The Blue Jays finished the 2009 season with a surprisingly-decent 75-87 record, but it is really hard to imagine they can come close to repeating that performance this year.
Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos traded long-time ace, Roy Halladay (17-10, 2.79), this winter as part of a three-team trade. He then flipped one of the prospects received in the Halladay trade (OF Michael Taylor) for another prospect (3B Brett Wallace). Those deals came on the heals of a pair of deals that shipped 3B Scott Rolen and OF Alex Rios out of town last summer.
While those deals will certainly pay off over the long-term, they are not expected to do a lot to help the Jays avoid the division basement in 2010.
And Trader-Alex likely isn't done. It seems likely that he will trade 1B Lyle Overbay as soon as he can get something more than a bucket of baseballs in exchange (thus opening a roster spot for prospect Wallace, who is being switched across the diamond from third base).
This will be an ugly year in Toronto, but my sense is Jays fans will be relatively patient as the team is re-loading for the future. At some point this year, prospects like Wallace and pitchers Kyle Drabek and Zach Stewart (obtained in the Rolen deal) will assume roster spots and begin contributing regularly. At that point, the franchise should turn the corner and start a slow and steady climb towards relevancy; but not until then.
Notable Additions: C John Buck, P Dana Eveland, SS Alex Gonzalez, P Kevin Gregg, P Brandon Morrow
Notable Subtractions: C Rod Barajas, P Roy Halladay, P Brandon League, 1B Kevin Millar, SS Marco Scutaro
Key Performer, 2010: Brandon Morrow
With apologies to the incumbents, the rotation may be the worst in baseball. RHP Shaun Marcum has been named the Opening Day starter even though he missed all of last year after Tommy John surgery (in September, 2008).
THAT says everything that needs to be said about the rotation. Righty Brandon Morrow (2-4, 4.39), acquired from the Mariners in the Halladay trade, has tremendous talent but has not begun to scratch the surface of his potential.
The rest of the rotation will consist of southpaws. Ricky Romero (13-9, 4.30) started last season well but was brutal in the second half. Was it a case of him tiring in his first big league season or did the league catch up to him the second time around? Veteran Brian Tallett (7-9, 5.34) has spent most of his career pitching out of the bullpen and was slow to adjust to the demands of being in the rotation. Mark Rzepczynski (2-4, 3.67 in 11 appearances) had the most success of any of the Blue Jays three rookie southpaws; but, as with the others, it remains to be seen what he is capable over the course of an entire season.
The final option for the rotation is Brett Cecil (7-4, 5.30) experienced some measure of success in the minor leagues that didn't translate into success in his rookie campaign. He will begin the 2010 season in the minor leagues, but may be called on before too long.
The bullpen is a mess heading into 2010. That's not to say it's devoid of talent... it's just that no one knows how things will work themselves out.
The ball club signed free agent Kevin Gregg (5-6, 4.72, 23 Saves with the Cubs) during the winter to be their closer, but he will not start the season in that role. Ninth-inning responsibilities will be the domain of Jason Fraser (7-3, 2.50, 11 S) - at least at the start of the year. And then there is the matter of what to do with southpaw Scott Downs (1-3, 3.09, 9 S).
Of the three, whoever isn't the closer will serve as setup men. RHPs Jeremy Accardo (0-0, 2.55) and Shawn Camp (2-6, 3.50) and LHP Jesse Carlson (1-6, 4.66) will pitch in middle relief.
RF Jose Bautista (.235, .349 OBP, 13 HR, 40 RBI) is slated to bat lead-off... if that is the case, he will be the worst lead-off hitter in either league. 2B Aaron Hill (.286/36/108) and Designated Hitter Adam Lind (.305/35/114) each had breakout seasons in '09 and will need to have repeat performances this season if the Jays offense hopes to overcome the paucity of pitching.
DH Vernon Wells (.260/16/66) will bat clean up. His performance has trended good/bad/good/bad over the last four season; therefore, it's possible he's in for a better year. 1B Lyle Overbay (.265/16/64) is on the trade block, but he'll offer some protection for Wells between now and then. Third base is no longer being manned by Rolen. Edwin Encarnacion (.225/13/39 in Cincinnati and Toronto last season) will take over and bat sixth.
The lower third of the batting order consists of LF Travis Snider (.241/9/29 in 241 ABs), C John Buck (.247/8/36 in just 186 ABs) and SS Alex Gonzalez (.238/8/41 in Cinci and Boston).
Overall, it may be the worst lineup in the American League.
The Blue Jays recent travails cost former GM (and Massachusetts native) JP Ricciardi his job. New GM Alex Anthopoulos has begun the distasteful process of trading away the high-priced veterans, which means it is quite possible both Wells and Overbay will join former teammates Halladay and Rios on their way out of town by mid-season.
If both players are kept the Jays MIGHT finish in fourth place... so it would make sense to continue the reconstruction of the team by shipping both elsewhere and saving some money at the same time.
SOX1Forecast: 68-94, 5th place.
Toronto Blue Jays -- Top Five Prospects
1. P Kyle Drabek
2. 1B Brett Wallace
3. P Zach Stewart
4. C Travis D'Arnaud
5. C JP Arencibia