Answers to some Jays Questions

As a die-hard Jays fan this off-season, I don’t think I could be in a more blissful head-space if I tried.

This off-season, Alex Anthopoulos turned from the ultimate chump (a title Toronto general managers like to pass amongst each other every few months) to the ultimate champ by not only disposing of the weaker links of the team, but by acquiring major upgrades in return.

Goodbye ignorantly homophobic Yunel Escobar, and champion swing-and-misser Kelly Johnson. Have fun turning double plays together in a permanently closed dome in one of the warmest baseball locales in the league.

Hello to a team that makes fantasy baseball owners, baseball video game players, and, of course, long-time Jays fans drool.

Not a day has gone by since the Marlins trade that I haven’t thought about how much I look forward to the start of the season; working out the lineup and rotation in my head over and over.

For a measure of understanding, while I was alive for the back-to-back World Series titles, I was only five years old when Joe Carter touched ’em all, and was far more interested in pushing cardboard buses back and forth around my house than sitting down to watch my eventual favourite team win the ultimate prize. Don’t judge.

No, I didn’t follow the team closely until Roger Clemens joined the team in ’97. Some exciting years, but no playoff action.

Sadly, the most exciting off-season I’d had prior to this one was when J.P. “who needs a long-term plan??” Ricciardi acquired A.J. Burnett, B.J. Ryan, (C.J. Nitkowski, D.J. Carrasco… sorry, got carried away), Bengie Molina, Troy Glaus and Lyle Overbay.

We all know what happened to that train-wreck.

Anyway, I’ve been so excited this off-season, that I’ve been scouring the internet for season previews and opinions on the Jays roster on a daily basis – despite the fact that it’s mostly the same information over and over.

Last night I read a post by this man, TSN Radio’s Scott Ferguson, highlighting a number of questions that still remain for the Toronto Blue Jays this off-season.

So, to copy Andrew Stoeten of Drunk Jays Fans’ habit of answering Richard Griffin’s mail, I’ve decided to try to answer Fergie’s questions.

After all, this is a far more appropriate outlet than the comments section of his article..

1. How will John Gibbons fit in during his second time around as manager?

An interesting question.

I will admit, when I first heard Gibby was re-hired, I was not pleased. For whatever reason, the last time he left town, a sour taste was left in my mouth.

This likely had a lot to do with his altercations with Ted Lilly and Shea Hillenbrand, and the fact that I couldn’t understand what the heck he was saying half the time.

While I’m merely following the rest of the herd by coming around to the re-hiring, I think it would be hard not to trust AA’s judgement of character at this point.

As for how well he’ll fit in?

Let’s face it: this team, now dominated by alpha-personalities and enlarged egos, needs a strong, but fair, guiding voice.

A guy who’s not afraid to change the lineup around if guys are struggling – unlike Cito Gaston’s habit of keeping Vernon Wells in the cleanup role during his statistically disastrous ’09 season.

Who better than a hard-headed Texan to tell Brett Lawrie when to reel in that energy on the bases?

He can’t be too bad of a guy if Hillenbrand praised him years after the tussle.

Maybe I’m crazy – but I’m optimistic.

2. Who will win the second base job – Maicer Izturis or Emilio Bonifacio?

This is the head scratcher of the off-season, but I think I’ve finally worked out an answer… even if it’s not definitive, nor does it contain much conviction.

I believe Emilio gets the starter’s job, and Maicer comes off the bench – to start.

Yes, Emilio is a super-sub who can play anywhere in the infield or outfield, but it’s hard to justify not having that speed – 30 steals in 33 attempts in just 64 games in ’12 – in the lineup on a daily basis.

He also hit .296 in 2011, so has shown that, when healthy, he’s not a liability at the dish.

For those who think Bonifacio would be more valuable as a pinch-runner, let’s not forget that Rajai Davis is still on the team. Rajai will need something to do…

But Maicer is no slouch, and that’s what makes this decision a tough one.

Here’s a guy who played under Mike Scioscia for eight years. In my opinion, Scioscia knows his character guys.

If you look at the Angels roster since 2001, and if you ignore all the giant splash signings of outfielders that mostly didn’t pan out, you’ll observe that there are less-flashy players that stayed with the Angels for a number of years, despite lacking a great deal of obvious skill.

