Toronto Blue Jays 2010 preview

There is one thing the Blue Jays don’t have to worry about this season: high expectations. When they traded ace Roy Halladay, they pretty much gave up on what already were slim chances of contending. Toronto enters spring training with a reduced payroll, a rotation to be determined, an unsettled situation at closer, uncertainty at the corner outfield spots and questions about whether its highest-paid player, Vernon Wells, can bounce back. It isn’t a good formula to compete in the AL East.

Three questions

Can Veron Wells regain the form that made him a 2006 All-Star?
Can Veron Wells regain the form that made him a 2006 All-Star?

1. Who will take over for Halladay?

No one, of course. Halladay arguably has been the game’s best starter over the past decade. The Jays now don’t have a pitcher who has thrown 200 innings in a season. Subtract Halladay’s 2.79 ERA, and Toronto’s rotation had a 5.28 ERA in 2009.

The Jays are opting for quantity over quality, having invited more than 30 pitchers to major league camp. Seemingly half will be given a chance to start (the Jays used 12 starters last season). Plus, Shaun Marcum is healthy after missing all of ’09 and the Jays traded for two other candidates, Brandon Morrow and Dana Eveland.

Only lefthander Ricky Romero is guaranteed a rotation spot, but pitching coach Bruce Walton is excited about Morrow. "He has electric stuff and he’s a fierce competitor," Walton said. "I think he just needs to find out who he is — what his game style is — and he’s just going to take off."

2. Can Wells get well?
Wells emerged as one of the game’s top center fielders in 2006, when he made the All-Star team, hit .303 with 32 homers and 106 RBIs, won a Gold Glove and signed a huge extension. But in the three seasons since, he has regressed. Big time. Last season was a low point: a .260/.311/.400 stat line with 15 homers and 66 RBIs (both career lows).

What happened? At 31, Wells isn’t too old. Wrist, leg and shoulder injuries, however, have aged him. Wells played 158 games last season but was bothered by a sore left wrist that required offseason surgery. Compounding his struggles: He isn’t being paid like an over-the-hill veteran. The Jays owe him $107 million over the next five seasons, and though they were able to shed Halladay’s and Alex Rios’ big salaries, they likely are stuck with Wells’.

3. So, what’s to like?

New general manager Alex Anthopoulos has impressed his colleagues with his plan to boost the size of Toronto’s scouting department. But that strategy won’t pay off for a while. Likewise, it likely will take a year or two for top prospects Brett Wallace and Kyle Drabek, both acquired in the offseason, to make an impact.

For this season, the Jays will feature a lineup that includes two of the league’s top sluggers, second baseman Aaron Hill (36 homers, 108 RBIs) and DH Adam Lind (35 homers, 114 RBIs). Though Travis Snider struggled as a rookie, he is only 22 and the Jays are hoping he can lock down a starting outfield job during spring training. Finally, the Jays believe Romero can continue to develop into a top-of-the-rotation starter.

Projected lineup
1. RF Jose Bautista. Career-best .349 OBP in ’09.
2. 2B Aaron Hill. Career-high 36 HRs in comeback season.
3. DH Adam Lind. Slugger might hit cleanup if Wells slumps.
4. CF Vernon Wells. .214 AVG, .348 SLG at home.
5. 1B Lyle Overbay. .838 OPS was his best since ’06.
6. 3B Edwin Encarnacion. .240 AVG with Jays, .209 with Reds.
7. C John Buck. Has career .298 OBP.
8. LF Travis Snider. ’09 struggles led to Class AAA demotion.
9. SS Alex Gonzalez. Hit .284 with Red Sox, .210 with Reds.

Projected rotation
1. LHP Ricky Romero. 178 IP, 4.30 ERA in rookie season.
2. RHP Shaun Marcum. Missed ’09 after Tommy John surgery.
3. RHP Brandon Morrow. 3.68 ERA in 10 starts with Seattle.
4. LHP Brian Tallet. 5.41 ERA in 25 starts in ’09.
5. RHP Scott Richmond. Sore shoulder led to 5.52 ERA. (UPDATE: Richmond will begin the season on the disabled list.)

Projected closer
RHP Kevin Gregg. Has edge over Jason Frasor, Scott Downs. (UPDATE: Frasor won the job.)

Grades

Offense. B. Hill and Lind formed one of the most productive duos in the AL last year. They should get more help this season because Wells reportedly is healthy, Snider is a year older and Lyle Overbay is in a contract year.

Pitching. C. There is no shortage of good arms among the rotation candidates, but there is a huge lack of experience. And growing up in the AL East isn’t easy. One problem with having three closer candidates: It typically means each has an issue that prevents him from being the main guy.

Bench. C. John McDonald remains one of the game’s best utility players, and Randy Ruiz showed good power in limited opportunities. The addition of speedster Joey Gathright could boost a thin outfield, and the catcher depth is even thinner as a career backup enters spring training as the starer. (UPDATE: The Jays released Gathright last week.)

Manager. C. Cito Gaston won two World Series with the Jays in the early 1990s, but his old-school approach didn’t play well in 2009. As Gaston enters his final season in the dugout, the Jays could rally around him or they could mail it in and wait for the next guy.

Sporting News prediction: Their rotation lacks experience, their offense lacks a true leadoff hitter and their payroll lacks the oomph needed to hang with the big boys in the AL East. It will be a surprise if the Jays finish anywhere but last.

