2011 Blue Jays Team Preview
by Darin Brown, RotoWire Writer
The albatross is gone, the tough division remains
The Blue Jays had a pretty active offseason as the new regime puts its places in piece, ridding themselves of the enormity of Vernon Wells' contract, but remain stuck in the brutal AL East. The Jays have been an awfully good team the last handful of years, but it's tough to get noticed among the beasts in the East. Unfortunately for Jays' fans it's more of the same this year.
Lost John Buck and Miguel Olivo to free agency; picked up the contract option on Jose Molina.
It was a foregone conclusion that the Jays weren't going to compete for Buck's services following a career year so that should come as no surprise. The Jays brought back Molina to give them a veteran option behind the plate but the catching job is going to be J.P. Arencibia's to lose.
Acquired Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera from Anaheim for Vernon Wells.
Napoli was subsequently flipped for Frank Francisco but Rivera could occupy a corner outfield spot if the Jays, who finally rid themselves of Wells' massive and seemingly untradeable contract, opt to let Jose Bautista handle the third base duties.
Lost Scott Downs, Kevin Gregg and Jeremy Accardo to free agency. Signed Jon Rauch, Octavio Dotel and Chad Cordero. Acquired Frank Francisco from the Rangers for Mike Napoli.
The Jays will feature a revamped bullpen in 2011 as notables Downs and Gregg departed. Cordero isn't likely to earn a bullpen spot this spring and could be released at the end of spring. It would appear Francisco would have the inside track on the closer position but we'll handicap the situation later on in the article.
Acquired Rajai Davis from the A's. Lost Fred Lewis to free agency.
The Jays didn't tender a contract to Lewis after the acquisition of Davis, who stands to be the team's starting center fielder following the trade of Vernon Wells.
Re-signed free agent Edwin Encarnacion.
Encarnacion spent last year with the Jays before the A's claimed him off waivers in the offseason before subsequently non-tendering him. Encarnacion figures to be the team's primary DH if Adam Lind can handle the duties at first base.
Acquired Brett Lawrie from the Bewers for Shaun Marcum.
Lawrie's an intriguing prospect, assuming he can stay at second base defensively. He'll start the season at Triple-A. The Jays will miss Marcum's presence in the starting rotation.
Lost Lyle Overbay to free agency.
The Jays are hoping that Adam Lind can make the transition to first base, making Overbay expendable.
Activated Rommie Lewis, Dustin McGowan and Jesse Litch from the 60-day DL.
All three are coming back from injuries but the only one expected to impact the Jays immediately is Litsch, who figures to compete for a rotation spot following hip surgery. There's no use worrying about McGowan until he's able to make it back onto the mound for a prolonged stretch as he continues to deal with shoulder injuries.
Outrighted Brian Tallet and DeWayne Wise to Triple-A.
Both found new homes as Tallet inked a deal with the Cardinals and Wise signed with the Marlins.
Lost Taylor Buchholz to Boston on a waiver claim.
Buchholz is trying to come back from Tommy John surgery. He was subsequently signed by the Mets after the Red Sox didn't tender him a contract.
Released Shawn Hill.
Hill saw limited action out of the bullpen as he recovered from Tommy John surgery and has signed a minor-league deal with the Marlins.
Acquired Carlos Villanueva from the Brewers.
Villanueva has had glimpses of dominance in the past but also struggles with his command and the long ball. He won't see a significant role in a revamped Toronto bullpen, particularly from the right side.
Signed Winston Abreu, Mike Hinckley, Brian Stokes, Corey Patterson, Sean Henn and Ryan Budde to minor-league contracts.
Abreu and Patterson could see some time with the Jays but figure to be mostly organizational depth.
Claimed Wil Ledezma off waivers from Pirates.
Ledezma will get a chance to earn one of the left-handed spots in the bullpen this spring but faces an uphill battle.
Lost Jarrett Hoffpauir to the Padres on a waiver claim.
Hoffpauir was looking at an uphill battle to win a bench spot in Toronto so the organizational change should help.
