Playing Pepper 2010 : Toronto Blue Jays

So we are part of an alliance.  It's cool.  It sounds cool.  Whatever.

Occasionally we get to be part of good stuff like this and we even got to bat lead off!  Check it.

Courtesy of our fearless leader Dan The Man @ C70 At The Bat:

Last year before the season began, I posed five questions to a blogger for each team, so as to get to know the rest of baseball.  I focus so heavily on the Cardinals that sometimes the rest of MLB can pass me by.  That went very well, so much so that it spawned not only a postseason edition but was part of the impetus for the formation of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance.

So this year, I've brought 
Playing Pepper back, with a little bit of a twist.  Instead of five questions, I posed 10 questions, and this year every team got the same set.  Plus, tapping into those BBA connections, I sent them to every blogger representing that team in the BBA.

We'll try to do two a day in a general alphabetical order---ah, who are we kidding, we'll get them up when we get them up.

Toronto Blue Jays
2009 Finish: 75-87, fourth in AL East
It had to be extremely tough this offseason for Jays fans to see Toronto icon Roy Halladay get shipped on.  Sure, they knew it was coming sometime, and they'd had the dry run for the whole thing around the trading deadline last year, but that couldn't have made it any easier.
The BBA is stocked with great Blue Jay bloggers, so I was able to round up Dick from 1 Blue Jays Way, Ian from The Blue Jay Hunter, Chris from Infield Fly and Mat from Jays Journal to take a look at the season to come via the Playing Pepper Ten. 

C70: How was the offseason?  What kind of grade would you give it?

1BJW: B minus

Bottom line: We traded away our best pitcher, the face of the franchise, for three young players that may help us in the coming years.  We received no major league ready talent in return. 

I understand that team management was put in a difficult position and we had to trade clubhouse leader Roy Halladay.  I also understand we did received great prospects in return for him which has helped restock our substandard minor league system.

Losing the ace of your staff creates a HUGE hole at the top of the rotation in terms of quality innings pitched, the ability to stop a losing streak and the rest the bullpen receives every five days.  The remainder of the off-season acquisitions were stop gap measures meant to fill holes, except the trade for Brandon Morrow.
We acquired Cuban born shortstop Adeiny Hechevarria.  He fills a long standing organizational need at shortstop and immediately becomes a top five prospect for the team at a premium position.  Along with Brett Wallace at one of the corner infield spots and Kyle Drabek on the mound, things look a little brighter in the days ahead.  All three of these off-season pickups should see some time in the show this year.

Travis d'Arnaud is still a few years away before he will be in a position to help us out at bat catcher.

BJH: There was a maelstrom of off-season activity for the Blue Jays, obviously spear-headed by the Roy Halladay trade. We all knew it was going to happen, we just didn't know where (Philly) and when (December). After the Doc deal, other pieces of the puzzle started to fall into place, like the Alex Gonzalez signing, the John Buck signing, and the Kevin Gregg signing. Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos was very busy this off-season and overall I would give the team a B- grade in their off-season transactions. The moves certainly weren't ones that will make the Blue Jays a contender in 210, but they were moves that are building this team for the future.

IF: Rookie GM Alex Anthopoulos showed he's got potential to be good at his job by pulling off a good deal for Roy Halladay, pouring resources into the scouting department and bringing in lots of arms and some nice role players who can help speed the development of the younger players. But for a team that's supposedly undergoing a youth movement, priority No. 1 should have been to bring in a manager who can develop the youngsters and who will let them play. Clarence Gaston is not the manager to do that, so the team gets an overall grade of D.

JJ: Tumultuous and busy to say the least. Any time you change GMs, add 25 scouts to the franchise and change its structure, trade a beloved franchise player, add 2 top 50 prospects (Drabek and Wallace), add a quality arm (Morrow), and add another 15-20 depth guys to compete for spots you know it's been a busy off season.  I definitely grade the off season as an A since it could not have gone any better.

C70: What is the key to success for 2010?

1BJW: I'm not certain what our goals actually are for the upcoming season.  As such, it is difficult to answer this question.We are building/re-building/re-tooling/whatever you want to call it (again) and it is no secret we are not stepping onto the field everyday thinking we can win.

