Toronto Blue Jays 2011 MLB Preview: Big Changes Lead to Big Questions
Previewing the 2011 MLB season, we’ve already named the Phillies, Yankees, and Red Sox the top World Series favorites. We’ve already looked at the NL Central and NL East and this week we will analyze the AL East teams not based in New York or Boston. On Monday we looked at the Tampa Bay Rays and today we’ll cover the Toronto Blue Jays; Wednesday: Baltimore Orioles.
Off-Season Moves: Toronto had about as busy an off-season as any team in baseball, most notably trading away center fielder Vernon Wells — and all but $5 million of the $86 million he’s owed over the next four years — to the Angels for catcher Mike Napoli and outfielder Juan Rivera. Napoli was almost immediately sent to Texas in exchange for right-handed reliever Frank Francisco. Along with Wells, the Jays lost last year’s primary left fielder, first baseman and catcher in Fred Lewis, Lyle Overbay and John Buck, respectively.
Outfielder Rajai Davis (pictured below) was acquired from Oakland for two minor leaguers as an economical replacement for Wells. They also traded rightie Shawn Marcum to the Brewers in exchange for highly-touted second base prospect Brett Lawrie. Finally, Toronto appeared to do as much as possible to bolster the bullpen, signing righties Chad Cordero, Octavio Dotel and Jon Rauch.
Strengths: This team led the majors in home runs last season, but lost a combined 71 home runs between Wells, Overbay and Buck. Jose Bautista (pictured above) likely won’t hit 54 home runs ever again, but 40 or more seems reasonable, especially at that ballpark. If Adam Lind and Aaron Hill can find their 2009 forms, this team should hit a ton of homers again. Though the Jays finished 28th in the majors in stolen bases last year, Davis’ 91 bags over the last two seasons should do a lot to elevate that standing. Toronto finished 2010 ninth in both RBI and runs scored, and while they lost some big time run producers, Davis’ speed should lead to more run scoring opportunities.
The bullpen should also be a strength of this team. Francisco (56 app., 3.76, 2 sv) will likely start the year as the closer, but Rauch (59, 3.12, 21) and Dotel (68, 4.08, 22) are both capable of taking the job. No matter what happens, those three represent a pretty solid backend of the bullpen. Cordero is the biggest question mark in the bullpen. In 2007 he appeared in 76 games and had 37 saves with a 3.36 ERA. Due to injuries he has appeared in just 15 games since, including none in 2009.
Weaknesses: This team will likely struggle defensively this year. Bautista is making the shift from the primary right fielder to primary third baseman. While he has played third base quite a bit over his career, he’s never played great defense at the position. Lind is likely going to be the everyday first baseman — a position at which he’s only started eight games. The move is sure to be a downgrade defensively, considering Overbay’s .996 fielding percentage at first last year. Two of the three regular outfielders — all three different from last season — represent downgrades defensively, with the exception of Travis Snider in right field.
The starting rotation, though relatively strong at the top, is questionable. Left-hander Ricky Romero (14-9, 3.73) is the staff ace and will be followed by rightie Brandon Morrow (10-7, 4.49) and leftie Brett Cecil (15-7, 4.22). Morrow and Cecil obviously benefited greatly from that incredible offense and likely won’t be as successful if they don’t get those ERAs down. The rotation should be filled out with two young but unproven pitchers in highly-regarded rightie Kyle Drabek (0-3, 4.76) and left-hander Marc Rzepczynski (4-4, 4.95). The Jays are going to have to score a ton of runs if they’re starters are going to give up that many.
Summary: The Blue Jays are going to look far different in 2011, not only the players on the roster, but where those players are on the field. Last year’s 85 wins were good for fourth place in the division. This team very well could surpass that and finish third in the division, but I’m predicting a slight drop. Toronto actually won the second-most division games last year, but they are unlikely to do that again. I’ll give them .500, 81 wins and fourth place again.