torontobluejays

2008 Record: 86-76 4th, AL East
2009 Prediction: 4th, AL East

Impact Player: Vernon Wells
Impact Pitcher: Roy Halladay
Top Prospect: Travis Snider, OF/DH

Significant Acquisitions: P Matt Clement, P Mike Maroth, C Michael Barrett, C Raul Chavez, P Brian Burres
Significant Losses: P A.J. Burnett, C Gregg Zaun, OF Brad Wilkerson

The Jays finished with a respectable 86-76 record last year and played some decent baseball in spite of firing their manager and finishing 11th in runs scored in the AL.  But this year, the Jays have more to suffer from. They lost Burnett, for starters.

Pitching
The Jays had the best ERA in MLB last year. Thanks to Halladay, Burnett and Dustin McGowan. McGowan will be out until at least May with a shoulder injury and will probably be operating on reduced effectiveness for most of the year; and Shaun Marcum will miss all of this season with Tommy John surgery.  Because of this, the Jays rotation looks a little weak.  Roy Halladay is still at its top and is still one of the best pitchers in baseball and should be counted on to win 18-20 games once again (he was 20-11 and finished 2nd in Cy Young voting behind Cliff Lee in ’08). 13-game-winner Jesse Litsch is probably the only other true major-league starter that will enter the rotation. Young arm David Purcey should lock up the #3 spot and the final two spots will be battled.

As bad as things could be for the starters, the Jays shouldn’t have any problems with their bullpen as they are returning the entire ’08 unit that finished number one in MLB.  B.J. Ryan is back and should be the primary closer after saving 32 of 36 opportunities and has the added incentive of pitching in a contract year.  Lefties Scott Downs, Brian Tallet, and Jesse Carlson all return after stellar ’08 campaigns and righties Jason Frasor and Brandon League are also back.  Shawn Camp is back as well after a solid ’08, especially against righties.  Added to this solid group is the return of Jeremy Accardo who saved 30 games and posted a 2.14 ERA in ’07 before struggling in the early part of ’08 and succumbing to an injury in May that ended his year.  Brian Wolfe is another pitcher the Jays could turn to in the event of an injury to one of their key bullpen members.  There is absolutely no shortage of depth in the Jays bullpen heading into the season.

Rotation (Throws)
Roy Halladay (R)
Jesse Litsch (R)
David Purcey (L)
Casey Janssen (R)
Matt Clement (R)
Dustin McGowan (R)

Bullpen
B.J. Ryan (L) — CLOSER
Scott Downs (L)
Brian Tallet (L)
Jesse Carlson (L)
Brandon League (R)
Jason Frasor (R)
Shawn Camp (R)
Jeremy Accardo (R)
Brian Wolfe (R)

Lineup
The Jays have hitters with talent, but don’t produce at the plate. Look at Vernon Wells (CF) and Alex Rios (RF). Both can hit, but seem to freeze. Young talents Adam Lind and Travis Snider will split time in left and at DH.  In the infield, the Jays return the underachieving Lyle Overbay at first and the oft-injured Scott Rolen at third who is clearly past his prime but should still contribute if he remains in the lineup.  Aaron Hill went down with a concussion last May and missed the rest of the year but his solid bat and gold-glove caliber defense will be back and healthy in ’09. Hill could put up Pedroia-like numbers if he stays healthy.  At short, the Jays should split Marco Scutaro who has an average bat and an average glove and John McDonald who may only hit .200, but is probably the best defensive shortstop in baseball.  Catching duties will belong to Rod Barajas who had a solid ’08 and won the job from the now-departed Gregg Zaun.

On the bench the Jays are a little thin.  Minor-league contractors Michael Barrett and Raul Chavez will battle for the backup catching job while J.P. Arencibia spends another year at AAA.  One of the shortstops and Jose Bautista will reserve the infield and another minor-league pickup, Jason Lane, could vie for the fourth outfielder spot with speed-demon Buck Coats.

Lineup (Bats)
RF  Alex Rios (R)
2B  Aaron Hill (R)
CF  Vernon Wells (R)
LF  Travis Snider (L)
3B  Scott Rolen (R)
1B  Lyle Overbay (L)
DH  Adam Lind (L)
C    Rod Barajas (R)
SS  John McDonald (R)

Bench
UTIL Marco Scutaro (R)
C    Michael Barrett (R)
INF Jose Bautista (R)
OF  Buck Coats (L)

Outlook
With a little luck and gilded expectations, the Jays might be a winning team again in ’09, but it’s hard to see this team getting enough from its starting pitching and its perennially underachieving offense to do much.

Final Prediction: 78-84, 4th AL East.