3 Toronto Blue Jays

March 25, 2007

MANAGER JOHNGIBBONS fifth season with Blue Jays

GENERAL MANAGER J.P. Ricciardi had no difficulty adding clout to his lineupthe last two off-seasons, having imported Frank Thomas, Troy Glaus and LyleOverbay to help form, along with Vernon Wells, as lethal a 2-3-4-5 combo as anyin the American League.

As for beefing upthe pitching staff? That's a different matter. The top of the rotation, RoyHalladay and A.J. Burnett, was superior to that of the Red Sox and the Yankeesin 2006 by most key measures (strikeout rate, innings per start, base runnersallowed). The rest of it, however, is a wasteland. Permitted to increase hisbudget from $72 million to $90 million over the winter, Ricciardi made generousoffers for C-list hurlers Ted Lilly (Toronto's third starter last year) andfree-agent Gil Meche but lost out on both. Though the Cubs and the Royalswildly overpaid for Lilly (four years, $40 million) and Meche (five years, $55million), respectively, that's small consolation for the Blue Jays' G.M., whoseclub will have to win some 11--8 games to keep up with Boston and New York.

The four leadingcandidates for the three vacant starters' slots had a combined 16 big leaguewins and a 5.36 ERA last year. Toronto would benefit greatly from a bounce-backseason by talented 26-year-old lefty Gustavo Chacin, who missed most of lastseason (elbow and forearm injuries) after a strong rookie year in 2005 (13--9,3.72 ERA). Odds are against it, though. Since 1995 eight pitchers have thrown200 innings in their rookie years, as Chacin did, and only Freddy Garcia andMatt Morris even came close to regaining their first-year form. (And Morrismissed almost two entire seasons before recovering.)

Then there's33-year-old John Thomson, who battled finger and shoulder injuries last year,when he went 2--7 in Atlanta. Two-win pitchers at the end of their careers,especially ones coming off injuries, are usually nonroster guys hoping to get astart or two in the spring. The Blue Jays, though, want Thomson to start 30games and stare down Manny Ramirez at Fenway Park. The two other veterans inthe mix are journeyman righthander Tomo Ohka and righty Victor Zambrano, whohas already achieved a modicum of fame in the AL East as the answer to thetrivia question, For whom did the Devil Rays obtain Scott Kazmir?

"We tried toadd as much bulk as we could to the rotation in Thomson, Ohka and Zambrano,trying to find a way to replace Lilly's 180 innings," Ricciardi says."That's easier said than done, but what we have to keep in mind is thatBoston and New York have the same kinds of questions about their rotations,too."

Really? Let's takea look at the third starters for the Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays,respectively: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Mike Mussina, Gustavo Chacin. Fourth starters:Jonathan Papelbon, Kei Igawa, John Thomson. Fifth starters ... you get thepoint. Toronto may give the veterans the first shots in the rotation, but don'tbe surprised if the club turns to promising young arms, such as righthandersDustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum (both of whom averaged more than a strikeoutper inning at Triple A Syracuse), if things aren't going well after the firstmonth. "What we break camp with is not necessarily going to be our teamcome May," acknowledges manager John Gibbons.

"We all knowwhat's going on," Thomson says. "We can win 90 games and make theplayoffs, but the starters are going to have to keep us in games."

Catcher Gregg Zaunhas it all figured out. "If Doc [Halladay] and A.J. are both five gamesover .500, which we expect, and the rest of our guys pitch .500 ball, thatshould get us to around 92 wins," he says. "That ought to be goodenough for the playoffs."

We'll check hismath come September.

CONSIDER THIS

a modest proposal...

Alexis Riosbounced back from a disappointing 2005 by playing the best baseball of hiscareer in the first three months of '06, then missed a month with a staphinfection in his left leg. Before the injury Rios (left) had been turning onthe ball and driving it, hitting 15 of his 17 homers and slugging .585. Afterhe returned on July 28, however, Rios slugged .411 the rest of the way. Hisplate discipline indicators also nose-dived after his return, with 42strikeouts and 11 walks in 180 at bats. It's difficult to evaluate a playerwhose season was so clearly affected by an injury, but the fact that Riosreverted to his '05 approach at the plate is a concern. This may be a chancefor the Jays to sell high, using Rios, 26, as a trade chip to upgrade theirrotation or middle infield. Reed Johnson could move to right, making room inleft for Adam Lind, 23, who has hit at least .310 at each of his four minorleague stops.


THE LINEUP

PROJECTED ROSTERWITH 2006 STATISTICS

REED JOHNSON LF        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 201 .319 12 49 8
LYLE OVERBAY 1B        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L 93 .312 22 92 5
VERNON WELLS CF        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 25 .303 32 106 17
FRANK THOMAS* DH        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 41 .270 39 114 0
TROY GLAUS 3B        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 50 .252 38 104 3
ALEX RIOS RF        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 86 .302 17 82 15
GREGG ZAUN C        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
S-R 155 .272 12 40 0
AARON HILL 2B        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 249 .291 6 50 5
ROYCE CLAYTON* SS        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 297 .258 2 40 14

 

BENCH          
JASON PHILLIPS C-1B        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
R 377 .250 0 6 0
JASON SMITH* INF        
B-T PVR BA HR RBI SB
L-R 304 .263 5 13 3

 

ROTATION              
PITCHER   PVR W L K WHIP ERA
RH Roy Halladay 6 16 5 132 1.10 3.19
RH A.J. Burnett 69 10 8 118 1.30 3.98
LH Gustavo Chacin 108 9 4 47 1.47 5.05
RH John Thomson* 181 2 7 46 1.56 4.82
RH Tomo Ohka* 192 4 5 50 1.37 4.82

 

BULLPEN              
PITCHER   PVR W L SV WHIP ERA
LH B.J. Ryan 16 2 2 38 0.86 1.37
RH Jason Frasor 147 3 2 0 1.28 4.32
RH Victor Zambrano* 268 1 2 0 1.69 6.75


* New acquisition
B-T: Bats-throws
WHIP: Walks plus hits per inning pitched
PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 77)

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THE NUMBERS

DON'T LIE
199 Home runs that the Blue Jays hit last season, a major-league-best increaseof 63 from 2005. Don't expect a drop-off this season--not with the addition ofdesignated hitter Frank Thomas, a free-agent acquisition from Oakland. Hemashed 39 home runs with the A's in '06, more than any Blue Jay hammered.

PHOTODAVID DUROCHIK/SPORTPICSBIG HURT Burnett is filthy, but he's made more than 21 starts only once since '02--one of the symptoms of a thin rotation. PHOTOD. ROSS CAMERON/REUTERS (RIOS) PHOTOJOHN IACONO (WELLS)WELLS

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)