The Blue Jays are looking to contend in 2009, but that could be a challenge, considering they are in baseball’s toughest division. This isn’t a new phenomenon: The Blue Jays have won 85-plus games the last three seasons but did not qualify for the postseason in that span. Toronto enters this season with a slim chance of contending, but with a few lucky breaks, it could play deeper into October.
2008 Final Record: 86-76
The only major league scoreboard north of the border.
Finish: Fourth in AL East, 12 games behind
Home Stadium: Rogers Centre
C Michael Barrett (Signed as free agent) *
SP Bryan Bullington (Claimed off waivers from Cleveland Indians)
RP Matt Bush (Traded from San Diego Padres)
C Raul Chavez (Signed as free agent) *
SP Matt Clement (Signed as free agent) *
OF Jason Lane (Signed as free agent) *
1B/OF Adam Loewen (Signed from Baltimore Orioles) *
SP Mike Maroth (Signed as free agent) *
1B Kevin Millar (Signed as free agent) *
Not Feeling Blue
SP AJ Burnett (Signed by New York Yankees)
OF Kevin Mench (Signed with Hanshin Tigers)
OF Shannon Stewart (Unsigned free agent)
OF Brad Wilkerson (Spring training invite with Boston Red Sox)
C Gregg Zaun (Signed with Baltimore Orioles)
* - denotes minor league contract
Strength – Pitching
The Blue Jays led the majors in starters’ ERA and bullpen ERA last season. They did lose AJ Burnett to the rival Yankees but are returning some high-quality arms. Roy Halladay, who may be the best pitcher in the American League, fronts a rotation that features Jesse Litsch, who posted excellent numbers last season.
If Toronto could get one more solid starting pitcher, its bullpen will take care of the rest. BJ Ryan, Brian Tallet, Scott Downs and Jesse Carlson could pitch in the late innings on any AL team.
Weakness – Offense
Pitching wins, but only if an offense supports it. The Blue Jays suffered a run scoring aversion last season -- one too embarrassing to discuss in depth. And it doesn’t look like they address that problem this offseason, bringing in only Kevin Millar and Michael Barrett.
A lot of pressure falls onto Vernon Wells’ shoulders. He signed a huge contract extension, which many people, myself included, argued was ridiculous. Wells isn’t the consistent superstar his contract says he is, but if he can regain more of his home run power, he and Alex Rios could be a solid lineup tandem.
RF Alex Rios
LF Travis Snider
CF Vernon Wells
3B Scott Rolen
1B Lyle Overbay
DH Adam Lind
2B Aaron Hill
SS Marco Scuturo
C Michael Barrett
Scott Richmond / Matt Clement
CL BJ Ryan
RP Jeremy Accardo
RP Scott Downs
Are Snider and Lind ready to become complementary players? Both came through the Blue Jays minor league system not as superstar prospects but solid enough players. If they hit, Toronto will feature a lineup that can provide one of the better pitching staffs in the AL with run support. If not, the Blue Jays are looking at 85 or so wins and not playing in the postseason once again.
Wells won’t earn the money he’s due, Rolen looks a year older at the plate and the lineup doesn’t produce enough for the Blue Jays. This team could win 84 games on the strength of its pitching staff, but Toronto will be stuck in fourth place once again.