Chances are you've read articles and/or blog posts here there and everywhere concerning just who the key bounceback candidates are should the Jays expect to build - tangibly - upon the unexpected success of 2010.
Aaron Hill and Adam Lind - step right up. Or perhaps you feel it's the younger players - Travis Snider and JP Arencibia come to mind - that need to solidify their status as everyday players, or - fingers crossed - emerging stars.
We've also spilled gobs of digital ink discussing the rotation, which must "step up" now even more than before with the departure of "veteran" Shaun Marcum. Yes, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, Kyle Drabek, and (insert #5 starter here) must indeed pitch like men for the club to emerge as legitimate contenders in the near future.
But one name is oft overlooked this offseason, and Yunel Escobar has as much potential to take his game - and the fortunes of the Blue Jays - to the next level as any player on the roster. While many fans were left wow-ed by Escobar's hot start and Fernandez-esque defensive wizardry (what?), the truth is that Escobar's overall contribution last season was.....underwhelming.
Ignoring his miserable pre-trade numbers - let's chalk it up to the Atlanta Braves culture of blatant racism (I kid! Kind of!) - Joo-nel still only managed a sub-.700 OPS with the Jays. I know, right? Take away the flair at short and the shared man-bro dugout handshakehugs with Jose Bautista, and that's what we were left with.
But there has to be more in him, doesn't there? There has to be. Twenty-eight years of age (and it seems like a legit 28, not a Cuban 28) seems far too young to be beginning the decline phase of his career. And despite notions of being a bad-body shortstop not prone to aging well, Escobar displays obvious athleticism and is no slug (yet).
In Escobar, the Jays have a shortstop who has drawn MVP votes in the very recent past. Should we expect a similar plateau going forward? No, probably not, unless we want to be completely unreasonable. But what is reasonable is a return to an .800 level OPS with Gold Glove calibre defense (if Ozzie Jeter and his magic glove will ever relinquish the crown) (that's sarcasm).
Plug that into the Jays 2011 everyday lineup and call it an "offseason" win. I'll take that every time.
(But can we please have Manny too? C'mon....)