I’m sure many Blue Jays fans shared in the disappointment of last night’s events, in which it was revealed that the Texas Rangers had made the winning bid for the rights to negotiate with Japanese phenom Yu Darvish. Toronto sports fans have been disappointed for a long time now, with the 2012 season commemorating the twenty year anniversary of the last major championship the city held. Pessimism runs rampant, whether it’s directed towards the stingy fat cats in Rogers Communications, the un-realized potential of past prospects, or the simple belief that Toronto just cannot win (undoubtedly fostered by the culture of the Maple Leafs, but that’s a whole other article). There is reason for hope for the Jays in 2012 though, and while they almost certainly won’t win the already stacked AL East, some important changes to the roster since April 2011 will put them in a much more interesting position to compete.
Any Blue Jays fan will tell you the bullpen was where the Blue Jays went wrong in 2011. The trade of Frank Francisco for (the apparently god-like) Mike Napoli stands as GM Alex Anthopolous’ primary blemish on a sterling record, if one does not include the signing of Jon Rauch. While the guys at Drunk Jays Fans have done a good job explaining why all those blown saves that happened last year weren’t as horrific as they seemed, the bullpen stood in dire need of improvement. The addition of Sergio Santos adds a legitimate ninth inning guy, and if Casey Janssen can continue his stellar form, the pen looks like it may not just be okay, but actually decent. With FF, Rauch, Shawn Camp, and Jesse Carlson out, and full seasons in relief from anyone from Jesse Litsch, Joel Carreño, Luis Perez, Carlos Villanueva, Kyle Drabek, and possibly Chad Beck, there’s reason to believe in a turn around. One or two more left-handed arms are needed to fill it out, but the 2012 pen HAS to be better than the one in 2011.
The Starting Pitching:
This is what might be the biggest area for concern (hence the Darvish disappointment). As great as Ricky Romero’s season was, he’s likely due for some regression. Brandon Morrow’s electric stuff is only matched by his inability to pitch with runners on base. And Henderson Alvarez, while impressive in his brief stint, is still an unproven quantity. But the key thing for the Jays here is that in 2011, the Blue Jays started Jo Jo Reyes and Kyle Drabek 34 times. 34 TIMES. Those are 34 games where an awful starting pitcher took the mound and far more often than not put the Jays in a perilous position in a game. Literally no matter who AA finds to fill that 34 game gap, whether it’s more of mediocre Brett Cecil, a platoon of Perez and Villanueva, or a surprise starting pitcher acquired through trade (I’m looking at you, Matt Garza), they will be better than Reyes and Drabek.
The Lineup (by position):
Catcher: JP Arencibia will improve in his sophomore year, and if he can lower those K rates and up that OBP even a little bit, the outlying offense of Jose Molina will be replaced. Jeff Mathis…well…hopefully he doesn’t have to start much.
First Base: I think Adam Lind is human garbage, but the Jays organization seems to think back problems and positional adjustments caused his largely poor 2011. If he can come close to matching his tear in mid-May though where he was knocking out dingers left and right, and if he can nudge up that OBP too, they’ll be better at the position. This is the biggest worry for the Jays in the field.
Second Base: Aaron Hill is god awful. Kelly Johnson can be awful, but at least has the upside to be much better. He’ll be an improvement over Hill.
Shortstop: No changes here. Yunel Escobar, arguably the best shortstop in the AL last year, will still provide his bat and surprising amounts of clutchness to the Jays top of the order.
Third Base: Even if he can’t keep up the amazing pace he set last year, Brett “Canadian Jesus” Lawrie will be better than the platoon of Jayson Nix, Edwin Encarnacion, John McDonald, and Mike McCoy.
Left Field: Eric Thames and Travis Snider will battle it out for this spot (pending any trades), and if this is the year that Lunchbox finally gets his shit together and actualizes some of his potential, this could be a surprise source of production in the Jays line up.
Centre Field: Colby Rasmus is less of a sure thing than Brett Lawrie, but the same argument stands. Rasmus > Rajai Davis + Mike McCoy + Dewayne Wise + whatever other scrubs I’m forgetting
Right Field: Joey. Bats. Hits. Dingers.
With a wealth of prospects that could make the leap to the bigs and far greater stability at field positions with far better players, there’s little reason the Jays shouldn’t improve upon 81 wins next season. The off-season isn’t even close to being over, and if recent history has taught us anything, odds are Alex Anthopolous has some ace up his sleeve to bring more pitching to the team. So while the loss of Darvish was disappointing, all is not lost. The Yanks, Sox, and Rays are all still the cream of the AL East, but the team Toronto will be fielding in 2012 are in a much, MUCH better position to contend with these teams than they were 8 months ago.