Jeff Mathis comes to mind. A guy with less career hits than strikeouts, Scioscia kept him around for his defence and character.

While Izturis failed to ever really earn a starter’s job on the Angels, one could argue this would provide him with the ultimate motivation to take the next step.

Marco Scutaro, anyone?

Ultimately, though, they’re both serviceable veterans who can switch-hit, and we can all agree that either one is an upgrade over Kelly Johnson.

3. Will Ricky Romero bounce back and be the starter he was in 2011?

History would imply that it’s more than possible.

If we look at great pitchers over the last number of years, it is not SO unusual for a starter to have a set-back before recovering to be just fine.

Note Roy Halladay’s 10.64 ERA in 67.2 innings in 2000 (three years before winning the Cy Young). How about Cliff Lee’s 6.29 ERA in 2007 (the year before winning the Cy Young)? Or how about Tim Lincecum’s 5.18 ERA this past season?

Starters have hiccups. It’s just the nature of the biz.

The fact that Romero likely pitched hurt for a great deal of last season is an excuse. If he was hurt, he shouldn’t have played.

But he’s a proud guy who was handed the ace role and felt that he could battle through it. He couldn’t.

But with the pressure of being the ace gone, I can’t think of a potentially better 5th starter in baseball.

I’m not saying he’ll immediately be his 2011 self again.

But I’m not saying he won’t, either.

4. Will RHP Josh Johnson return to the All-Star form he displayed a couple of seasons ago?

I believe this question was much more crucial prior to the Dickey acquisition.

Bringing Johnson in as the new ace, as originally seemed to be the plan, was undoubtedly a risky move after an injury-plagued ’11 and a sub-par, for his standards, ’12.

However, when you slot a guy with ace stuff and composure in the #2 or #4 slot, it’s hard to imagine how you can lose – especially when you throw a flame-thrower out after junk-ballers Dickey or Mark Buehrle

5. Will Sergio Santos reclaim the closer’s job from Casey Janssen?

Out of Spring Training, I’m going to say no.

While Santos is getting paid like a closer, I don’t see how you can justify taking away an incumbent’s job without direct cause.

Janssen was lights out last season in Santos’ absence, and unless he’s reeling from his shoulder surgery and Santos is remarkably better, I think it’s Janssen’s job to lose.

6. Will shortstop Jose Reyes stay healthy playing on artificial turf?

This question is more speculation than logic, obviously.

I’ll say this much: while the artificial turf is damning on the eyes and a thorn in the side of purists, is it really as much of a problem as we all say it is?

Have any Jays players in recent years had any injuries that have been attributed to the wear and tear of playing on turf?

I know one of the reasons Devon White left in the 90’s was because of the turf, but this is not the same turf that was used back then.

Did Yunel Escobar or Brett Lawrie or any Jays infielder complain of turf-related injuries since the new AstroTurf was put in?

Anyway, if Reyes is going to get hurt, I believe it will be despite the turf, not because of it.

7. With Darren Oliver returning, which other lefties will find jobs in the bullpen, amongst Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup, and Evan Crawford?

I believe that out of the gate, the entire structure of the bullpen will depend on who has options for the minors, and who doesn’t.

While Loup was very good in his rookie year, I’m always wary of the sophomore slump, and he has options for the minors remaining.

This is the first time I’ve heard Crawford’s name this off-season, so I’d be shocked if he’s still in the mix.

The question will be what to do with Cecil and J.A. Happ. Does AA decide to keep Happ on the team as long reliever? Or does he use his remaining option to send him to the minors to condition as a starter so that he’s ready if someone gets hurt?

As for Cecil, he has no options remaining, which would be a lock to make the team – if he’s any good.

Last spring training, Cecil had a pretty good Grapefruit League until his final, disastrous start landed him back in the minors.

I believe that this spring, any set-back of that sort will lead to a DFA.

But if he proves to be a valuable bullpen arm, he could conceivably start the year on the big club, and his leash will only grow shorter once Luis Perez (remember him??) returns.

8. Will Brett Lawrie regain the power stroke he had late in the 2012 season?

There are many questions surrounding Mr. Lawrie.

