AL East Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

The final installment of the AL East previews takes us north where we find the Toronto Blue Jays.  An up and coming team that can slug it out with the best teams in baseball, the Jays are coming off a promising year in 2011 that saw them play .500 ball at 81-81 but still finished fourth in the meat grinder, known as the AL East.

The Jays have one of the best bats in all of baseball in Jose Bautista and he is certainly someone you can build a ball club around.  With young pitching arms and a revamped bullpen, the Jays have lofty expectations for this season.

Jared from the Jays Journal was gracious enough to take the time to answer our questions we had on the Blue Jays and as you can see, the Jays fans do indeed expect big things with this club.  They are even talking the postseason in the not to distant future.  Is it realistic?  Jared seems to think so.

 1.       Paul Beeston expects the Jays to make the playoffs in three of the next five years.  In your opinion is this a realistic expectation?

Jared – In my opinion, Blue Jays president Paul Beeston’s “expectation” for the Jays to make the playoffs in three of the next five years is somewhat realistic. While the Jays might not make the playoffs three times in the next five years, they’re in a good position to play postseason ball at least once or twice in that span. The addition of an extra wild card spot is one main reason, but the right pieces are being added at the big league level and in the minors to make it happen. The army of impressive draft selections over the last two to three years is inching closer and closer to the big leagues, and at least a few of those prospects could have an impact on the Major League club very soon.

2.       Who’s in and who’s out?  Which players that aren’t around from last year will be missed the most and which additions should we keep our eyes on?

J - The interesting thing about the Blue Jays over the last nine months or so is that general manager Alex Anthopoulos has managed to upgrade the club at multiple positions without losing anyone valuable. None of the departures–guys like Jo-Jo Reyes, Shawn Camp, Jon Rauch, Jayson Nix and Corey Patterson–are going to be missed, and they’ve been replaced by much more intriguing players. Fans will understandably be most excited for Brett Lawrie‘s first full season with the Jays at third base, but there are other significant changes to the roster worth paying attention to as well.

After opening the 2011 campaign with Aaron Hill and Rajai Davis at second base and in center field, respectively, the Jays will open the 2012 season with Kelly Johnson and Colby Rasmus at those positions instead. After watching Jo-Jo Reyes give up over 11 hits per nine frames and limp to a 5.40 ERA in 20 starts, promising right-handed youngster Henderson Alvarez will be the Jays’ new No. 4 starter. And after having to field a position for almost half the year, Edwin Encarnacion should finally be able to be a full-time DH.

The most notable changes, though, are in the Jays’ bullpen. After lacking defined roles last year and using multiple closers, the Jays head to spring training with one specific closer, hard-throwing righty Sergio Santos, picked up from the White Sox over the winter via trade. The Jays also added two free agents, Darren Oliver and Francisco Cordero, to set up Santos while bringing back a dependable arm in Jason Frasor and re-signing underrated  right-hander Casey Janssen.

3.       The Jays made a run at Yu Darvish, Carlos Beltran and to some extent Prince Fielder, albeit on a limited basis.  All three names are big fish so to speak.  How is the Jays fan base reacting to the club not being able to sign a big name free agent as mentioned above?

J – The expanding payroll/adding a free agent issue was the talk of the Blue Jays’ off-season. During the winter meetings in December, Anthopoulos mentioned “payroll parameters” in a series of interviews, which initiated a negative response from a lot of Jays fans. There was a lot of excitement among Jays fans when reports on the Yu Darvish bidding process (falsely) linked the Blue Jays, and the reaction when to the Rangers winning the bidding was the complete opposite. While Darvish did represent an expensive gamble, the one free agent that fans were unanimously hoping for was Prince Fielder. No one really expected the Jays to fork out over $200 million on him, but many fans felt that he made a lot of sense for the team given Adam Lind‘s struggles in the last two years.

4.       What holes does this team have if any that could potentially impact this club’s success for 2012?

J - The hole that could potentially have a positive or negative impact on the Jays’ success next year is their starting rotation. Outside of No. 1 starter Ricky Romero (who will still lead the rotation but regress in some capacity), the Jays’ rotation is littered with question marks. With the addition of a cutter and a new mental approach, Brandon Morrow seems poised to be a breakout candidate next season, but he’ll need to cut his walk rate down once again and address the career-high 21 home runs that he allowed in 2011. Speaking of home runs, Brett Cecil will not only have to keep the ball in the park, but he’ll need to pitch like he did last July (2.19 ERA/.642 OPS in five starts) in order to keep his spot in the rotation later in the year when notable pitching prospects like Drew Hutchison come knocking. Plus, in addition to seeing how Alvarez fares in his first full Major League season, it’s almost impossible to predict Dustin McGowan‘s contributions as the Jays’ No. 5 starter this coming season given his injury history.

5.       Do you see the club making any significant moves between now and the trade deadline?  This is a club that is deep with prospects and could use that to dangle in front of a club for a Matt Garza?

J - Anthopoulos has hinted before that he’ll look to be active at the trade deadline, and it’s a very likely scenario given the Jays’ impressive group of prospects. I wouldn’t think Garza is the type of pitcher that Anthopoulos would be after, but it’s safe to say that a deal of some kind will be made.

6.       In your opinion, how do the Jays stack up to the rest of the AL East?

J - It’s tough to really guess how the Blue Jays will fare next season because of, as I mentioned above, all of the question marks surrounding the team right now. Even with Jose Bautista, I’d say the Jays lack the middle of the order power that both the Yankees and Red Sox have, and lack the solid pitching 1 through 5 that the Rays have.

That being said, though, I feel that the team will be better than they were in 2011 and competitive well into September. They could surprise a lot of people, but it will really come down to how they play against other AL East teams.

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Tags: Aaron Hill Adam Lind Brandon Morrow Brett Cecil Brett Lawrie Carlos Beltran Casey Janssen Colby Rasmus Corey Patterson Darren Oliver Drew Hutchinson Dustin McGowan Edwin Encarnacion Francisco Cordero Henderson Alvarez Jason Frasor Jayson Nix Jo-jo Reyes Jon Rauch Jose Bautista Kelly Johnson Matt Garza Prince Fielder Rajai Davis Ricky Romero Sergio Santos Shawn Camp Toronto Blue Jays Yu Darvish

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