Change-UpNovember 28, 2007
Too Soon?
By Patrick Sullivan

Playing in a division with the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees can be a real challenge, one that J.P. Ricciardi has not always been up to. He has been known for moves ranging from the shrewd to the completely senseless (raise your hand, Royce Clayton). More than anything, Ricciardi has seemed like the man without a plan and year in and year out, the Blue Jays fall just about a full tier short of the the level on which Boston and New York perform (the Jays did finish in second ahead of Boston in 2006).

That may change in 2008. In 2007 they were an 87-win Pythag team and they were such thanks to surprise performances from a number of young players. Moreover, the team was hurt by critical injuries, surprise under-performance and the sort of utter ineptitude that one has to think cannot be replicated at a couple of positions. In other words, off of this 87-win base there seems to be considerable room for improvement.

Toronto's core will not be going anywhere. Frank Thomas, Vernon Wells and Alex Rios figure to once again anchor the offense. Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan are the key hurlers. What has become interesting when looking at the Jays and their prospects for 2008 is the emergence of a number of young pitchers. Rich did a comprehensive profile of Dustin McGowan a couple of weeks back. Fellow youngsters Jesse Litsch and Shaun Marcum were also very good in 2007. Here is the line the three combined for last season:

                 IP    SO   BB   H    WHIP  ER  ERA
TOR Youngsters  439.7  316  146  411  1.27  197 4.03

Over and above the three starters, the Jays had three relievers fill in admirably for the injured B.J. Ryan in 2007. Here is how Jeremy Accardo, Scott Downs and Casey Jannsen fared in 2007:

                 IP   SO   BB   H   WHIP  ER  ERA
TOR Relievers    198  153  68  165  1.18  49  2.23

Of these six pitchers (the three starters and three relievers), only Downs is over the age of 26. There are no guarantees that these pitchers will replicate their performance but given how young they are on average, forecasting similar performance does not seem unreasonable. The Blue Jays finished third in the American League with a 112 ERA+ and with improved health from B.J. Ryan and a full season from A.J. Burnett (unlikely, I know), this Jays staff may catapult to the head of the American League.

On the offensive side, two positions stand out as real areas for improvement. Adam Lind was a .316/.377/.505 career Minor League hitter and burst onto the Major League scene as a late-season call-up in 2006. Last year, in 311 plate appearances, Lind managed a terrible .238/.278/.400 line. I think he is a great candidate for improvement and even if he does not, the Jays have the steady Reed Johnson to cover him.

The other position is shortstop. J.P. really bungled this one with the signing of Clayton last season and to make matters worse, John McDonald offered no relief whatsoever. Jays shortstops hit .237/.276/.322 in 2007. I don't really have much to offer here in the way of analysis but really, how the hell can they not improve off of that? One has to really question Ricciardi's decision to extend McDonald (a career 58 OPS+ hitter) but so long as his playing time is limited, he should not be too much of a problem. Also in the "figures to improve" category is Lyle Overbay, who only appeared in 122 games and put up a rotten .240/.315/.391 line.


It's never too soon to start looking ahead to the following season. Overcoming the Red Sox and Yankees will be a tall order but when I scan the 2007 teams to try and pick out a potential surprise club, Toronto sure seems to fit the bill. I'll be interested to see what sort of moves Ricciardi makes to tinker on the margins with his already solid club.


I'm no JP fan but I think I can see why he decided to basically stand pat this off-season. He'll keep McDonald in to help his ground-ball pitchers and hope the other eight guys in the order can generate enough offense to win games. The Jays would love an offensive shortstop but is there one available? And if there is, like your analysis shows, I don't think you want to lose any of the kids pitching.

Staying in the AL East, I'm surprised there's hasn't been more done by the Yankees yet. Do you think their kids are ready to start throwing 200 innings? I don't think so. They really need help with the starting rotation and so Santana seems like a must-have for them.

The signing of MacDonald bugged me last year. It's like the Jays being content with mediocrity. On the other hand, he is an astounding defensive player with great range and may be the best option the Jays have at SS. Adding scutaro will likely help boost the offensive numbers coming off the bench, as he can play a number of positions.

All in all, I think the Jays have a shot, as they did in 2006 and just depends on how things work out for the Red Sox and Yankees.

Another left handed bat would be nice.

No question they have a shot - health willing.

13 surgeries last year and this on-going off-season! Johnson, Glaus, Zaun, Overbay, and Wells all had surgery. Thomas has SWORN, now that he knows he's healthy, to come to spring training ready to go. Rios and Hill both have more upside. If health allows this team will be much more productive than last year.

The emergence of McGowan (true ACE potential), Marcum and continuing improvement in AJ's health promises a even better starting staff. In the bullpen the return of Ryan plus Accardo, Janssen, Wolfe (whom you didn't mention in your piece), Downs, Tallet and League gives the Jays a downright filthy bullpen.

This team IS a contender, if healthy they could be a favorite.

Ricciardi has gotten away from his thrifty, value-minded approach in Oakland. Having more money to spend with the Jays hasn't worked so far.

The Blue Jays had the lowest opponent BABIP in baseball. That means any hit to their defense at all will reduce the effectiveness of their pitching. It could mean that a full of year of Glaus and losing John McDonald at short will hurt their pitching quite a bit.

This is an encouraging analisys for Jays fans to read, something I've been saying for a while.

To annotate what you've pointed out from the perspective of someone who's been following for years, I'd say JP is pretty much finished this offseason. He's not about to trade any pieces of his core, the only improvment from SS figures to come from Scutaro (a .700 OPS player) stealing some ABs from Jmac (a .600 OPS player).

Concern of course is injury. Both Ryan and League are questionmarks coming into the season, but the pen basically proved last year that we didn't need them anyway.

Health for the starting rotation is always the big joke in Toronto. Halladay can't ever seem to make 30 starts, both Burnett and McG have arm issues (McG, who is pretty much Burnett 2.0, had TJS while in the minors). Marcum wore down at the end of the year. I think it's wild card, baby, if those 4 pitchers combine for 600-800 IP. Tough task, though.

5th starter and back-end of the bullpen have lots of depth and figure to be generally solid.

Offense-wise, every underperforming player has their own little excuse (Overbay: hand injury, Glaus: foot problems, Thomas: slow start, Wells: crybaby, Johnson: back surgery, Lind: "wow I learnt a lot through my struggles last year"). New hitting coach this year, but overall there just needs to be performance from these big potential bats. Especially vs RHP.

Positions that pretty much HAVE to figure to improve are CF, LF, SS (Scoot), C (Curtis Thigpen should emerge by mid-season as an Aaron Hill-type), and 1B. I wouldn't get my hopes up for Glaus though.

Best case scenerio for the offense looks great (see: 2006), best case scenerio for pitching looks great (see: 2007) but if you reverse that, it's not pretty.

I'd like to go on record as being less optimistic. A lot of this is no different from when people started pencilling in David Purcey and Ricky Romero as instant #2 pitchers or or Gustavo Chacin for 20 wins. Are hitters going to have a .263 BABIP off A.J. Burnett again, or .273 off McGowan? A .250 BABIP against Jeremy Accardo? That's pretty much the whole story for the bullpen. John McDonald was +20 runs at shorstop in 2007.

But, uh, okay. You can take McDonald out and put Glaus back in and I'm sure a pitching staff based around the top defense in converting balls in plays to outs won't be hurt at all.