I have to cover. From starters that had yet to be decided to relievers who were in an all out battle for few position spots, the Jays could of went in many different directions. In the end, and surprisingly considering the previous regime’s propensity for making mistakes, I believe they made the right call because it allowed them to keep the most talent onboard going into 2010. Had they not chosen to send Brett Cecil to AAA, Merkin Valdez would have had to be passed through waivers, which would never have happened, because one of Dana Eveland or Brian Tallet would have taken his spot in the pen.
With all of the decisions made, here us my preview and expectations of each player in 2010, beginning with the record I have predicted and the reasons for it.
My Predicted Jays record in 2010: 82 wins, 80 losses
To tell you the truth, it is extremely hard to get a handle on what to expect from the Jays when there are so many unknown variables. From Marcum’s return to Morrow’s inclusion in the rotation, the Jays have a lot of new pieces that could help them better their 2009 record. When I examined the roster thoroughly, I compared it to the 2009 version of the Chicago White Sox. That was a team that also lacked a true ace, had lots of young pitching it was going to lean on, also had impact players coming up from the minors mid-season (Beckham) and lacked a real impact player at similar positions (Overbay and Konerko at 1B for example, Buck and AJ, or lack of a reliable bat at 3B until mid-season with Wallace and Beckham).
Still, the White Sox play the Central while the Jays are in the East, so how could I actually say the Jays will win more? Well, the bench and the opportunity to beat up on other divisions, that’s how. I also believe that the Jays are significantly stronger at 2B with Hill over Ramirez, and that Adam Lind gives them a huge edge at DH or LF. The 2009 White Sox were also missing Carlos Quentin for a good chunk of the season, while the Jays should have Snider around all season, so I gave them a couple of wins just based on that. Finally, the Jays have very strong depth in AAA waiting to come up and plug the holes that show themselves in 2010, while I believe the White Sox lacked a bit of depth in 2009.
Having said all this, the Jays will need to do a better job beating AL East teams to get to my lofty prediction. That’s where I expect the biggest strides will be made for a couple of reasons: it can’t be much worse than the awful record the Jays had in 2009 (26-46), and the Jays have more depth in semi-seasoned pitching this season than they did in 2009. Roy Halladay did not face the AL East opponents 72 times. The Jays need the majority of the starters to do well in order to have success against the AL East. Since I modelled the 2010 after the 2009 Chicago White Sox, let’s see what would happen if the Jays won the same percentage of games against the AL East. The White Sox were 19-21, so the Jays would have to be 33 – 39 to get to the same point. Do I believe the Jays can add 7 wins even without Roy Halladay winning his share? Yes, I do.
I believe that since the Jays are going to play more loosely, will not be submitted to as much pressure, and will have more mid-season support in 2010 than they had in 2009 with the arrivals of JP Arencibia, Brett Wallace, and tons of pitching help, that they will be able to win many of the close games they lost in 2009. The defence is better with Alex Gonzalez at SS, the pen is extremely strong, and Travis Snider should make huge strides in helping the offence click.
Having explained my stance on the record for the season, here are my player by player reviews:
Catcher - 2009: Rod Barajas 2010: John Buck
I don’t see this as a downgrade or an upgrade offensively, but I do see it as an upgrade defensively. From what I’ve heard and read, John Buck is more anxious to help out the young pitching and to be part of a winning team than Rod Barajas was. Rod had only fallen back on coming to the Jays, after refusing to come here once for “personal reasons”, because nobody else was willing to give him much of a contract. John Buck wants to be in Toronto. He wants to become a fixture with the team for more than 1 season, and he wants to win now. I find this to be an upgrade for that reason.
1B - 2009: Lyle Overbay 2010: Lyle Overbay
Sure, Lyle Overbay is still the 1B for the Jays in 2010, but it will probably not last long as he is most likely going to be traded by mid-season due to an expiring contract. We can instead focus on the back up 1B. In 2009, the Jays relied mostly on Kevin Millar from the bench to provide some offense, while in 2010 the Jays will rely on Randy Ruiz. Talk about an upgrade. I know Kevin was a great clubhouse guy and that he was a positive influence on all players as a result, but Ruiz’s prodigious power off the bench will be an asset the Jays never had in 2009. Cito will be able to put him in for some really big and game changing situations, where games are won or lost. Final analysis, a big upgrade at 1B, and that’s without considering the possible impact of Brian Dopirak or Brett Wallace in mid-season.
