Room for Hope (Blue Jays Review)

The Toronto Blue Jays are a part of what has become known as the worst sport city in the world and are a major contributor to that. The Blue Jays have been out of the playoffs since 1993 which was the last World Series they won. Now of course this is nowhere near some of the streaks that stand in the MLB like the 103 seasons that the Chicago Cubs have gone without a World Series. The Jays are now at 17 seasons but it doesn’t help that in Toronto if you don’t win you will get overshadowed by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Although the Jays have not been very successful there seems to be a shift for the Jays that is giving some fans a reason for hope. The Jays have been on the rise since hiring Alex Anthopoulos as the general manager in 2009. Anthopoulos has changed the Jays in every aspect of the team including the increase of scouts for the Jays that has provided some great prospects.  With this change the Jays have begun to climb slowly but surely back into the minds of the MLB community. With the addition of some surprise all-stars and a lot of young talent the Jays have given their fans something to talk about. With the new faces in the team the Fans are coming back as the Jays have seen an increase in fans from 1,495,482 last year to 1,818,103 this year. The Jays are becoming relevant again and it is in large part due to Anthopoulos who has started to change the attitude for baseball fans in Toronto and it looks like a bright future ahead. Of course this did not translate this year for the Jays as they struggled through their division schedule and were a very up and down team throughout the 2011 season. The season ended in a bit of a disappointment as the Jays went 81-81 finishing with fewer wins than in 2010. Although they went slightly backwards there were plenty of bright spots and here is my look at the Jays and their future based on this year.

Infield

The infield for the Jays is beginning to shape up for the better after years of instability that has seen some big names come and go. The Jays are showing that their farm system is working through trades and drafts. The Catcher is an essential part to the infield as it is the QB of the infield directing everyone to where they need. This year the future of the position made good on the promises that many in the Jays organization had made. J.P Arencibia has shown that not only can he hit but he is also a more than capable on the defensive side of the ball. Along with Arencibia the Jays will need to make a decision as to whether they will resign Jose Molina or bring up one of their top prospects to fill a backup role. Arencibia has solidified his spot on the squad and should be there next year as well. The first baseman position was a change in 2011 as the Blue Jays moved Adam Lind to the position to replace the departed Lyle Overbay. Lind seemed very comfortable in the position as he recovered from a bad 2010 campaign by playing every day and providing a problem for pitchers in the batting order behind Jose Bautista. Lind seems to have found his place on the team and the Jays can now know that they have a solid glove and a great bat in the lineup at first base. Moving to the centre infield where the changes where much greater as Aaron Hill struggled this year and was traded to the Diamondbacks for Kelly Johnson. Johnson is a free agent after the season as well as Aaron Hill who the Jays traded. Don’t expect Hill to come back and Johnson may not be back either as the Jays may be looking outside for some help or internally for a replacement. There are a number of good free agents including Robinson Cano and Brandon Phillips and a move could be made to bring John MacDonald back and make him the 2nd baseman. The rest of the middle infield is solid for now as Yunel Escobar has done his job well but will have a young Adeiny Hechavarria waiting in Triple A to take the Shortstop position. Escobar will be on a short rope if Hechavarria can continue to prove that his is the future as he motors through every level of the system. Meanwhile the 3rd base position is probably the most exciting as the Jays received something that they have been waiting for. Late in the year the Jays called up a young B.C. native name Brett Lawrie and were excited about him since receiving him in a trade involving Shaun Marcum. Lawrie showed why he was one of the best prospects in the system coming out to a great start and electrifying fans with his passion. The 3rd base is locked up for a while as long as the Jays can keep Lawrie and having a Canadian kid as one of the more marketable stars on the team can’t hurt the only Canadian team. The Jays infield is pretty solid with a few questions to be answered in the middle infield. The Jays have been able to make moves to shore up their infield that paid off in 2011 and could be a major strength in the coming years.

