The main thing that went wrong with the Blue Jays offense last year was injuries.
Nobody ever likes to use that as an excuse, but with the Jays ’07 team it was getting to the point where it was hard not to feel sympathetic.
Vernon Wells struggled with a shoulder problem all year, Troy Glaus had ankle issues that were constantly re-aggravated, Lyle Overbay broke his hand, and leadoff man Reed Johnson missed the first half of the season after back surgery.
Assuming everyone is coming back healthy this year, the Jays batting order looks to be a pretty formidable threat, even in the ridiculously stacked American League East.
After GM J.P. Riccardi said the Jays wouldn’t be overly active in the off-season he went ahead and made two moves that significantly helped solidify the batting order.
First was the free agent signing of short-stop David Eckstein. Now, most Jays fans were heartbroken when they saw this signing because they knew it meant that the lovable John McDonald would be reduced to a back-up role once again.
While McDonald is a magician on defense and still should see regular time late in games, his batting prowess leaves much to be desired as he hit .251 with a mere .279 on-base percentage. Eckstein, on the other hand, hit a solid .309 last year with a .356 on-base percentage and will square off with Reed Johnson in training camp to see who establishes themselves as the team’s lead-off man.
The next move the Jays made was a straight up trade of third baseman Troy Glaus for fellow hot-corner counterpart Scott Rolen.
This trade would seem to work in the Jays’ favour as it takes Glaus’ inconsistent power bat out of the lineup and substitutes Rolen’s much higher .283 career batting average and better base-running into a lineup that already has power in Wells, Alex Rios, and Frank Thomas. However like Glaus, Rolen struggled through injuries last year and had surgery on his non-throwing shoulder this off-season, so only time will tell if he can be as effective at the plate as hoped.
Otherwise the Jays’ lineup is fairly similar and fans can probably expect the same sort of output, if not better, from the guys they’re used to seeing like Rios, Aaron Hill, Gregg Zaun and Matt Stairs.
One area that also shouldn’t be overlooked is the coaching changes on the Jays roster.
Gary Denbo was brought over from the Yankees’ organization to replace Mickey Brantley as hitting coach, and has already started looking over tapes and working with a number of players. Since Derek Jeter praises this guy, he’s probably an all right pick-up and hopefully will help bring some consistency to this Jays team, if nothing else.
Also, Brian Butterfield is taking over the Bench Coach role from Ernie Whitt. For those who don’t know, Butterfield was also poached from the Yankees’ organization and orchestrated Aaron Hill’s beautiful straight-steal of home last year against his former employers. He is very knowledgeable of the game and should be able to keep the painful John Gibbons/Ernie Whitt tactical errors from last year, such as players batting out of order (twice), to a minimum.
One of the trouble spots the Jays should show some concern for is the fact that they have very few quality left-handed bats in the lineup. Out of the players who will see regular time, Overbay and Stairs are the only true lefties, while catcher Gregg Zaun can switch hit.
This lack of left side power could cause problems against some of the more dominant right-handed pitchers the team faces, especially the likes of the Red Sox’s Josh Beckett or the dominant young righties of the Yankees.
Also, while the Jays’ lineup seemed to feast on bullpen pitching and made numerous late game comebacks last year, there was a tendency to struggle against starting pitching.
While this may not be a problem against teams like Tampa Bay who have embarrassingly little talent in their bullpens, teams like Boston, LA or Seattle with strong starters and lights-out closers could leave the Blue Jays struggling with a few poor plate performances now and then.
Nick’s Projected Opening Day Batting Order
David Eckstien, Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, Frank Thomas, Lyle Overbay, Scott Rolen, Aaron Hill, Gregg Zaun, Reed Johnson.