BJH: I think the key for the Blue Jays lies in the hands (and arms) of the starting rotation. There are a lot of questions surrounding the starting five, and with the departure of Roy Halladay, somebody is going to have to step in and become the new ace of the club. Fortunately, there are a lot of young starting pitchers with a lot of upside that could surprise a lot of folks in 2010. Also, with the return of Shaun Marcum and possibly even Dustin McGowan, those guys can provide some experience and depth to the starting rotation.

IF: The pitching should still be strong enough to give the team a chance to win, so the key is Vernon Wells. If he can return to the level of offensive production that he's capable of, scoring runs will be a lot easier for this team.

JJ: Over achievements from 3-4 of their young pitchers and a good return in trades of some RP and 1B Lyle Overbay.

C70: What will be the team's strength?

1BJW: Team defense.

In 2009 we tied the Pirates for the best fielding percentage in the Majors at .988.  I expect a small drop off due to the loss of Alex Rios in right field, Marco Scutaro at shortstop and especially Scott Rolen at third base.  But we should continue to be in the top half of the league.

BJH: Again, similar to the previous question - I think the Blue Jays strength in 2010 will be pitching. Top to bottom, they have a core of young, talented starting and relief pitchers that are only maybe one or two years away from really hitting their stride.

IF: Even without Halladay, the team's strength should still be pitching. The rotation is young but talented and the bullpen is pretty deep.

JJ: The core of Aaron Hill, Adam Lind, and Travis Snider, along with the overall talent of their starters.

C70: What could be their Achilles' heel?

1BJW: Field manager Cito Gaston and his "old school" approach. 

He needs to manage a team full of veterans that police themselves in order to be successful, which is the exact opposite of what he has now.  He is in the final year of his contract to manage the team so it will be interesting to see what type of legacy he wishes to go out of baseball with.

BJH: Surprise, surprise! Once again, starting pitching will be something that could make or break the Blue Jays in 2010. With a starting rotation that is heavy on sophomore and rookies, there will undoubtedly be a lot of growing pains this year. But its best for those pitchers to gain the experience know and use it as a learning tool for the future.

IF: The Manager. If the team struggles, he's very unlikely to make the necessary changes to the lineup and/or rotation.

JJ: Youth and inexperience.

C70: Who will be the team's MVP?

1BJW: Adam Lind.

Next question.

BJH: I'm going to go out on a huge limb here and say that Vernon Wells will be the MVP for the Blue Jays in 2010. Expectations for him are so low, that anything above what he produced last year will be a vast improvement. We've all seen his potential to be be 30 HR/100 RBI hitter, and if healthy, he has the potential to reach that status once again ... but that's a very big "if".

IF: Adam Lind. His offensive future seems blindingly bright. Aaron Hill should be good again, but his power numbers will likely drop off and the people who vote on these things won't like that.

JJ: 2B Aaron Hill.

C70: Will a rookie make a significant impact on the team in 2010 and, if so, who?

1BJW: Determining rookie status: A player shall be considered a rookie unless, during a previous season or seasons, he has (a) exceeded 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the Major Leagues; or (b) accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the period of 25-player limit (excluding time in the military service and time on the disabled list).

Although we have a lot of young players expected to contribute, none of them still qualify as a rookie.

BJH: It's tough to gauge whether or not a rookie will make big contributions towards to the pitching staff because many young rookie hurlers stepped up last season for the Blue Jays. Technically, Ricky Romero is out of the running because he spent the entire season with the Blue Jays, so my vote for rookie breakout for 2010 would either have to go to Brett Cecil or Marc Rzepczynski.

IF: Randy Ruiz is poised to make a huge impact. I really hope someone in the front office leans on Cito to give him some playing time.

JJ: Yes, 3B Brett Wallace should be able to put up some great numbers when called up mid-summer.

C70: Who will be the breakout player for the team?

1BJW: Travis Snider. 

I guess if I keep picking him to do it every year, eventually I have to be right!

BJH: For me, the breakout star for 2010 has to be Brandon Morrow. After being bounced around from the rotation and the bullpen over in the Seattle Mariners organization, Morrow can now focus all his efforts on being an effective starting pitcher. With the Toronto Blue Jays, he has nowhere to go but up.

