The Toronto Blue Jays had a terrible season, an okay season, and a great season, depending on how you look at it.
They had a brutal pitching season, both starters and relievers. Since pitching is half the game, it is easy to call it a terrible pitching year. Offensively, the Jays had some good (Bautista, Lawrie) and some bad (Lind, Hill, center field in general).
Now is the time to evaluate Toronto's season; the good, the bad, the holes, needs and strengths to move forward.
The Blue Jays, like every team, have strengths, weaknesses, positives and negatives. Determining what those is easy from the television, but what to do about them is less simple.
First, strengths. Jose Bautista is one of the best hitters in Major League Baseball. This past season he became even better. Bautista improved his average and on-base percentage and won his second Hank Aaron award and second Silver Slugger. He provides above-average defense in right field and can play third if necessary. Bautista is a major strength for this team.
Ricky Romero took his pitching to the next level this year, establishing himself as a solid, front-of-the-rotation starter and a potential ace moving forward. Romero looks to become a top-of-the-rotation starter at worst, a staff ace at best.
Those two players are essentially the on-field strengths of the Blue Jays. The front office and farm system are also strong but don't need to be improved this offseason.
There are far more weaknesses than strengths though, but that makes sense for a young, .500 team that missed the playoffs.
Catcher, first base, second base, left field, center field, top of the rotation and the bullpen are all areas of weakness.
JP Arencibia, as a rookie catcher, was a weakness for the Jays in the rotation, defense and calling games. However, he is young, has improved by leaps and bounds this season, has demonstrated his ability to hit in every level he has played, and is the catcher of the future. Arencibia was a weakness last season, but he has the potential to be a strength very soon.
Adam Lind's first season at first base was supposed to provide an opportunity for him to be in the game completely, instead of just focusing on his at-bats. The move would fill the Jays' hole at first and open up the DH spot. The trade-off of Lind's defense for his 2009 numbers would be well worth it.
Unfortunately, his 2011 season was no better than 2010, resulting in a below-average defender and hitter for Lind's position. While Lind can still serve as first baseman next season, he is a weakness.
Second base was manned by Aaron Hill, then traded for Kelly Johnson. Both had tough seasons, but both are good players.
Johnson's numbers improved upon arrival, but his designation as a Type A free agent complicates matters. Is it better to let him walk and get the pick, or to resign him? It's a good problem to have, but it breaks down that no one mans the middle for the Jays.
Left field was Travis Snider's to lose, and he did. Eric Thames, Corey Patterson and Snider platooned for parts of the season before Snider was sent down and Thames took over. He is a below-average defender with an average bat, but he has potential to be a plus bat.
Thames and Snider will battle again in spring training, but neither player figures to be a strength this season, though both do have the potential. The recent news that Edwin Encarnacion will be trying to add left field to his repertoire does not suggest a lot of confidence in Thames or Snider.
Center field was a weakness all year for the Jays, but with the late season addition of Colby Rasmus from the Cardinals, it could be a solution going forward.
The starting rotation was supposed to take a step forward this season, but youth and inexperience are unreliable.
The performances of Brandon Morrow and Brett Cecil were not what the team needed. Kyle Drabek inexplicably lost the strike zone, causing a mishmash of players to take the ball. Henderson Alvarez, despite recording a 1-2 record in 10 starts, demonstrated serious potential.
If even two of Alvarez, Drabek, Morrow or Cecil could have a bounce-back season, the rotation would be noticeably better. That is a major if, and an inning eater pitching in the start of the rotation would provide consistency and reliability that was missing in 2011.
The bullpen was not just a weakness; it was an unmitigated disaster. The bullpen needs a closer, is weak in lefties, and basically lacks quality arms. Any improvement, even reclamation signings of old arms with the hope of turning garbage into gold, would be a positive.
What should the Jays focus on this off-season?
What to do this season
What the Jays do this season depends on many things. Alex Anthopolous and his staff have to prioritize and determine what is the greatest need, what the system can provide, and the budget available. Since we don't have any knowledge of the inside workings, this is all speculation.
Option 1) Pitching, pitching and pitching
Ace-starting pitching is missing this season. CC Sabathia has re-upped with the Yankees, and there are no true aces available. There are some good starting pitchers: Texas pitcher CJ Wilson, Chicago's Mark Buerle, and St. Louis' Edwin Jackson.
Wilson will be pricey, especially if the Yankees or Red Sox join the bidding, but Buerle would be an excellent though still expensive option. Jackson has amazing stuff, but his inconsistencies are exactly what Toronto is trying to avoid.
Yu Darvish has been tied to the Blue Jays, but with a cost of around $100 million for an unproven pitcher, he is a major risk. Anthopolous believes the Jays need to take on the high-risk, high-reward players to compete in the AL East, but that amount of money may be too much for the Jays.
Option 2) First Base
This is the option I like the most, simply because it would be the most exciting and fun to watch. The first base market has two of the very best in the Majors in Pujols and Fielders, and Cincinnati has not ruled out a trade of Joey Votto.
The Jays could not only provide a spark to the fan base and prove their willingness to battle for the playoffs, but the idea of the 3-4 hitters in the lineup joining up with Bautista would be unbelievable to watch.
This is an expensive option, but an exciting and entertaining option—one which would invigorate the fanbase and demonstrate that the Blue Jays have arrived as a contender.
Option 3) Small Additions
This is the most likely option. The Jays feel they have a complete infield and outfield, with the exception of second. They want to add options to the bullpen, sign or trade for some pitching options, improve the bench, and let the young players develop for 2013 and the new wild card spot.
Anthopolous has stated that the team will explore the trade market before the free agent market. President Paul Beeston has said the team will not be giving out seven-year contracts, so Pujols, Wilson, and Fielder may all be out of reach.
If the Blue Jays succeed in everything they attempt, the result of this offseason would be a lesser end starting pitcher, a trade for a young yet controllable hitter, a second baseman, and some bullpen help.
The Blue Jays have the potential to be one of the most exciting teams this offseason, with needs, a budget, and a team on the rise.
But do not expect such. The Jays are playing smart, not exciting. This will be better in the long run, but makes for a long offseason.