When it comes to the 2009 season for our beloved Blue Jays, there's a lot of people saying we'd be better off dead.
(Like our weekend contributor, for instance.)
Certainly, looking at the state of the Jays' roster on paper and contrasting it with that of our AL East competitors, there's plenty of reason for pessimism. The Yankees are adding big names, the Red Sox will be moving soon to supplement an already strong roster, the Rays are in play for a big bat (like Jason Giambi) and the Orioles are running down anyone who is willing to take their money.
The games, of course, aren't played on paper, and there are reasons for optimism with the Jays next season.
Think of some of the 2008 contributions made by Jesse Carlson, who nobody knew in December 2007, but who went on to lead the team in appearances, posting a 2.25 ERA. Carlson had pitched well at Double-A New Hampshire in 2007, but he was scarcely mentioned as a prospect anywhere in the lead up to last season.
So, to warm your innards like a piping hot cup of mulled cider, we offer a few reasons for optimism this winter. Keep these in mind as you are opening up your Christmas presents next week only to find a "Burnett 34" jersey lovingly gifted by a family member who knows that you love the Jays, but who isn't necessarily following along as we do.
Hopeful Thought # 1 - Travis Snider
The Great Big Giant Pasty White HopeTM is a star in the making, and a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate for 2009. While we've been salivating over LF/DH types in the free agent market, we're of the mind that the Blue Jays could generate as much offense from Snider at the major league minimum salary as they could have from Raul Ibanez at $10 million per year. We see Snider eventually as a Lance Berkman type, who could hit 30 to 35 homers with an OPS over .900. For next year, 20 homers and 80 RsBI seems like a reasonable expectation. Even with that modest expectation, he would represent an upgrade over the 2008 team's production.
Hopeful Thought # 2 - The rest of the farm
As much as the baseball hobbyists in the Toronto/Canadian sports media will continue to focus on J.P. Riccardi's draft gaffes, the minor league system is in its best shape since the salad years of the team. In addition to Snider, J.P. Arencibia, Brett Cecil and David Cooper all look to be legitimate high-end prospects.
Dig a little deeper, you may find next year's Jesse Carlson in the person of Robert Ray, a soon-to-be 25 year-old starter who put up some impressive numbers in his first crack at Double-A. A glance at his numbers suggests that he may be a step ahead of Ricky Romero at this point, and he could potentially find himself with the big club by season's end.
Moreover, there's Scott Campbell, who has put up better offensive numbers in his minor league career than Aaron Hill did. There are also (finally) a number of higer-ceiling Latin American players (Balbino Fuenmayor, Yohermyn Chavez, Moises Sierra) who are on the way, and who could make big strides in the coming year.
They might not all contribute to the 2009 team, but the wealth of prospects could provide the Jays with more trading chips if they need to make a short term move to shore up their pitching.
Hopeful Thought # 3 - The ailing return
In the short term, Aaron Hill, Casey Janssen and Jeremy Accardo should all return for the beginning of the year after missing most or all of last season. Dustin McGowan could be back as early as May. Obviously, it's difficult to bank on players returning to their former glories immediately after an extended period on the DL. But these players seem to have been forgotten in all of the tales of woe that are being spun over next year's team.
Hopeful Thought # 4 - The ailing return to form
Is it too much to hope for better seasons from Lyle Overbay and Scott Rolen?
Hopeful Thought # 5 - The other guys have their problems, too
It's not to say that the Rays' season was a fluke, but it seems unlikely that they will walk between the raindrops in the same way they did this year. Carl Crawford seems like an extended DL stint waiting to happen, as does the Red Sox' David Ortiz.
There's no telling what the jumble of new bodies (and their associated personalities) in the Bronx will produce, and Orioles have more holes to fill in their rotation and bullpen then money can paper over.
Moreover, with the exception of Boston and the Yankees, the rest of the AL will also feel the squeeze of the economic slowdown, which means that the Jays won't be the only team counting the coins in their change purse throughout the winter.