Coming off the heels of the Jays big 16-2 drubbing (and forgetting the extra-innings heartbreaker), I was left pondering this question:
Just how close are the Toronto Blue Jays to contending in the loaded AL East?
Is 2011 a pipedream? 2012 more realistic? Are we wrong to discount any serious wildcard run this season?
Let's dispatch the 2010 question first - a full 10 back with 40 games left to play leaves no room for error. None. That said, we're all fans here, so what the hell. Let's just call it a dream. Not an impossible dream (but close), but a dream nonetheless. So what of 2011?
Is it as easy as saying with the continued maturation of the pitching staff, a return to norms for Lind and Hill, and the development of young talent such as Snider and Arencibia....the Jays are instantly a part of the equation? Much as I'd love to blindly say "fuck and yes, that's all it will take", consider the following:
...the impending loss of John Buck. Look (to borrow a phrase from HTV), we're all excited about JP Arencibia and what he can do given a full season of starter at-bats, but John Buck has been providing all-star calibre play behind (or more importantly, at) the plate for the Jays. It's not wrong to be excited about JPA - not by any stretch - but it would be foolish to think that, in 2011, he'll provide more value to the team than the veteran already in place.
I don't think it's wrong to cash in on the career year of John Buck and collect the comp picks - it's all part of The Plan - but for next season, at least, it will likely be a half-step backwards.
...changes afoot in the bullpen. It's been a luxury Jays fans have come to take for granted - the team always seems to string together a pen that provides above average performance, and hasn't been a major concern for a number of seasons. But remove two of the constants in those bullpens - Scott Downs and Jason Frasor - and what do we have? Instead of looking to fill one, maybe two spots in the spring as has become custom, who are the locks for next season under the "everybody out" scenario? Shawn Camp? David Purcey? Casey Janssen? OK, those are nice pieces, but none provide "the hammer" and there are still spots to fill. I have confidence the team will again roll out a surprisingly strong group, but it's hard to ignore the fact that many a season has been derailed by a bad 'pen.
...holes on the corners. I'm not prepared to have the "one more year of Lyle" conversation - largely because I don't know which side of the fence I'm prepared to lean on - but let's assume his Toronto tenure is over. Who fits? Is it as easy as plugging in Adam Lind? Because if that's the answer, there has to be a backup plan in place juuuust in case he turns out to be a complete butcher around the bag. Just sayin'. And what of 3B? It's doubtful that AA is looking at E5 as one of his "core guys", and no serious contender is going to run Johnny Mac out at the position more than a few times a month.
...coaching staff turnover. With Cito, you know what you're going to get. Focusing on the good (let's play nice today), it's a team that will mash the shit out of baseballs, on-base percentage be damned. One thing about this club - they're rarely out of games with this power. Will the philosophy change under the new regime? Will there be a season of transformational flux from a new philosophy? And will the new dude purge the existing staff, bringing in his own Gary Denbo (nightmares) and sweeping MLB-unknown Bruce Walton under the rug while helping Butterfield pack his bags for Baltimore?
Not going to lie to you, friends, these thoughts are already beginning to cause me anxiety. And yes, I realize this isn't normal. It's probably best that I just sit back and enjoy the remaining 40 games on the schedule.
(At least the 20 or so I'll get to watch, anyway. )
Is it wrong that I'm enjoying the flavor that Jesse Carlson is bringing to an otherwise vanilla Blue Jays bullpen? Fist pumps, baby.
Apart from JPA, are there any September callups worth getting excited about? Maybe Brad Emaus? A surprise New Hampshire stick like Thames, Loewen, or Mastroianni? A Hechavarria sighting? Seems unlikely, but....Drabek?
If you don't keep up with John Lott, you should. He's carved out quite a niche keeping dibs on the Jays' minor league system, and his features in the Post are always worth a read.
Hey, y'know that killer August schedule facing AL East rivals that many thought would be the Jays undoing, causing the season to close on a sour note? 7-4 as of this writing vs the division, with series yet to come against the Yankees and Rays. No matter the outcome, Armageddon it was not.
I think AA has enough sense to keep Walton and Butters around, even if he's remaking the on-field management. Bad enough that Cito cost us Arnsberg already. The hitting coach replacement will be interesting. Will AA cater it to the swing-happy among the hitters or will he focus on getting Lind/Snider/Yunel the best hitting coach for them? Somewhere between Murphy/Cito and Denbo would be nice.
...all right, who from RSN is reading this? Today's Jays Connected roundtable with Campbell, Ferguson & Davidi discussed these exact questions, almost verbatim:
- when will the Jays be true contenders
- what will be done about the bullpen with Downs and Frasor leaving, and no true hammer at the back end.
- who will manage the club and what coaches will be gone
- what's the answer @ 3B
....jokes aside, it was weird to watch the discussion.
