This is one of a series of posts in which I will be breaking down every team in baseball. I am by no means a credible source—merely a casual fan who knows a little about baseball and would like to share my observations.
Today we look at the Blue Jays, a team striving for relevance, with hopes to erase their now 20-year-long postseason drought. With a couple new faces in town, there are reasons to believe this could be the year that happens.
Projected Lineup: SS Jose Reyes, 3B Josh Donaldson*, RF Jose Bautista, DH Edwin Encarnacion, C Russell Martin*, LF Michael Saunders*, 1B Justin Smoak*, 2B Devon Travis, CF Dalton Pompey
Projected Rotation: RHP R.A. Dickey, LHP Mark Buehrle, RHP Drew Hutchison, RHP Marcus Stroman, RHP Marco Estrada*
* new additions
Part of me really wants the Blue Jays to be good. If for nothing else, so Drake can have a cause in life.
You’ve got to respect the Toronto native’s loyalty, but it’s starting to get sad to see all his teams lose, with him standing idly by on the sidelines. Nothing would help Drake’s reputation more than a championship for the city of Toronto. But until that day happens, he’s stuck going to the club on Tuesdays to avoid the shame of being seen around town.
The Jays have a good chance this year. With a flurry of moves this winter, they’re fielding a much more complete-looking team than they did a season ago. And it wasn’t just about adding talent, either—the Jays added guys with playoff experience, which was paramount for the team with the longest current postseason drought in Major League Baseball. Simple logic, really—bring in guys who know how to win in October, and maybe you’ll win in October.
Russell Martin is the new catcher, after inking a five-year deal to come play for his hometown team. Martin is an on-base machine—his .402 on-base percentage ranked second in the National League last season. He’s a defensive force—his 37 runners caught stealing was tops in all of baseball. But what Martin really brings to the Jays is some much needed leadership. If the Jays surprise people this year and put together a playoff run, Martin will be leading the charge.
The Jays also have a couple of secret weapons at their disposal. They will be introducing a new youth movement in their quest for relevance this year, a trick which can be very effective that I like to call the “Knoblauch effect”.
Sometimes during the mid-season dog days, a team’s offense might start to drag. Then they’ll call up from the minors an MLB-ready kid to help jump-start the offense—a kid to whom no pitchers know how to pitch, and against whom no managers know how to defend. A secret weapon.
By the end of this season, we’ll see the Jays employing youngsters Devon Travis and Dalton Pompey at second base and center field, respectively. These call-ups, in addition to giving the offense a new look, will also serve to fill gaping holes at each of their respective positions. They won’t win Rookie of the Year honors, but Pompey is a big stolen base threat, and Travis brings a solid glove to the second base position.
A side note: Dalton Pompey’s walk-up song is not “Pompeii”, which is an absolute travesty.
As for the pitching, Marcus Stroman emerged as the ace of the staff with a breakout season last year, posting a 3.29 ERA in twenty starts. The sky will be the limit for Stroman this season, and he’ll be good, but he won’t be the reason these Jays remain in contention. No, that will be the stone-cold consistency of veterans R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle. Each averaged 6 1/3 innings per start in 2014. And while neither their stats or velocity jump off the charts, saving the bullpen and handing over the lead more often than not is how you win games.
Speaking of which—that bullpen has been the one area of neglect over the offseason. Brett Cecil is apparently the closer now, because there are no other options on staff. And it isn’t that he’s a bad choice, but with Cecil confined to the ninth inning, the Jays really limit their ability to use lefty pitchers for matchups earlier in the game. Besides Cecil, the only lefty projected to be in the ‘pen is Aaron Loup.
But they might have another secret weapon: 21-year old Daniel Norris, one of the team’s top pitching prospects, has been flying through the minors, and if he has a good spring, the team might deem him MLB-ready. He also happens to be a lefty. If he makes the big league club, the bullpen would be the ideal spot for him. And just like that, the team fixes its lefty problem.
Overall, the Blue Jays have a good mix of veterans and young talent. If they can stay healthy, a Wildcard berth is a very real possibility.
Projected Finish: 89-73, Second place in AL East, Wildcard berth