Will he be able to reel in his enthusiasm and temper and be able to become the superstar that everyone thought he’d be?

My answer to all these questions and more: HE’S 23! GIVE THE KID A BREAK!

Because he came up so young and tore it up so soon, everyone expected immediate results – without asking the question of just how many position players around the league are ready for the big time at such a young age.

When you bring a guy up that raw, there will ultimately be growing pains.

As for his power stroke, how much power were they expecting out of him in the lead-off role?

With the additions at the top of the lineup, Lawrie will likely hit 6th, behind Adam Lind or Colby Rasmus, and with more and more protection in the lineup, he’s only going to get better.

Be patient, people. He’s a kid. Enough trade talk.

9. Is Jose Bautista‘s wrist well enough to make him one of the great power hitters again?

Well, he says it is. If it’s not, it’s gonna be a long season…

10. Will Colby Rasmus ever become the great five-tool player the Jays expected him to be when they acquired him from St. Louis?

Rasmus showed flashes of brilliance last season, but probably more flashes of whiffing.

Here’s my take: when they got him in ’11, his self-esteem was at its worst.

Last season, his spirits were up, but he was playing through pain later in the season, and it didn’t help his numbers at all.

Granted, these are merely excuses, and they paint him as extremely delicate.

But, unlike last season, when the Jays secondary options in centre were Rajai, a completely raw Anthony Gose and the completely non-intimidating Mike McCoy, this year Colby’s got Melky Cabrera, Bonifacio, Rajai, and a more mature Gose waiting in the wings.

I think it’s a win-win, personally. If he breaks out, it’s a bonus. If he struggles while showing flashes of skill, they could always trade him for assets and adjust accordingly.

11. What effect will having seven players away at the World Baseball Classic have on the bonding and preparation of the Blue Jays?

This is probably the scariest question because we won’t know the answer until April.

Spring Training is not only important for getting into game shape, but for bonding with your team-mates.

Unlike most years, where the bulk of the roster knows each other already, this year is not like other years.

Let’s hope Gibby has a bonding plan that doesn’t include holding hands in a circle and trying to untangle the knot.

1. Reyes, SS
2. Cabrera, LF
3. Bautista, RF
4. Encarnacion, 1B
5. Rasmus, CF
6. Lawrie, 3B
7. Lind, DH
8. Arencibia, C
9. Bonifacio, 2B

(I give Rasmus the 5 because it’s a vote of confidence, which can’t hurt his self-esteem, and because Mr. Lind needs to prove himself before I give him a heart of the lineup spot)

1. Dickey
2. Morrow
3. Buehrle
4. Johnson
5. Romero

(I’m sure everyone has a differing plan for this list. I give Morrow the 2 as a show of respect for the incumbent. But if you want to suck up to JJ to try to make him re-sign, you give him the 2. In addition, if you REALLY want to boost confidence in the incumbent, you give Ricky the opening day start – but I really don’t see that happening…)


2 responses to “Answers to some Jays Questions”

  1. jaminwithbenen says :

    Just some thoughts on an ultimately good post.

    1) AA has given every indication that Izturis, not Bonifacio, will start at second. Which is fine. I like Bonafacio as a guy who plays 4 times a week, giving veterans like Bautista and Cabrera a day at DH.

    2) Santos is NOT getting paid like a closer. ( And Jansen pitched well enough to deserve that role this year, with lots of rope.

    3) Not confidence inspiring examples for Romero’s comback. Halladay was a kid who needed a long rebuild in the minors before he rebounded. Lee might be the best comparison, but unlike Romero, some of his problems can be attributed to injury, and he also was sent down to re-work things. We have no idea in Lincecum will indeed rebound, so its a poor comparison. I’m not very optimistic on the Romero front, although I’m sure there are some examples that would inspire confidence.

    • ashermerlin86 says :

      I truly appreciate the honesty and constructive criticism. Gotta say, I fully agree with your points. My comparing RickyRo to those pitchers was really a half-assed comparison with no actual statistics to back it up. As for Santos, I guess I meant more the optics of his deal than the financials, but again, you’re right. As for Boni playing four days a week and giving guys a chance to DH, didn’t even think of that. Gibby being a chronic-lineup changer, that scenario is more than likely

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