I think the best option in-house for 1B may be EE. He seems like he would have the agility and coordination to handle the defensive demands of the position, while providing adequate offense. (Keeping in mind that the real solution for first base for the next six years involves sending Kyle Drabek, Carlos Perez and Fred Lewis to southern California.)
As for hitters I'd like to see in September - Emaus, Heche, Maestro, and Loewen would be interesting. I'm sure Cito wants just about nobody else on the bench. He likes his space.
Brilliant post, Ack.
I'm torn on whether the Jays should turn on the heat and go for it in 2011, or wait until 2012. I don't think this team is far off. As much as I love Cito, I can't wait until he's gone, and Vernon's out of the 4-spot, and Snider is playing everyday. That being said, if 2011, is the year, goodbye EE. Let's put a call out to Carlos Pena's folks, and, hell, even give Carl Crawford's agent a how do you do.
It will be interesting, though, what happens with our new manager Dwayne Murphy. Clearly Murphy is a take your pitch and pound it guy. He's not an OBP guy. And I like to think that Toronto's OBP must improve if this team wants to make the playoffs. So there could be philosophical divide, depending on who AA brings in.
This might be the best off-season ever.
The other factor about the future is when/if the Jays will open up the wallet and sign quality free agents to fill some of these holes. Like, real quality free agents, not living question marks like Burnett, Glaus, Thomas, etc. Or, even better, AA can make a few more lopsided trades to bring in talent.
The weird thing about this Jays team is that as fun as they are to watch, I could easily lose most of the everyday lineup. The 2011 Jays can have Escobar, Snider, Bautista, Arencibia and that's it. (Of course, Wells, Lind and Hill will still be around, but if I were AA, I'd start quietly putting trade feelers out for the latter two. And of course for Wells if anyone is dumb enough to take on that monster contract.)
Great post, Ack.
Heck, it's almost too good.
The points you bring up left me like one of those characters who opens his mouth and raises a finger to interject, but can't think of anything to say.
I, myself have been trying to say similar things to peers about the JPA / Buck situation. Yeah, it's going to be great to see the kid with a full year of AB's, but Buck is having an All-Star year. Unless JPA walks directly onto the MLB All-Star team, there's going to be a drop there.
I think if they can't find a decent 3B on the market, they could be looking for a deal on a high risk / high reward 2B that would move Hill to third. Hill has a $8M club option for 2012 so any 2B they'd pick up could potentially be a stop gap between now and Hech. If Hill continues to be a mess at the plate, the Jays can cut ties after next year. Hill about as good as EE hitting wise, and is a sure improvement defensively over E5.
As for 1B, I'm really skeptical about the 'lets just plug in Lind' camp. Losing the core of the bullpen and the defensive rock at 1B definitely has me feeling less than secure. Especially if the 'Back up 1B' plan is Mike Jacobs. Gulp. How much worse could Lind be, having no experience whatsoever at first than Mike Jacobs? I don't want to find out.
PS - I promise it wasn't me who stole your ideas, but I do know that it's Campbell who comes up with the roundtable topics.
Where's the Tao?
Lind should go to instructionals.
Seven full days a week, for 5 weeks doing nothing than defense at first. I am srue he would agreeable.
anon 3:50, why would you trade Lind and Hill at their lowest possible value? Glaus wasn't a free agent, by the way.
Oh yea, re: the corners, Eric Thames is making a strong case for breaking with the team next April. He's up to .295 and a .377 OBP now with 25/95. He can take over in RF and Bautista can move to 3B. Loewen was looking like the guy until he cooled off recently. Both of them will get the chance to fight it out in the AFL and spring training.
Maybe it's already been said and I just missed it, but on the topic of contention.......this team is where they are without getting ANY contribution from the pieces acquired by dealing last year's 2 best players.
Everything else being equal, can you imagine where this team would be with Doc and Rolen?
If Hill keeps hitting at this level, he's significantly less productive than E5. I don't know what's wrong with Hill this year, he's just been terrible at the plate and he even seems to be struggling in the field. WTF was he doing last night when he ran into Overbay in foul territory as Overbay was catching Jeter's popup in the 9th?
I don't think Hill should even be a full-time player anymore until he gets his shit sorted out. His OPS+ is absolutely terrible this year, and it would be even worse if he was compared to third basemen.
Good stuff man, I linked your site on my top 5 Jays piece.
Agreed on keeping a more veteran catcher as well, for what Arencibia was adding with the stick in his short time handling the staff he looked slightly lost and has never been known as a solid defensive catcher coming up the ranks.
Dunno, it actually seems to me the approach at the plate isn't all that critical, it's been their awesome pitching that has kept them in games. They're 7th in AL runs scored. And lately seem to have run into and otherwise botched a fair amount of opportunities in games they've both won and lost - but the reason they've won those games has been the pitching IMO.
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