IF: I have a feeling that Edwin Encarnacion is poised to put up some pretty impressive performances at the plate. And with infield coach Brian Butterfield working his defensive magic, Encarnacion might develop into a well-rounded player. May not be a typical "breakout" player, but he might surprise some people.

JJ: RF Travis Snider.

C70: Which player will drop off the most from 2009?

1BJW: Aaron Hill.

Hill had a breakout season last year and put up silver slugger numbers hitting behind productive lead off man Marco Scutaro.  He had more at bats than anyone in baseball last year and he took advantage of that fact.  I think Hill will drop off only because his supporting cast is worse, but he still remains a top tier major league second baseman.

BJH: I don't necessarily think that all his stats will drop off this year, but we can definitely expect Aaron Hill to come back down to earth a little bit in 2010. It would be overzealous to expect him to club 30 home runs again this year. I would be surprised if he surpassed 25 HR's, but expect him to land around the 20-22 HR range this year.

IF: After the lousy 2009 season this team had, there's not much room for a drop off. If I had to pick someone though, I'd say Hill. His home run total will likely go down, but he should hit quite a few more doubles. Not a real drop off, but again, it's probably the closest thing to a drop off that his team will have.

JJ: DH Adam Lind.

C70: Who is the most likely player to be dangled as trade bait?

1BJW: I think we will be sellers this year, all year, not just at the trade deadline. 

Overbay, John Buck, Alex Gonzalez, Kevin Gregg, Jason Frasor, Scott Downs are available for a price.  I anticipate we will receive a lot of trade offers as contending teams begin to lose starting players to injury or nonperformance.

BJH: This is a toss-up between Lyle Overbay and Jason Frasor. Both of these guys could easily be traded at a moment's notice and I would not be surprised at all to see them go prior to the trade deadline. Other teams might find Jason Frasor a little more appealing because it seems like clubs are always in the hunt for stable relievers that could close if need be. Since the depth chart is so deep at both these positions, the Blue Jays could easily trade either Overbay or Frasor and have another player step in and take their place at a moment's notice.

IF: Anybody who pitches out of the bullpen. The pen's deeper in Toronto than in most places.

JJ: RP Jason Frasor because of his value as a proven closing option, followed by 1B Lyle Overbay and RP Scott Downs.

C70: What will be the team's final record and divisional standing?

1BJW: Dead last in the AL East, maybe even the entire AL. 

We won 75 games last season and that included contributions from Scott Rolen and Alex Rios for roughly two thirds of the season.  We replaced them with Edwin Encarnasion and Jose Bautista.  That win total also includes a full season of Roy Halladay and Marco Scutaro.  We replaced them with Brandon Morrow and Alex Gonzalez. I hate to be so negative before the season even starts but I think we may be in danger of flirting with the teams fourth 100 loss season.

BJH: Overall, I think the Blue Jays will be on par with their record and placing from last season. I expect them to finish in fourth place with somewhere around a 70-92 record.

IF: I'm taking an optimistic approach to 2010, and I'm going to guess the team ends at 80-82 in fourth place (ahead of the Orioles).

JJ: They will finish last in the division with a 77-85 record.

My thanks to all of the guys for taking a little time out to answer some questions.  Dick even sent along a picture that he felt encapsulated the whole situation, indicating just how tough it can be in Toronto right now.

I included a pic that really seems to sum up our season to me.  It is going to be very bad (bottomless) but it can really only get so bad (65 feet).  Do you get it?  Never mind.  Go Jays!


  1. Outstanding piece today, filled with useful insight.

    For your readers who may be interested, I wrote a piece today on Brad Emaus

  2. William,
    Thanks again for stopping by! We should have a roundtable out in the next few days.....

  3. Somebody should tell JJ that Brett Wallace is not playing 3B.

  4. CP,
    Thanks for your input. I understand it is the organizations goal to converting him to 1 bag. That said, in my opinion, if he is able to play third then we should let him play third. It can't be that bad can it? A position change at this point in his life may affect his hitting negatively. And that we can't have. Mat at Jays Journal has looked into our prospects at the hot corner and concluded we will have no one ready internally there for a few years. I think that is where he is coming from.....