If you're thinking, sure, the Toronto Blue Jays “can” contend in 2010, but they likely won't, well, you're probably right. The odds are much greater that the team finishes 2010 in last place than second place and in the playoffs.
Good management in any business or sports organization dictates that personnel are slotted in where they have the best chance to succeed.
At the same time, the Peter Principle—as individuals are promoted or given more responsibility within an organization, each will eventually reach a level of incompetence—applies equally to sport as it does to business.
Keeping this dynamic in mind, the Blue Jays' front office people have reached a sticky crossroads. They have to consider both the short-term and long-term repercussions of decisions they must make prior to the onset of the 2010 season.
The main issue is what to do about Harry Leroy “Doc” Halladay.
So much conjecture has already been written about this subject that I won't dwell on it. There is no point flailing a dead horse. But without Doc and Shaun Marcum—combined with even a modicum of improvement in Baltimore's pitching—Toronto could easily end up in last place in the AL East.
The smart move would seem to be trading Halladay now, when his value is highest. However, there are a number of financial factors involved with this deal that many fans may not have considered.
For instance, trading Halladay now would give the perception of giving up on the 2010 season before it ever gets underway. Fans could stay away in record numbers if the Jays get off to a bad start. Over time this could lead to a Pittsburgh scenario. Worse yet, Canada could eventually lose its only Major League Baseball team.
Still, if all the players play up to “form” (last year's numbers loosely combined with those of the previous three years) and the team remains free of serious injury, they have a chance to win 95 games.
Key second-year players like Travis Snider, Ricky Romero, Marc Rzepczynski, and Brett Cecil have yet to establish form at the major league level. The assumption is that each of them will show at least a modest improvement over his 2009 rookie performance.
Commonly advanced theories about how to make the Blue Jays a contender run the gamut from adding a big bat like Jason Bay to the middle of the order, to trading Halladay for two top young pitchers and another bat, or goosing up the salary budget to $120 million. None of these eventualities are likely to happen.
To have any chance at all of remaining in contention in the AL East, the Jays have to keep Halladay and Rod Barajas, but can let Marco Scutaro and John McDonald walk.
Strangely enough, the Jays can contend in 2010 without adding 10 cents to last season's payroll.
The departure of Alex Rios and Scott Rolen frees up about $20 million, which is more than enough to pay for: (a) their replacements, Edwin Encarnacion and Snider; (b) the salary increases in multi-year contracts; (c) keeping Barajas (four for two); (d) giving appropriate increases to the arbitration-eligible players; and (e) getting a reasonably effective free agent closer ($5-7 million).
The biggest “IF” for the upcoming season is the performance of Shaun Marcum. Marcum's won-lost record in 50 starts over 2007-08 was 20-11 with an ERA in the mid threes.
If he can return to form with 15-plus wins the Jays may contend. If he can't, and he has fewer than five wins in 2010, the team doesn't have much of a chance.
The next biggest question mark is the production of three Latino players—Encarnacion, Randy Ruiz, and Jose Bautista—who may all be on the verge of a breakout year. This belief is based on their performance last season, especially during the last five or six weeks.
Following is the proposed batting order for the upcoming season. Based on form, and my direct pipeline to a couple of minor baseball gods, each player's 2010 basic production—batting average, HR, and RBI—is included. Numbers are based on 150-plus games played and 600 AB.
Numbers for platoon players include the other half of the platoon. For example, the Lyle Overbay/Kevin Millar 1B platoon in 2009 had 23 HR, 93 RBI, and a .251 average in 674 AB. Decent numbers. Who said “Overpay?” C'mon, fess up now.
CF: Vernon Wells .275/15/75
2B: Jose Bautista .260/20/75
LF: Adam Lind .310/28/100
SS: Aaron Hill .280/30/100
RF: Travis Snider .265/25/85
3B: Edwin Encarnacion .260/27/80
1B: Lyle Overbay .275/22/90
DH: Randy Ruiz .260/25/75
C: Rod Barajas .230/20/75
Notice the preponderance of home runs. Although the Jays generally have ranked 10th to 12th in home runs in the AL for the last five or six years, the team ranked fourth in 2009. The Blue Jays could easily end up second this year just behind the Yankees.
