The Toronto Blue Jays appear to have a bright future. If Major League Baseball can implement a plan in 2012 to expand the playoffs to 10 teams, the future could be now.
The Action: The Jays made a gigantic splash in the offseason when they landed coveted 1B and home-run hitter Prince Fielder and inked him to a … what? He signed with the Tigers instead? Oh. Then let’s look at another big move, when they posted the highest fee and nabbed prized Japanese starting pitcher Yu Darvish … wait, the Rangers beat them to him, too? Hmm.
Actually, what general manager Alex Anthopoulos did do was address one of the club’s biggest issues by acquiring one of the most solid top-to-bottom bullpens in the majors. First, the flammable Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch were both released, which needed to happen. Then the club gave the Chicago White Sox a couple of pitching prospects for Sergio Santos, who is expected to be the primary closer. Experienced lefthander Darren Oliver came aboard to be a setup man and get the ball to Santos.
Even longtime Reds reliever Francisco Cordero, with 327 saves during the past 13 seasons, decided to forgo potential closing opportunities elsewhere to become the righthanded late-inning specialist and provide insurance if Santos fails to get the job done. The only movement on the batting side came when light-hitting Ben Francisco signed on as an extra bat and a backup outfielder.
It’s A Lock: With Santos, Cordero and Oliver under contract, Anthopoulos did what he could to strengthen the bullpen. Canadian Brett Lawrie will continue to get better at third base and at the plate. Slugger Jose Bautista has shown that his big bat is natural, and no fluke. J.P. Arencibia is one of the best young catchers in the business.
Hedge Your Bets: As previously mentioned, the Jays spent most of their resources to stabilize the bullpen. Because of that, first base remains a bone of contention. Adam Lind is scheduled to split time between that position and DH, with Edwin Encarnacion expected to do the same and provide some cover at 3B occasionally. Both have had problems with consistency, in the field and at the plate.
Rajai Davis was brought in last season to bat leadoff and be the team’s base stealer, but he seems to be out of favor with manager John Farrell. Then there’s CF Colby Rasmus, who must shake the “headcase” tag which came with him from St. Louis. Left field is still a revolving door with Davis, Eric Thames and Travis Snyder all wanting to play. The keystone combination of 2B Kelly Johnson and SS Yunel Escobar could be good, but is far from proven.
The starting pitching is also a series of question marks. Ricky Romero is the undisputed leader of this group, but behind him are several maybes. Will Brandon Morrow prove he has the durability and tenacity to be a full-season star? Can Brett Cecil do the same? How about Henderson Alvarez: will he continue to display the impressive command he showed in 2011 despite a 1-3 record as a starter? Can Dustin McGowan win a job on this staff despite having been away for nearly three years? Will Kyle Drabek or Aaron Laffey have any impact? Who can step up if any of them stumble?
The Payoff: The MLB futures betting predicts the Jays will finish in fourth place in the division and seventh in the league, and they’re a 41:1 longshot to win the World Series. Given the talent they have and the shiny new bullpen, it’s up to Farrell to get the best out of a promising bunch.