Coming Friday: Orioles preview.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

There is one thing the Blue Jays don’t have to worry about this season: high expectations. When they traded ace Roy Halladay, they pretty much gave up on what already were slim chances of contending. Toronto enters spring training with a reduced payroll, a rotation to be determined, an unsettled situation at closer, uncertainty at the corner outfield spots and questions about whether its highest-paid player, Vernon Wells, can bounce back. It isn’t a good formula to compete in the AL East.

Three questions

Can Veron Wells regain the form that made him a 2006 All-Star?
Can Veron Wells regain the form that made him a 2006 All-Star?

1. Who will take over for Halladay?

No one, of course. Halladay arguably has been the game’s best starter over the past decade. The Jays now don’t have a pitcher who has thrown 200 innings in a season. Subtract Halladay’s 2.79 ERA, and Toronto’s rotation had a 5.28 ERA in 2009.

The Jays are opting for quantity over quality, having invited more than 30 pitchers to major league camp. Seemingly half will be given a chance to start (the Jays used 12 starters last season). Plus, Shaun Marcum is healthy after missing all of ’09 and the Jays traded for two other candidates, Brandon Morrow and Dana Eveland.

Only lefthander Ricky Romero is guaranteed a rotation spot, but pitching coach Bruce Walton is excited about Morrow. "He has electric stuff and he’s a fierce competitor," Walton said. "I think he just needs to find out who he is — what his game style is — and he’s just going to take off."

2. Can Wells get well?
Wells emerged as one of the game’s top center fielders in 2006, when he made the All-Star team, hit .303 with 32 homers and 106 RBIs, won a Gold Glove and signed a huge extension. But in the three seasons since, he has regressed. Big time. Last season was a low point: a .260/.311/.400 stat line with 15 homers and 66 RBIs (both career lows).

What happened? At 31, Wells isn’t too old. Wrist, leg and shoulder injuries, however, have aged him. Wells played 158 games last season but was bothered by a sore left wrist that required offseason surgery. Compounding his struggles: He isn’t being paid like an over-the-hill veteran. The Jays owe him $107 million over the next five seasons, and though they were able to shed Halladay’s and Alex Rios’ big salaries, they likely are stuck with Wells’.

3. So, what’s to like?

New general manager Alex Anthopoulos has impressed his colleagues with his plan to boost the size of Toronto’s scouting department. But that strategy won’t pay off for a while. Likewise, it likely will take a year or two for top prospects Brett Wallace and Kyle Drabek, both acquired in the offseason, to make an impact.

For this season, the Jays will feature a lineup that includes two of the league’s top sluggers, second baseman Aaron Hill (36 homers, 108 RBIs) and DH Adam Lind (35 homers, 114 RBIs). Though Travis Snider struggled as a rookie, he is only 22 and the Jays are hoping he can lock down a starting outfield job during spring training. Finally, the Jays believe Romero can continue to develop into a top-of-the-rotation starter.

Projected lineup
1. RF Jose Bautista. Career-best .349 OBP in ’09.
2. 2B Aaron Hill. Career-high 36 HRs in comeback season.
3. DH Adam Lind. Slugger might hit cleanup if Wells slumps.
4. CF Vernon Wells. .214 AVG, .348 SLG at home.
5. 1B Lyle Overbay. .838 OPS was his best since ’06.
6. 3B Edwin Encarnacion. .240 AVG with Jays, .209 with Reds.
7. C John Buck. Has career .298 OBP.
8. LF Travis Snider. ’09 struggles led to Class AAA demotion.
9. SS Alex Gonzalez. Hit .284 with Red Sox, .210 with Reds.

Projected rotation
1. LHP Ricky Romero. 178 IP, 4.30 ERA in rookie season.
2. RHP Shaun Marcum. Missed ’09 after Tommy John surgery.
3. RHP Brandon Morrow. 3.68 ERA in 10 starts with Seattle.
4. LHP Brian Tallet. 5.41 ERA in 25 starts in ’09.
5. RHP Scott Richmond. Sore shoulder led to 5.52 ERA. (UPDATE: Richmond will begin the season on the disabled list.)

Projected closer
RHP Kevin Gregg. Has edge over Jason Frasor, Scott Downs. (UPDATE: Frasor won the job.)

Grades

Offense. B. Hill and Lind formed one of the most productive duos in the AL last year. They should get more help this season because Wells reportedly is healthy, Snider is a year older and Lyle Overbay is in a contract year.

Pitching. C. There is no shortage of good arms among the rotation candidates, but there is a huge lack of experience. And growing up in the AL East isn’t easy. One problem with having three closer candidates: It typically means each has an issue that prevents him from being the main guy.

Bench. C. John McDonald remains one of the game’s best utility players, and Randy Ruiz showed good power in limited opportunities. The addition of speedster Joey Gathright could boost a thin outfield, and the catcher depth is even thinner as a career backup enters spring training as the starer. (UPDATE: The Jays released Gathright last week.)

Manager. C. Cito Gaston won two World Series with the Jays in the early 1990s, but his old-school approach didn’t play well in 2009. As Gaston enters his final season in the dugout, the Jays could rally around him or they could mail it in and wait for the next guy.

Sporting News prediction: Their rotation lacks experience, their offense lacks a true leadoff hitter and their payroll lacks the oomph needed to hang with the big boys in the AL East. It will be a surprise if the Jays finish anywhere but last.

Coming Friday: Orioles preview.

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

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