Lineup (vs RH/LH)
1. Rajai Davis CF
2. Yunel Escobar SS
3. Adam Lind 1B
4. Jose Bautista 3B
5. Edwin Encarnacion DH
6. Aaron Hill 2B
7. Travis Snider RF/Juan Rivera LF
8. Juan Rivera LF/Travis Snider RF
9. J.P. Arencibia C
New manager John Farrell wants the team to be more aggressive on the base paths but this team still figures to do most of its damage via the long ball. The Jays could really use rebound years out of Lind, Hill and Snider if they have any notion of contending. And of course for whatever alien pod person inhabited Jose Bautista's body last year to continue punishing fastballs.
1. Ricky Romero
2. Brandon Morrow
3. Brett Cecil
4. Kyle Drabek
5. Jesse Litsch/Marc Rzepczysnki/Zach Stewart
Ricky Romero heads the rotation following the trade of Shaun Marcum but the Jays' fortunes figure to hinge of the development of Brandon Morrow and Brett Cecil and how quickly Kyle Drabek adapts to life in the AL East. Jesse Litsch and Marc Rzepczynski are the two main combatants for the fifth spot.
CL: Frank Francisco/Octavio Dotel/Jon Rauch
It would appear that Frank Francisco would have the inside track as spring training opens but nobody has been anointed anything at this point.
Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise:
1. Should Rajai Davis owners be worried?
Davis owners had to cringe when they heard he got dealt to the Jays, who stole 58 bases last year as a team, and was potentially joining a crowded outfield picture. But with the Vernon Wells trade and with new manager John Farrell wanting to be more aggressive on the basepaths, things aren't as bleak as they first appeared for Davis owners.
2. Who emerges from the pack to close games in 2011?
The Jays enter spring training again without a crystal clear picture on their closing situation. Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch were brought it via free agency before the team acquired Frank Francisco and while all three may get looks at various points this season it would appear to be Francisco's job to lose at this point as long as he remains healthy.
3. Who winds up being the team's fifth starter?
Jesse Litsch and Marc Rzepczynski figure to do most of the battling though top prospect Zach Stewart could surprise with a strong spring. Litsch has battled injuries in each of the last two seasons and Rzepczynski's an intriguing option in formats that count strikeouts if he wins the job out of spring. Look for the more experienced Litsch to have a slight edge to help round out a young rotation.
Strengths: The Jays led the AL in homers by a large margin last year and should be at or near the top again this year. Three power arms from the right side should give the Jays a strong bullpen.
Weaknesses: The starting rotation depth could come into question if Morrow and Cecil hit some bumps in the road as life in the AL East can take its toll.
Rising: Kyle Drabek - Drabek enjoyed a nice season at Double-A New Hampshire (7.3 K/9 in 27 starts) before skipping Triple-A and making three starts for the Jays in September. He'll need to pitch himself off the roster this spring and should emerge as the team's fourth starter. Just be wary that the AL East is a tough spot to get your feet wet so expect some growing pains along the way.
Falling: Brett Cecil - Cecil enjoyed a fine season (15 wins, 4.22 ERA) despite an ugly September fade (6.92 ERA, 1.962 WHIP in five starts) brought on by a knee injury and fatigue. If you dig into the numbers you'll see he went 10-3 against the beasts of the AL East (Tampa, New York and Boston) and posted an incredible 1.84 ERA in 34 innings against the Yankees. It's hard to imagine both holding form again so expect some regression.
Sleeper: Edwin Encarnacion. Encarnacion started slowly last year following offseason wrist surgery and later dealt with a shoulder injury, hitting just .221 with 10 homers in the first half of the season. He rebounded a bit in the second half (.262 average with 11 homers) and there's 30-homer potential here if you squint hard enough as he'll enjoy an everyday role with the Jays as the team's DH/1B.
Super Sleeper: Marc Rzepczynski. Rzepczynski made a dozen starts for the Jays last year (1.602 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, 4.2 BB/9) and continued to display command issues but there's some upside here if he can improve on that. He'll need to beat out Jesse Litsch for the last spot in the rotation but could also get a look if Kyle Drabek struggles in his first real exposure to the big leagues.
Here's the rundown of players not mentioned above:
J.P. Arencibia - Arencibia enjoyed a huge season at Triple-A Las Vegas last year, hitting .301 with 32 homers before earning a short call-up with the Blue Jays. John Buck's departure opens the door for Arencibia but it should be noted that Arencibia's command of the strike zone is only adequate (38 walks and 85 strikeouts in 459 plate appearances at Triple-A) and the Jays have a veteran option in Jose Molina if Arencibia struggles. Expect some growing pains at the plate.
