This is the second in a series of previews of our division rivals, written by those who know them best. They will be posted in reverse order of their finish last year.
by Tom Dakers (aka 'Rincewind') of Bluebird Banter -
Greetings from the Great White where Hugo and I run BluebirdBanter.com, the Jay site on SBNation. You can be forgiven if you have forgotten the Jays; Jay's ownership and management forgot about them too. Roger Communications have been using the economic downturn as an excuse to lower payroll.
What have the Jays done this winter? Not much. You guys in New York know that A.J. Burnett left us. We lost another starter, Shawn Marcum, to Tommy John and a third Dustin McGowan will be out till May. So what did we do to fill those spots? We signed lots of minor league deals including Matt Clement, Mike Maroth and some 39 year old Japanese guy (Ken Takahashi). So our rotation is Doc Halladay, Jesse Litsch, David Purcey and two from a list of thousands. As well as the spring invites there is Casey Janssen (who missed last season after surgery), Scott Richmond, prospects Brent Cecil, Rickey Romero, Brad Mills and whoever is kicked off American Idol. Best guess? Janssen will get the 4th spot in the rotation and Richmond 5th until McGowan returns.
Our bullpen was great last year and looks to be even better. Jeremy Accardo is returning after missing the season with an arm injury and BJ Ryan is a year further removed from Tommy John. Everyone else is back.
Offensively we figure to be better - if nothing else a full season with Cito Gaston as manager ought to help. After Cito took over last year our record was 51-37 after being 35-39 before him. Most of our hitters did better after Cito returned. We are hoping for big things from Alex Rios, Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay and Scott Rolen with a full season of Cito's tutoring.
Add in Aaron Hill returning after missing most of last season with a concussion after a collision with David Eckstein (the only thing Eckstein hit hard all year). And our two weakest positions, LF and DH, will be filled with our best prospects: Travis Snider and Adam Lind. Our offense will be better than last year.
Tom answers five questions...
Who will be the surprises of your team, both good and bad?
Good surprise? I'm expecting a great season from Alex Rios, a 30/30 year wouldn't shock me. Bad surprise? Rob Barajas had a pretty decent year behind the plate last year, if terribly inconsistent. I'm not expecting much this year.
Offense improvement roughly equals the decline to the starting staff - we finish 3 or 4 in the division. Our Pythagorean win/loss record was 93-69 last year so with a bit of luck we could be in the race.
We really didn't have any offseason acquisitions. If I have to guess I'd say Michael Barrett, who is a non-roster invite looking for a backup catcher job.
With all apologies to A.J. he was only slightly better than league average at 4.05 ERA with our defense behind him, he isn't our biggest loss. The loss that hurts us most is Shawn Marcum who will miss the season after Tommy John. Shawn was amazing with a 3.39 ERA.
Strengths and weaknesses of your team?
Strengths? Our bullpen and defense look amazing. Our offense will be better than last year. Weaknesses? The back end of our starting rotation and lack of depth.