2B- 2009: Aaron Hill 2010: Aaron Hill
The same holds true for 2B, where Aaron Hill is still manning the position in 2010, but where the backups are significantly better. Mike McCoy provides speed off the bench that the Jays severely lacked in 2009. He is more than able to back Aaron Hill at 2B, as is John McDonald, and each provides the Jays with strong defensive skills. McCoy has the added bonus of providing a very good option as the lead off batter and may steal the role from Jose Bautista should he struggle with the role. Once again, the bench is the huge upgrade from year-to-year.
SS - 2009: Marco Scutaro 2010: Alex Gonzalez
I believe that 98% of MLB was surprised by Scutaro’s performance in 2009 and that there is very little chance that Alex Gonzalez will have the same impact on the offence. However, what he gives up there he makes up with stellar defensive skills that make him a double play machine, and one that makes few errors at the position if any. That should go a long way to making the games go smoothly for the young pitching and could actually be a net benefit for the Jays. Scutaro was outstanding in the 1st half of the season, but slowed down thereafter. His 2nd half of 217 AB and a .272 average with 6 HRs is not that far off from what Ale Gonzalez can provide the Jays. In fact, Gonzalez provided more than that in 148 AB for the Red Sox (also in AL East) in 2009 with 5 HRs and a .284 average. Where he will be lacking is in the OBP, where a drop from .371 (Scutaro) to .316 (Gonzalez) could hurt. Still, I think the defensive upgrade makes up for this deficiency, so I end this in a tie.
3B - 2009: Scott Rolen 2010: Edwin Encarnacion
Here is where some people will boo me and others (a few) will applaud. Many fans sincerely want Encarnacion to have a break out season that will be the difference maker for the Jays in 2010. I do not believe this will happen, and actually believe that one of two things will happen early on in the season: Jose Bautista will man 3B and Randy Ruiz will DH, moving Adam Lind to LF, or, Mike McCoy will man 3B and lead off, moving Jose Bautista down in the order. Now, to compare these 3 options to Scott Rolen is definitely hard to do. Regardless, I believe it will be a defensive downgrade, but also believe that the flexibility the Jays have at the position in terms of style is a huge plus. It’s another way for Cito to play off the strengths of his players and the needs of the team at the time. If they’re in need of speed in the lineup and a good OBP, they use McCoy. If Edwin is healthy, he’ll get the time there and can still get the odd day off, while he provides the same level of power as Scott did in 2009. Add Bautista who is a very decent hitter, and we have 3 guys who I believe will help smooth the loss of Rolen. I still think the defensive downgrade and clutch hitting loss will hurt a little bit, so I see this position as a slight downgrade year-to-year.
LF- 2009: Travis Snider 2010: Travis Snider
For ease of assessment and the fact that Snider is still manning an OF spot, I’ll place Snider in LF even though he’ll man RF this season. I expect a lot more in 2010 from Snider and fully expect him to grab the #6 or #5 spot in the lineup by the time the season is done. Therefore, I see this as a huge upgrade for the Jays in 2010.
CF - 2009: Vernon Wells 2010: Vernon Wells
If Vernon can increase his offensive output slightly and get a little better defensively for the Jays in 2010 it will go a long way to making the Jays win in 2010. I think he has something to prove and is much healthier this season than he has been in many years, so there is hope we’ll see a better Wells this year. I’m not holding my breath, but if he can start quickly and get the opposing pitchers knowing that they have to throw strikes to Aaron Hill and Adam Lind ahead of him, he could be the difference maker in the line up. If he doesn’t show the power the Jays expect from him, I could still see him inheriting the lead off spot at some point or moving down to #5 or #6 in the lineup in favor of Randy Ruiz hitting 4th. I have a little faith that in the end this position will have a slight upgrade from 2009 to 2010.
RF- 2009: Alex Rios 2010: Jose Bautista
With the way Alex Rios was run out of town you would think he was the worst outfielder the Jays had ever had. I expect that Bautista will match the overall package Rios gave the Jays in 2009 and that he will have a career year in the same way that Marco Scutaro had a career year in 2009. He will need to continue what he has started this spring, but his defence is sound, he plays hard every day (an upgrade over Rios) and really seems to be motivated now that the Jays have made him the lead off hitter. I have to say that going into spring I was really skeptical at the thought of Jose at the top, but having seen him grab the role with both hands I have to admit it looks like a decent move for now. If he should struggle, I fully expect Mike McCoy could steal some playing time and become the true lead off player the Jays have been looking for with 40+ SB potential and a much better OBP. Because of McCoy’s presence as a backup, I make this change at the RF position a slight upgrade.