Jose Bautista - Bautista had a huge year with a league-leading 54 homers, .260 average, 109 runs, 124 RBI, 100 walks and nine steals with eligibility at third base and outfield just for good measure. The scary part is he did most of his damage against right-handed pitchers (1.030 OPS with 46 homers), something he had struggled with throughout his career. He showed he could make adjustments at the plate as well, hitting .287 with 30 homers in the second half of the season. He likely won't repeat his 2010 again, but this doesn't look like a one-year fluke either.
Shawn Camp - He's an OK staff filler in deeper formats but doesn't really do anything well enough to help out most fantasy squads. Any chance he had to grab some save chances was torpedoed by the acquisitions of Dotel, Rauch and Francisco.
Jesse Carlson - David Purcey appears to have passed him as the team's late-inning lefty with the departure of Scott Downs but he'll be back in a middle relief role for the Jays.
Rajai Davis - Davis cashed in on his stolen-base potential shown the year prior, stealing 50 bases on the season, but was slowed in early June and was limited on the base paths thereafter (22 steals in his first 49 games; just 28 in his final 94 games). New manager John Farrell wants to be more aggressive on the base paths after the Jays stole just 58 bases as a team last year but expecting 50 swipes from Davis may be optimistic.
Octavio Dotel - He enters spring likely behind Frank Francisco in the pecking order for saves but still makes for a nice upside play in most formats.
Yunel Escobar - Escobar played better after a midseason trade from the Braves but it was still a disappointing 2010 as he hit just .256 with four homers overall. He's still got the potential for above average power from the shortstop position while helping your batting average as well but will need to reverse the trends of last season. Look for a bounce back out of the everyday shortstop for the Jays.
Frank Francisco - Francisco was dominant at times when healthy for the Rangers and he should have the first crack at nailing down the closing duties in Toronto following an offseason trade.
Jason Frasor - Frasor was much better after the All-Star break, posting a 2.48 ERA and a 1.103 WHIP, but doesn't seem to factor into the closing mix with the additions of Francisco, Dotel and Rauch.
Aaron Hill - Hill saw his homers (26) predictably drop from the career-high 36 of the previous season, but it was the ugly .205 batting average that torpedoed his season. He hit just .196 on balls he put in play, a far cry from his career mark (.288) and hit more like Benny Hill against southpaws (.125/.226/.225 in 120 at-bats) after punishing them in 2009 (.298/.335/.561). Expect similar power numbers and a better batting average out of the team's everyday second baseman this season.
Casey Janssen - Janssen responded well in his first full season out of the bullpen but he's about five bullets removed from regular save chances and isn't dominant enough to be a staff filler in most formats. He'll be back in a middle-relief role with Toronto.
Adam Lind - Lind was a huge disappointment last year, hitting just .237 with 23 homers and 72 RBI after a .305/35/114 effort the previous year. After making great strides against southpaws he completely fell apart against left-handers last year, hitting just .117/.159/.182. He rebounded after a horrible May and June to hit .267 with 11 homers in the second half of the season. He'll get a look at first base this spring but will slide over to DH if he's unable to handle the transition. The Jays are counting on his bat to be an everyday fixture in the lineup, and he makes a nice rebound candidate
Jesse Litsch - Litsch joined the Jays in June following Tommy John surgery and struggled in nine starts (3.1 K/9) before undergoing season ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip in August. He's rehabbed well this offseason and will compete for the fifth spot in the rotation.
Mike McCoy - He's never shown much of a bat outside of the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League but does offer some speed upside if he's forced into an everyday role. His versatility will have him competing for a utility infield spot this spring.
John McDonald - McDonald's glove has kept him earning a big league paycheck for parts of 12 years now, but his bat just doesn't offer anything worth your trouble even if he were forced into a full-time role. He'll be back as the team's backup shortstop following a .250/6/23 season with the Jays.
Jose Molina - Molina is back for another season as the Jays' backup catcher, this time caddying for rookie J.P. Arencibia. Molina might get a few more at-bats than he would normally given Arencibia's inexperience and the age of the Jays' pitching staff. But he's 35 years old and has been badly exposed whenever asked to do more than start once or twice a week, so there's no upside to be had here.
