The Blue Jays have undergone great change the last few years and the franchise has taken on a new, fresher look for the 2011 season.
Gone are players like Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay, Scott Downs, Kevin Gregg, and, from a season ago, Roy “Doc” Halladay. In their place are a younger, cheaper players who are hopefully the long-term solution for the Jays going forward.
General Manager Alex Anthopolous’ plan began to take shape once he managed to deal Halladay for super-prospect Kyle Drabek and prospects Travis D’Arnaud and Michael Taylor. He then parlayed Taylor off to Oakland for first baseman Brett Wallace. Wallace, after a half year or so playing in the organization, was shipped off to Houston for prospect Anthony Gose—who was just acquired from Philadelphia as part of the package that landed the Phillies ace starter Roy Oswalt.
Did that sound like a lot of work just to acquire what you wanted for Halladay? Probably, but the Jays are better long-term because of that deal.
Anthopolous’ aim was to cut payroll and try and have a team full of manageable and controllable contracts. Halfway through spring training, the payroll is in place and the Jays are controllable pretty well everywhere on their roster.
What started with dealing Halladay has turned into a full organization overhaul. Vernon Wells was shipped out for Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera. Napoli was then sent to Texas for reliever Frank Francisco. This move was made to relieve the stress Wells’s contract put on the Blue Jays payroll. Wells was expected to make around $23 million dollars this season, and $21 million in the following three seasons according to ESPN.com.
When Wells signed the contract at the time, its value trailed only those of Alex Rodriguez ($252 million), Derek Jeter ($189 million), Manny Ramirez ($160 million), Todd Helton ($141.5 million) and Alfonso Soriano ($136 million) for the highest paid players in the majors.
No. 1 starter Shaun Marcum was also dealt in the offseason for second baseman Brett Lawrie, a Canadian top prospect who has been on the Jays’ radar since he was drafted just one selection before their pick in 2008 that they used on first baseman David Cooper.
The club also brought in former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell to take over for former manager Cito Gaston, as Gaston decided to retire following last season. Gaston, the Jays most notable and successful manager in the team’s history, helped guide an overachieving, powerful Jays team to an 85-77 record last season.
Heading into spring training with a new, younger, and quicker team, with the additions Anthopolous made to a very slow, strikeout prone Jays lineup last season.
OF Rajai Davis (trade with Oakland), OF Scott Podsednik (minor league contract, FA), OF Corey Patterson (minor league contract, FA), RP Frank Francisco (trade with Texas), RP Jon Rauch (FA signing, Minnesota), RP Octavio Dotel (FA signing, Los Angeles), OF Juan Rivera (trade with Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim), RP Carlos Villanueva (trade with Milwaukee), 2B/3B Brett Lawrie (trade with Milwaukee).
OF Vernon Wells (trade with Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim), RP Scott Downs (FA signing, LA Angels), RP Kevin Gregg (FA signing, Baltimore), C John Buck (FA signing, Florida), Lyle Overbay (FA signing, Pittsburgh), SP Shaun Marcum (trade with Milwaukee), SP/RP Brian Tallet (free agent signing, St. Louis), OF Fred Lewis (FA signing, Cincinnati), RP Jeremy Accardo (FA signing, Baltimore), RP Taylor Buchholz (FA signing, New York Mets), OF DeWayne Wise (FA signing, Florida), IF Jarrett Hoffpauir (FA signing, San Diego), SP Shawn Hill (FA signing, Florida), C Miguel Olivo (FA signing, Seattle)
Clearly, the Jays are looking at building from within. They decided to cut loose a number of players via free agency, with the hopes of acquiring compensatory draft picks in return. To Anthopolous’ delight, the Jays right now have seven picks within the first 78 picks in the 2011 MLB Rookie Draft. This year’s draft class is supposedly very deep, so you can tell why the GM was so keen on getting those picks in return.
The additions give the Jays much more speed throughout the lineup. A new found approach to baseball ushered in by Farrell means the Jays will be using more small ball tactics, as opposed to relying on their power bats to score runs. Going this route will likely mean a more exciting brand of baseball for the 2011 season.
CF Rajai Davis
SS Yunel Escobar
1B/DH Adam Lind
3B/RF Jose Bautista
2B Aaron Hill
LF Travis Snider
RF Juan Rivera
DH/1B Edwin Encarnacion
C/DH J.P. Arencibia
C Jose Molina
2B/SS/3B John MacDonald
OF Scott Podsednik
OF Corey Patterson
The Jays lineup appears to be set for the 2011 season. Right now they are in between carrying eight bullpen pitchers or four positional bench players. One of Podsednik or Patterson will be released once the season begins. After the game at Tropicana Field on March 30th, we will likely know the direction Farrell and his team will go.
SP Ricky Romero
SP Brandon Morrow
SP Brett Cecil
SP Kyle Drabek
SP Jesse Litsch
The Jays rotation looks to be taking shape. Gone is Shaun Marcum and in his place permanently appears to be Kyle Drabek, who saw only limited innings in his early debut with the Jays. He will hopefully be a top rookie this season.
