Appreciating the 2009 Toronto Blue Jays

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Appreciating the 2009 Toronto Blue Jays
(Photo by Paul Giamou/Getty Images)
As the Blue Jays take the field for the last time at Rogers Center, the debate by experts, fans, and management will all center around if 2009 was a success.
This year’s Blue Jays were not supposed to have a good year, and they did not. They are more than 20 games out of a playoff spot, and will probably finish 12-15 games below .500.
In terms of a competitive season, this was not one of them. However, the Blue Jays were not supposed to make the playoffs and were supposed to finish exactly where they stand today (fourth in the AL East).

Was this a successful season for the '09 Jays?

Absolutely it was.

They got in the first fight at New Yankee Stadium. They saw firsthand when Ichiro Suzuki get tossed.

Seriously.

Not only did the Blue Jays surprise out of the gate, but they shed salary and established their core of young players as legitimate big leaguers.

For the first month and a half of the season, the Blue Jays were the best team in the AL East. Of course, the Major League season is a six-month grind—which the Blue Jays did not finish out—but their early run gave Jays’ fans hope and showed them what a complete healthy team is capable of. Evidently, the Jays are not a playoff team—yet.

They do not have enough pitching depth to compete with the likes of the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels, nor do they have a established power hitter in the middle of their lineup. However, the Jays are only three or four pieces away from giving themselves a legitimate shot at competing in the East.

Those pieces will be difficult to come by, as their farm system is not quite developed and the free-agent market is thin and expensive. However, J.P. Riccardi has given himself a lot of wiggle room in terms of financial freedom.

Beginning the season, the Blue Jays had one of the highest payrolls in the league ($80 million). This was a necessary step in order to compete in the powerhouse AL East. Once Riccardi realized that this was a lost season for the Jays, he began to relieve the franchise of expensive players.

He started with B.J. Ryan, who never returned to form after coming back from major surgery. Ryan was simply waived and picked up by the Chicago Cubs. He hardly made a dent there. Ryan was owed $10 million this year and next.

Scott Rolen was the next one to be shipped out. He was traded for Edwin Encarnacion from the Cincinnati Reds. Rolen was difficult to say goodbye to because he was actually productive and fun to watch. He is the best defensive third baseman in the league, one of the hardest workers, and his offense was starting to turn around for the Jays when he was traded. Rolen was owed $11 million this year and next.

The most shocking move of the year was Riccardi’s decision to allow the Chicago White Sox claim Alex Rios from waivers. It was only a season ago that a Rios-for-Tim Lincecum deal was being discussed.

Rios did not pan out to be the .300/30/100 player that was expected of him, and his attitude was beginning to sour in Toronto. Based on Rios’ failure to hit in Toronto—and now in Chicago—justifies his abrupt salary dump. White Sox GM Kenny Williams now has to deal with Rios’ monster salary that pays him $72.2 million over the next 6 seasons. Yikes.

Just those three contracts alone saves the Jays $93.3 million after this season.

The next contract that Riccardi must get rid of is the one signed by Vernon Wells. He must do it next year, because after 2010 Wells is lined up to be paid $86 million over the four years. Double yikes.

The next highest-paid player on the Jays is Roy Halladay and his $15.75 million for next year. This is the best value for any player in the league, and whether or not he gets traded in the offseason the Blue Jays got Halladay at a bargain. He is the best pitcher in the league and worth much more than what he is getting paid.

This was a great signing for Riccardi. Another great acquisition was trading for Marco Scutaro last year. Scutaro was one of the most consistent players and played a great shortstop until he got hurt.

He was a fan favorite, he enjoyed Toronto and he gave Cito Gaston the only option for the leadoff spot. He had such a good season that he is likely to become a type A free agent after this season. What does this mean? If he signs elsewhere, the Blue Jays get a supplementary pick in next year’s draft. The Jays would love to have Scutaro back, but if his asking price is too high, the first-round pick is great compensation.

