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3 Toronto Blue Jays Bargains or busts? A season rides on an overhauled pitching staff

April 05, 2004
April 05, 2004

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April 5, 2004

Baseball Preview 2004

3 Toronto Blue Jays Bargains or busts? A season rides on an overhauled pitching staff

Just who was it that decided Toronto could not compete for a
playoff spot this year? Who predetermined that the Yankees or the
Red Sox would win the American League East and the Red Sox or the
Yankees would be the wild card? Whoever it was didn't visit the
Blue Jays' spring training camp in Dunedin, Fla., and see a team
confident that it had done enough in the off-season to improve on
last year's 86 wins.

This is an article from the April 5, 2004 issue

Toronto was 9-10 against both Boston and New York in 2003. The
Jays outscored the Yanks by 17 runs and were outscored by the
mighty Red Sox by just .4 of a run per game. And Toronto's
starting staff was awful. (Awful, at least, beyond Cy Young Award
winner Roy Halladay.) Over the winter the team made itself a
run-per-start stingier by replacing its second, third and fourth
starters. Out: Kelvim Escobar, Mark Hendrickson and Cory Lidle
(combined '03 ERA: 5.18). In: Miguel Batista, Ted Lilly and Pat
Hentgen (combined '03 ERA: 3.97). If the starting rotation of
Halladay, Batista, Lilly, Hentgen and Josh Towers pitches this
year the way it finished last year, the playoffs are not an
impossible dream for Toronto. Those five guys went 16-5 with a
2.93 ERA in September.

"Our rotation last year was suspect, to say the least," says
centerfielder Vernon Wells. "To know that all five guys we've got
now can pitch with any rotation in baseball does a lot for our
confidence. We don't have to score eight or nine runs to win a
game."

Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi knew he had to perform major
surgery on his staff--while keeping the payroll at about $50
million, less than a third of the Yankees' outlay. So at 12:01
a.m. on the day free agency began in November, Ricciardi says, he
phoned the agent for Batista, a righthander who'd gone 29-26 over
the previous three years for the Diamondbacks. "I was like a
recruiting coordinator, calling the guy the first minute we
could," Ricciardi says. "I was going to be dogged until he
signed." Which Batista finally did, on Dec. 12, for $13.1 million
over three years.

Meanwhile, Ricciardi called his old boss, Billy Beane, the G.M.
of the A's, and proposed a deal involving a Jays outfielder he
knew Beane liked. "I said, 'Billy, you want Bobby Kielty. We want
Lilly.' He said, 'O.K.' That's literally how long it took to do
that deal. We were outfield-heavy, he was pitching-heavy." The
lefty Lilly signed with the Jays for $4 million over two years.

The next piece was Hentgen, a righthander who had won the Cy
Young with Toronto in 1996, when he was a power pitcher. Now 35,
three years removed from Tommy John ligament-replacement surgery
in his throwing elbow, Hentgen is a four-pitch starter who spots
the ball throughout the strike zone. In the second half of last
season he went 6-3, with a 3.10 ERA, in 13 starts with the
Orioles. Ricciardi signed him for one year for $2.2 million.

"The big thing for this rotation will be staying healthy," says
Hentgen, who hasn't thrown 200 innings in his last six seasons.
"I'd be plenty happy to throw 185 to 200 innings, which would be
big for this staff. We've got the best pitcher in baseball coming
back, then we've got solid guys behind him. And having [a
southpaw like] Lilly is big, especially going into Yankee
Stadium."

Lilly was huge for the A's in last year's playoffs against
Boston, throwing a memorable game at Fenway Park in Game 3 (seven
innings, two hits, no earned runs, no decision) and adding two
shutout innings in futile relief two nights later. "Those are the
games I love," says Lilly, 28. "They're like wars. I feel like if
I win, I survive. If I lose, I die."

The Blue Jays' rotation could be either a tremendous
bargain--Toronto will pay its five starters a total of $14
million in 2004, a million less than Boston will pay Pedro
Martinez--or a terrible misreading of talent by Ricciardi. The
question that matters is, Will the staff be good enough to match
up with the big boys? Remember, while the Blue Jays added Miguel
Batista, their friends in New England acquired Curt Schilling.

"We're chasing teams with quality depth," says Jays manager
Carlos Tosca. "But if we stay healthy, I think it's realistic to
say we'll be playing meaningful games in September." --P.K.

COLOR PHOTO: AL MESSERSCHMIDT/WIREIMAGE.COM ROTATION, ROTATION, ROTATION With three new starters behind him, ace Halladay expects to be in good company.COLOR PHOTO: JED JACOBSOHN/GETTY IMAGES HINSKE

IN FACT

Roy Halladay struck out 6.38 batters for every one he walked, the
best rate among starting pitchers in '03.

ENEMY LINES
an opposing team's scout sizes up the Blue Jays

"This team may not be as good as it was last year. The offense
won't score as many runs as people think it will. Eric Hinske is
not the power hitter the Blue Jays believe he is. He's a barely
adequate third baseman, he doesn't hit .300 or 30 home runs, yet
they gave him a big five-year contract....Who are they going to
get home runs from besides Carlos Delgado and Vernon Wells?...
Orlando Hudson has really improved. He's not striking out as much
and not trying to hit the ball out of the park every at bat. Reed
Johnson came out of nowhere last year. He's a really aggressive
hitter and a big plus in the leadoff spot....I'm trying to
understand how, after all their moves this winter, the Jays
didn't get a closer. That should have been their Number 1
priority. Aquilino Lopez will probably close for them, but he
doesn't have a closer's stuff. He should pitch out of the middle
of the bullpen.... I like Roy Halladay and Miguel Batista at the
top of the rotation. Batista was a very good pickup, and he'll
have a big year. But beyond those two, there are a lot of
questions."

THE LINEUP
projected roster with 2003 statistics

BATTING ORDER

RF Johnson
LF Catalanotto
CF Wells
1B Delgado
DH Phelps
3B Hinske
2B Hudson
SS Woodward
C Cash

VERNON WELLS
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 15 .317 33 117 4

REED JOHNSON
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 195 .294 10 52 5

ORLANDO HUDSON
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 229 .268 9 57 5

CARLOS DELGADO
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 20 .302 42 145 0

KEVIN CASH (R)
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 321 .142 1 8 0

ERIC HINSKE
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 131 .243 12 63 12

CHRIS WOODWARD
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 238 .261 7 45 1

FRANK CATALANOTTO
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 168 .299 13 59 2

BENCH

GREG MYERS
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 246 .307 15 52 0

DAVE BERG
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 341 .255 4 18 0

DESIGNATED HITTER

JOSH PHELPS
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 156 .268 20 66 1

ROTATION

PITCHER PVR W L IPS WHIP ERA

RH Roy Halladay 2 22 7 7.4 1.07 3.25
RH Miguel Batista 86 10 9 6.3 1.33 3.54
[New acquisition]
LH Ted Lilly 114 12 10 5.7 1.33 4.34
[New acquisition]
RH Pat Hentgen 136 7 8 6.3 1.29 4.09
[New acquisition]
RH Josh Towers 139 8 1 6.6 1.15 4.48

BULLPEN

PITCHER PVR W L S WHIP ERA

RH Aquilino Lopez 49 1 3 14 1.25 3.42
RH Justin Speier 144 3 1 9 1.31 4.05
[New acquisition]
RH Kerry Ligtenberg 228 4 2 1 1.25 3.34
[New acquisition]

2003 RECORD
86-76
third in AL East

MANAGER
Carlos Tosca
third season with Toronto

(R) Rookie
B-T: Bats-throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 142)