The power hitting isn't by any means a perfect substitute for the team's inability to hit with runners in scoring position, but it will go a long way toward allaying that shortcoming.
Here are some thoughts on the proposed batting order.
Vernon Wells: Leadoff
Jays fans are stuck with Wells, whether they like it or not. But how to maximize his value, especially in light of his wrist injury and recent operation? He will be able to hit, but it may be a full year before his power stroke returns to what it was a few years ago.
Wells is the club's best base stealer. To reach more often, Wells will have to concentrate on taking outer-half pitches to right field. The additional focus should improve his walk/strikeout ratio, too.
Wells is mature beyond his years, a gifted athlete, very intelligent, and a good team man. It shouldn't surprise anybody if Wells, as a leadoff hitter, raises his on-base percentage from .311 last year to the .360 range and scores over 100 runs in 2010.
Jose Bautista: No. 2 Slot
Bautista finally got to start just about every day last September. He responded by tearing the cover off the ball with 10 HR for the month. At 29, he is in his prime.
He does a lot of little things well, like laying down a bunt, hitting behind the runner, and stealing a base when it's really vital to do so. With 600 AB last year, he would have had exactly 100 walks. His OBP was .349, and he should improve on that playing every day.
Bautista has played over 300 games at third base. Although he has just started a handful at second base, he has yet to make an error. Teamed with Aaron Hill, Bautista could give the Jays one of the very best offensive middle infields in baseball.
Adam Lind: No. 3 Slot
Lind is the team's most consistent hitter. Batting him anywhere other than third would be just plain wrong. It only took Cito Gaston 50 to 60 games to figure that out last year. Apparently, Gaston's main concern was not shaking Alex Rios' confidence.
Aaron Hill: Cleanup
Although Hill doesn't have the stature of a typical cleanup hitter, he certainly has the instincts. In 2010, he will be most valuable to the team returning to the shortstop position and batting cleanup. Hill likes a challenge, so he should do more than all right at both.
Travis Snider: No. 5 Slot
One of these times, Snider is going to have a breakout year. It could be next season. He has more raw power than any Jays hitter since Carlos Delgado.
Edwin Encarnacion: No. 6 Slot
Encarnacion had an injury-plagued year in 2009. Despite that, his 13 HR and 39 RBI in 293 AB extend out to 27 HR and 80 RBI over a full season.
Encarnacion is a young player (a year younger than Hill) just entering his prime. His recent wrist surgery isn't the type that should adversely affect his power numbers in 2010. He could have a huge season. One of J.P. Ricciardi's best trades.
Lyle Overbay: No. 7 Slot
In 2010, Overbay could have his best season as a Jay, because he's entering the last year of his contract. If he continues to have trouble with left-handed pitching, he will probably be platooned with rookie power hitter Brian Dopirak. The numbers these two put up should be more than adequate for the No. 7 hole.
Randy Ruiz: No. 8 Slot
Ruiz could become a major favorite with Blue Jays fans—a great, big bear of a man with a massive uppercut swing who hustles flat-out around the bases.
He had a .313 batting average and hit 10 home runs in 115 AB after his call-up last season. If he can hit his weight (250 lbs.) and pound out 20 to 25 HR, the bottom of the Blue Jays' batting order could outproduce any other team's.
Although Ruiz is a 32-year-old “rookie,” he appears to be a late bloomer who could give the Jays another big bat at an economy price for the next three or four years.
Rod Barajas: No. 9 Slot
Last season, Jays catchers hit 22 home runs and batted in 90. Barajas was responsible for 80 percent of that output. No other team's No. 9 hole can match those numbers.
Next time: Commentary on the Jays' pitching potential in 2010.