DH- 2009: Adam Lind 2010: Adam Lind
AA doesn’t just stand for Alex Anthopolous, it also stands for Aaron and Adam. These 2 guys are the Jays offensive force. If they don’t click, the Jays don’t score runs. Could Adam reach 40 HRs in a season? Definitely. Will he do that in 2010? That depends on Vernon Wells and whether he allows pitchers to pitch around Adam in the lineup to get to him. I think that in the end Adam’s stats may come down slightly, but with Randy Ruiz being the alternative, the DH position will actually see an upgrade overall from the 2009 season.
Starters - 2009: Roy Halladay, Ricky Romero, Scott Richmond, Brian Tallet, David Purcey (beginning) 2010: Ricky Romero, Shaun Marcum, Brandon Morrow, Brian Tallet, Dana Eveland
Do I wish that Roy Halladay were still a Jays ace in 2010? For sure. I actually believe he only signed a 3 year deal in order to get his championship and return to the Jays once his contract expires (let’s hope!). However, even with the loss of Halladay, I believe the OVERALL rotation and the depth the Jays have will be much better than what they had in 2009. Romero will be much improved, Morrow will surprise many, Marcum returning lessens the blow of losing Doc, and Eveland has looked outstanding this spring. Tallet should be better and more efficient, and should he falter he has a slew of pitchers waiting to take his spot. Brett Cecil, Marc Rzepczynski, Jesse Litsch, Scott Richmond, and Dustin McGowan are all pitchers the Jays could have in the rotation at some point in 2010 and they all have experience now with a better chance of doing well and getting the Jays wins. Add the possibility of Zach Stewart and Kyle Drabek making appearances late in the year, and you have a rotation that I would take 99 times out of 100 over what they had to work with in 2009. I think these pitchers will be more efficient, leading to better overall use of the pen (but I do admit losing the days off they got when Doc pitched will hurt big time) and more games that rely on the pen overall to get the Jays some wins.
Bullpen- 2009: Jason Frasor, Scott Downs, Brandon League, BJ Ryan, Jesse Carlson, Casey Janssen, Shawn Camp 2010: Jason Frasor, Scott Downs, Kevin Gregg, Shawn Camp, Jeremy Accardo, Merkin Valdez, Casey Janssen
This, my friends, is where the Jays will make the biggest improvements. Not only do they not have to lose 5-7 games due to the BJ Ryan extra-curricular activities, but they replaced him with a serviceable Kevin Gregg who although he doesn’t get any point for style, gets the job done and has more saves to his credit than any other reliever. The other two changes, Accardo for League and Valdez for Carlson are also huge improvements in 2010. Some people forget that League had a 4.58 ERA, and although I feel he could close some day, he wasn’t that great in 2009. Similarly, Carlson had a 4.66 ERA and an inability to strike guys out in key situations, something I believe Valdez will become a key component for. The balance of the pen overall, the experience each has in dealing with pressure, and the low pressure approach the Jays are taking into 2010 will lead to a much better bullpen that will result in many more wins for the Jays in tight games. This is where they’ll get their wins against the AL in 2010. Josh Roenicke, Jesse Carlson, Daniel Farquhar, and David Purcey are all waiting to join this stellar group if some of the pen is dealt tis season, so the Jays do have the depth to maintain a really high level of performances in the pen.
I know I’m the one of the very few to predict a season near, at, or slightly over 500 this season, but I’ve always had optimistic tendencies. I also feel that with Aaron Hill and Adam Lind leading the way, and so many great variables joining them this season, the Jays are ready to make a small step up the ladder. I think many teams will take them lightly, that they’ll dominate again when facing other division teams, and finally that AA will be able to make a move or two that push the Jays to become better in 2010. If Adeiny Hechevarria is as good as advertised, he could be that push all on his own. As with any prediction made before the 2010 season, I could be wrong on some or all counts, but these are my opinions of the Toronto Blue Jays for this season. I sincerely hope I have more right than wrong, because it will make this a season worth watching and a very exciting one overall!