The rotation also sees the return of Jesse Litsch, who is having a great spring for the Jays. How long that lasts will be anyone’s guess. Aaron Hill said hitting Litsch’s sinker was like hitting a bowling ball, so hopefully the downward movement on Litsch’s pitches stays with him throughout the year.
Scott Richmond and Jo Jo Reyes, the other 2 vying for a spot in the rotation will likely have to battle it out for a spot in the bullpen.
Closer: Frank Francisco
Set-Up: Octavio Dotel, Jason Frasor
7th Inning Guys: Jon Rauch, Shawn Camp, David Purcey
Middle Relief: Jo Jo Reyes, Carlos Villanueva, Casey Janssen
The Jays bullpen appears to be their strong suit heading into the 2011 season. With great depth and a good variety of pitchers, the starters will be in good hands giving the ball off to this bunch of guys. I italicized Janssen and Villanueva because one of these guys will likely be heading for the minors, or out of town via trade before the season begins.
Jo Jo Reyes has impressed enough this spring to garner a spot in the bullpen. Out of options, the Jays will likely keep him on the 25 man roster.
OF Juan Rivera, DH Edwin Encarnacion, RP Casey Janssen, RP Jason Frasor, RP Carlos Villanueva, RP Octavio Dotel
Heading into the season, the Jays have a number of tradeable players. According to reports, the Twins and Jays were talking Kevin Slowey, and the Twins are said to be interested in a reliever or two from the Jays.
The most likely to get dealt appear to be Juan Rivera and likely Dotel, who is having a bad start to spring training. At 37 years old, he is the grizzled old vet of the Jays, and with that said, he doesn’t appear to fit into the Jays long term plans.
The likely scenario is that he pitches the 7th or 8th innings for the Jays and garners type B free agent eligibility, giving the Jays a compensatory draft pick in the 2012 MLB Draft.
Top Fantasy Pitcher: Brandon Morrow
Top Fantasy Hitter: Jose Bautista
Fantasy Sleeper: Ricky Romero
Biggest Disappointment: C JP Arencibia
Biggest Surprise: LF Travis Snider
Best Rookie: Kyle Drabek
Blue Jays Minor League Player of the Year: Brett Lawrie
Morrow will have a larger workload this season, but he appears to be ready for it. Limited to only 146 IP last year, Morrow will likely see 200 IP this season and with his devastating fastball and filthy arsenal, Morrow will hopefully emerge as one of the AL’s most underrated pitchers.
Bautista, while not hitting his career high 54 homers again, will likely power the Jays offence. I expect around 35-40 homers this season, 100+ RBI’s, 90+ walks and a very good OPS.
Ricky Romero is the Jays ace starter and will get the ball on Opening Day, however, according to Yahoo sports, Romero is ranked 193rd among all players and is getting picked later in online drafts. To me, Romero should be going a lot earlier in drafts.
JP Arencibia right now doesn’t have his timing right at all, and personally appears to be trying to improve his game-calling skills more than his approach at the plate. Both of these traits are definitely areas of Arencibia’s game that need to improve. With that said, don't expect John Buck like numbers out of Arencibia.
Travis Snider is primed for a breakout year. He is smashing the cover off the ball in spring training, and while a strong spring doesn’t necessarily mean a strong season, he is off to a great start. Hopefully batting higher in the order this season will offer Snider more RBI opportunities. He hit 14 homers this season in about 300 AB’s, so with regular playing time, I’m expecting a powerful year out of Snider to the tune of 25-30 HR’s and 85-100 RBI’s.
Top Rookies to Watch in 2011
1. 3B Brett Lawrie: Expected to start year in Las Vegas (AAA)
2. SP Zach Stewart: Expected to start year in Las Vegas (AAA)
3. DH/OF Eric Thames: Expected to start year in Las Vegas (AAA)
4. CF Anthony Gose: Expected to start year in Dunedin (A)
5. C Carlos Perez: Expected to start year in Lansing (low A)
6. SP Deck McGuire: Expected to start year in Lansing (low A)
7. SS Adeiny Hechavarria: Expected to start year in New Hampshire with a promotion to Las Vegas (AA)
8. SP Aaron Sanchez: Expected to start year in Vancouver (SS)
9. SP Asher Wojciechowski: Expected to start year in Lansing (low A)
10. OF Jacob Marisnick: Expected to start year in Lansing (low A)
11. C Travis D’Arnaud: Expected to start year in Dunedin (A), with a promotion to New Hampshire (AA)
12. SP Henderson Alvarez: Expected to start year in New Hampshire (AA)
13. 1B David Cooper: Expected to start year in Las Vegas (AAA)
14. SP Noah Syndergaard: Expected to start year in the Gulf Coast League (GCL)
15. SP Adonis Cardona: Expected to start year in the Dominican League (DSL)