Outfield

The Outfield for the Jays has a number of questions but they are not questions of trying to find someone who can play. Instead the questions are if they have enough spots for the potential great players in the system and in the big club. Jose Bautista had a brief stint at 3rd base this year but handed the spot to Lawrie when he was called up. Bautista struggled at third and is much more comfortable in right field where he can make the diving plays and the great throws he is becoming known for. Of course there is no question that Bautista will be the centre of the Blue Jays for years to come after signing a contract to keep him a Blue Jay for a long time. Bautista is the heart and the leader of the team and once again beat out the entire MLB for the HR title as he continues to be the best player on the Jays. Meanwhile in the centre of the outfield the Jays got someone who they have been wanting for years as they traded for Colby Rasmus at the trade deadline. Rasmus did not overly impress in his short stint with the Jays but Anthopoulos has seen something in him and will give him plenty of time to develop with the Jays. The biggest question will be in Left field where Eric Thames and Travis Snider will be looking for their opportunity. This year Thames took over the starting job and did a great job at it making Snider’s return to the club questionable. Along with Snider the jays have a number of good players that could take the spot. The battle may turn out to be much deeper with Adam Loewen, Mark Teahan, and DeWayne Wise all wanting their shot at the outfield but really only one spot available. The outfield for the Jays this year was figured out with the addition of Colby Rasmus to replace Vernon Wells and Eric Thames proving that he is capable of playing in the big show. It will be interesting to see what happens next year in the outfield as a number of players would like to be the starter but with Bautista and Rasmus taking two of the three positions Thames will need to fend off everyone to keep his spot.

Rotation

The Jays’ biggest problem is the pitching as they have traded away both of their aces in the last two years. Roy Halladay and Shaun Marcum were both traded for some key prospects that are beginning to pan out. The ace job was given to Ricky Romero who stepped in with a career performance and became one of the top pitchers in the AL. Romero handled his job well solidifying his spot atop the Jays rotation and silencing many doubters. Meanwhile behind him came a number of formerly injured pitchers that were trying to make their comeback. Brandon Morrow came in early in the season and proved to be a great shut down pitcher throughout the season. The top two spots in the rotation were very solid throughout the season but the rest of the rotation saw some major changes. With Brett Cecil struggling the Jays tried a number of different pitchers including Kyle Drabek, Luis Perez, Carlos Villanueva, and Henderson Alvarez. Out of all of these pitchers the best performances came through Villanueva, who had a great start but began to slow down until he went on IR for the season, as well as Henderson Alvarez. Alvarez was very impressive after being called up late in the season and could be back next year at the bottom of the rotation. Meanwhile The late return of Dustin McGowan seemed to throw another hat into the ring for next year’s rotation. As of now it seems that the top of the rotation is fine but could use a shut down starter as their ace even though Romero was able to handle himself very well. The answer could come from China as the Blue Jays are one of the front-runners to sign Chinese pitcher Yu Darvish who could provide some needed support for the rotation. Expect Romero, Morrow, Alvarez, McGowan, and possibly Villanueva or a new signing to fill out the rotation next year.

Bullpen

The weakest point for the Jays in 2011 was the bullpen as the Jays continued to find it hard to find a closer. The job was to Jason Frasor, Jon Rauch, and Frank Francisco and after Frasor was traded Rauch and Francisco started their battle. Neither of them did anything to show that they could be the closer as the Jays continued to look into find a new one. The rest of the bullpen did not help much either as there was no consistency in the performances that led to many blown games that the Jays could have won. The one main bright spot for the Jays was the performance of Casey Janssen who separated himself from the rest of the bullpen with great games in relief. The big mistake would be making him a closer as they need to keep him as a short relief pitcher. Next year the Jays will make a lot of moves in the bullpen as there will be some new faces. Of course there are also a number of good relievers on the free agent list that the Jays could go for including Heath Bell, Kyle Farnsworth, and Jonathan Papelbon. The Jays will be looking to sign some relief pitchers but will also look to their system to find their new bullpen. Expect big changes in the bullpen and yet another year trying to find a closer in 2012.

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