Aaron Hill has had one of the best offensive seasons by a second baseman in the past decade. There is still a week left in the season and Hill has 34 home runs and 103 RBI (34 HRs? Are you kidding me?). Hill will soon become the face of the Jays, and he represents the new generation of Blue Jays’ players.

Adam Lind is looking to finish with a .300 average. If so, he will close the 2009 season as a .300/30/100 hitter. This is ultimately where any power hitter wants to be. Only two other players in the league reached this plateau this year: Albert Pujols and Derrek Lee. Any time you are in the same conversation as Pujols, you’ve done good. Jays’ fans can look forward to more years like this from Lind.

The other budding young star, Travis Snider, spent most of his time in the minors. When he was called up, he proved he can hit for power in the bigs. His bat still misses too many pitches, but things are looking very good for this kid. If given a regular role next year, 25 home runs is not out of the question.

Speaking of regular roles next season, Randy Ruiz has made a case to play first base, which could ship Lyle Overbay out of town. Overbay’s contract is expiring, and Ruiz has been a nice surprise since given the opportunity. His seven home runs in 95 at-bats is inspiring, and could translate to 30 if he gets more chances at the plate.

Enough about the offense. The most surprising part of the Jays’ team has been the depth of their young pitchers.

Ricky Romero and Brett Cecil have been faces of the farm system for years. Both former first-rounders, the Jays have been patient with both, and they have shown potential of being big-league pictures. Romero contended for AL Rookie of the Year for most of the season, and his changeup gave hitters nightmares. He may never be justified as being taken ahead of Troy Tulowitzki, but will be a top-end rotational pitcher for the Jays.

Marc Rzepczynski and Scott Richmond were nice surprises. They had their ups and downs throughout the season, but with proper arm routine and management, they will definitely give the Jays solid back-end rotation options.

Other young arms that made a dent with the Blue Jays but still need time to develop are Brad Mills and former No. 1 overall pick Bryan Bullington. Mills is a lefty who had great minor league numbers but had difficulty translating them to the next level. Bullington is a No. 1 pick that has not produced, but still has a lot of potential.

Halladay has surely mentored these young arms, but credit must be given to pitching coach Brad Arnsberg. He knows how to manage pitchers and to generate the most production from any player.

All of these pitchers had great seasons considering they were probably called up too early because of a thinned out Jays rotation. AJ Burnett signed in New York. Jesse Litsch went down with rotator cuff problems early. David Purcey miss five of six months of the season. And Shawn Marcum and Dustin McGowan were out for the year.

The story that dominated headlines was the Roy Halladay situation. Should they have traded him? Strong cases can be made for both sides.

Personally, I am happy he is still a Blue Jay, because he is the best pitcher in the league. However, if the Jays want to build a contender, they need youth and depth—two things they could have gotten for Halladay.

Halladay’s value was at its peak during this past trade deadline. Not only would a contender have Halladay for this year’s playoff run, but for next year’s as well. A package of two or three legitimate farm hands plus a big leaguer was not enough to entice Riccardi to trade Doc. Let’s see how he handles the offseason.

This season was a success for the Blue Jays. They are not going to finish over .500 and will be out of a playoff spot, but they needed an unbelievable season for both to happen. This team is not yet built for a playoff run. The development of a few players, the maintenance of a few more, and the infusion of some depth will allow this team to succeed.

Until then, Jays fans must be patient.

How much more patient can we get? Baseball is slowly dying in Toronto. Last week saw the lowest attendance for the Blue Jays’ game in history. Toronto was given the gift of hosting the World Baseball Classic and Team Canada’s performance was a disastrous failure. Although I argue that the Jays’ season was a success, this sentiment is not necessarily held by all Jays fans.

If there is one thing that Toronto fans adore, it’s young players. It’s Nazem Kadri of the Leafs, it’s Demar DeRozan of the Raptors. It’s Hill, Lind and Snider of the Jays. This youth represents hope for the future. They Jays need to continue developing their young players to generate enthusiasm for baseball in the city.

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