Brandon Morrow - Over his final 17 starts, Morrow went 7-3 with a 3.46 ERA, 1.224 WHIP with a 119:38 K:BB ratio in 101.1 innings. If he can improve his control a tick -- or even just maintain his improvement from the second half of 2010 -- he could take another step forward. For now, though, he'll provide excellent strikeout numbers as the Jays' No. 2 starter behind Ricky Romero
David Purcey - Purcey handled the transition to a relief role well despite some nagging control issues and figures to inherit a larger role following the departure of Scott Downs. Don't expect a Downs-like performance, however, especially if he struggles to keep the ball in the park.
Jon Rauch - He has a good, but not overpowering, strikeout rate (7.2 K/9IP last season) with good control but home runs allowed have been a problem in his. He figures to compete with Octavio Dotel for the main setup role to Frank Francisco but could factor into the closing mix as well.
Josh Roenicke - At this point, he's more bark than bite as he's never had success in limited work in the majors and hasn't ever dominated in the minors either despite a live arm that scouts seem to love. He'll compete for one of the last spots in the Toronto bullpen.
Juan Rivera - Rivera put up strong numbers two seasons ago, but his output fell last year thanks to a 35-point dip in his batting average to .252. While his BABIP was near a career low, his skill set has largely been the same the last three seasons, which would seem to indicate his 2009 batting average is probably his ceiling. He had the second lowest HR/FB rate of his career, so there's some hope he can return to his 2009 power numbers. He'll occupy a corner outfield spot for the Jays this season.
Ricky Romero - Romero enjoyed a breakout season in 2010 for Toronto in just his second year in the majors. His control (3.5 BB/9IP) is still an issue, but his ability to keep the ball in the park has kept it from doing much damage to his ERA. It was a nice encore to a rookie season that saw him slump badly in the second half after a quick start. Life in the AL East comes with its share of bumps and bruises, but he's a good bet to repeat if he can improve his control a tick and will return as the team's ace.
Travis Snider - Snider started slowly last season and then got sidelined by a wrist injury just as his bat was waking up in May. He finally got called back up at the end of July, finishing the season with a .255/14/32 line with an alarming 79 strikeouts in 319 plate appearances. He seemed to be getting his timing back at the end of the season, hitting .289 with six homers in September and October. There's still a ton of talent here, and the Jays are counting on him to be a big part of their offense.
J.P. Arencibia - see above.
Travis d'Arnaud - D'Arnaud battled a back injury and the pitcher-friendly Florida State League to cobble together a respectable season, hitting .259/.315/.411 in 71 games for High-A Dunedin in his first year in the Toronto system. He's got a good defensive reputation, but it remains to be seen if his bat will ever develop into anything fantasy-worthy. We'll have to see how he handles the jump to Double-A before getting too excited.
Kyle Drabek - see above.
Adeiny Hechavarria - The highly-touted Cuban signed a four-year, $10 million deal with the Jays last season and was thrust into the pitcher-friendly Florida State League. He struggled greatly, hitting just .193 with 25 strikeouts in 41 games. The Jays gambled with a promotion to Double-A, and Hechavarria responded by hitting .273/.305/.360 with six steals in 61 games. He still needs to work on controlling the strike zone, but it was a nice bounce back out of the 21-year-old. He's still awfully raw and figures to spend most of his time smoothing out the edges at Double-A this season.
Carlos Perez - Perez already comes with a strong defensive reputation, so it's a positive sign that his bat is beginning to draw some attention as well. He more than held his own as a 19-year-old at Low-A Auburn last season, hitting .298 with 34 walks and 41 strikeouts in 278 plate appearances. He'll presumably start to show more power as he matures and gains experience, and his glove figures to keep him behind the plate as he advances. He's a name to keep an eye on as he moves to the pitcher-friendly Florida State League.
Zach Stewart - Stewart's overall numbers at Double-A New Hampshire last season weren't great, but he improved greatly as the season wore on after a sluggish start. He'll spend most of the year at Triple-A Las Vegas and could get a look if injuries dictate. Stewart is only 24 and has ascended through the Jays' system quickly after being a third-round pick in 2008. He's worth considering in keeper formats given his dominance at lower levels prior to last season.