2007: The Year of the Blue Jay?

This year may be the Chinese year of the pig, but in the baseball world, don't get confused. 2007 is the year of the Blue Jay.

The Toronto Blue Jays are going into training camp with one goal on their mind and two bulls-eyes firmly planted on their free-spending AL East neighbors to the south.

The glory days of 1992 and 1993 are long gone, but the memories still resonate in the minds of the faithful fans would have been forced to endure 13 years of playoff-less baseball. To those loyal addicts who have traipsed day after day to the Rogers Centre hoping to watch a winner, success is finally on the horizon.

After a moderately successful season last year, one in which they supplanted the perennial second-place finishing Boston Red Sox, Toronto is taking aim at first place. Simply an above .500 record will no longer be viewed as respectable and mediocrity will not be accepted. Toronto has the bow and the necessary arrows. The only questions that remain: will they fire and will they be on target? The true answer to that question is somewhere blowing in Dunedin, FL, but after a good look at the key pieces in the Blue Jays organization, Toronto looks primed to make a serious run at the pennant.

By extending manager John Gibbons' contract through 2008, the Blue Jays have given him a sense of job security. This will give the excitable and always entertaining Gibbons freedom to coach with confidence and push this club much higher than many pundits predict.
Going into spring training, the Blue Jays starting rotation has become a solid aspect of the club. Despite losing contract wars for Ted Lilly and Gil Meche, Toronto has a formidable threesome including Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, and Gustavo Chacin.

When Halladay is hurling his best stuff, he is the most lethal pitcher in the majors. For much of last season, this was the case as Halladay posted a 16-5 record with a 3.19 ERA and 132 strikeouts. He is the ace in the Blue Jays pitching staff and will be counted upon to provide consistent quality starts this season.

While Burnett had a less than stellar debut season with Toronto last year, this season he will be relied upon to be much more consistent. In his last 10 games of 2006, he had a 7-3 record with a 3.25 ERA and 60 strikeouts. The right-hander from North Little Rock, AR looked strong as he finished the season, providing reasonable optimism that he can live up to his five-year, $55 million contract he signed prior to last season.

Gustavo Chacin might appear to be a question mark in Toronto's starting rotation, but when his 5'11" frame is healthy, he can be a small dynamo of excitement on the mound. Chacin was on the disabled list for two months because of an elbow injury, but still managed to produce a 9-4 record with 47 strikeouts. Since entering the Blue Jays rotation, he has posted a 22-13 record and barring injury, expect him to give Toronto at least 12 wins this year.

The final two spots on the rotation will be determined by a spring training pitching battle. Tomo Ohka, who Toronto signed as a free agent this winter from the Milwaukee Brewers, is the strongest candidate to lock-up the fourth position. He finished 2006 with a 1-4 record in his final 10 games, but if the Japanese native can return to his early-season form, he will be a valuable fourth pitcher who might push Chacin for the third spot.

The rest of the cast participating in the pitching competition includes John Thomson, a 34-year-old right-hander who played for Atlanta last year, Shaun Marcum, who started 14 games for Toronto last year, and Josh Towers.

After the starting five, Toronto has capable middle-relievers in Jeremy Accardo, Scott Downs, and Brandon League. Between these three and others deeper on the depth chart, Toronto will often be setting up closer B.J. Ryan to complete the victory. Ryan was fifth in the majors with 38 saves in 42 opportunities last year. If he picks up where he left off from last year, the Blue Jays won't be allowing many late-inning rallies.

While depth at pitching is crucial for season-long success, the offense will again be the foundation for this club.

The addition of Frank Thomas and the signing of Vernon Wells prove the Blue Jays are making a determined effort to rock the division.
Last year, Toronto was second in the AL with a .463 slugging percentage, was third with a .284 team batting average, and was fourth in home runs with 199. They didn't lose any big bats in the offseason, other than Bengie Molina's career-high 19 home runs, which can be recovered by committee.

Toronto's offensive onslaught will be enhanced with the addition of DH Frank Thomas. With 39 home runs in 2006, he would have been the Blue Jays leader. Depending on the play of last year's clean-up hitter, Troy Glaus, Thomas' big stick will be penciled in the number four or five whole in the batting order.

Vernon Wells decided to stay in Toronto although he could have left for more money, so Blue Jays fans should be optimistic that he wants to be there and wants to win. This year, he won't be concerned with the trade talks he endured last year and should be much more relaxed and play with confidence. He should surpass last year's 32 home runs and .303 batting average.

Coming off career years, outfielders Alex Rios and Reed Johnson will provide even more pop this year as they continue to develop into high calibre hitters.

Defensively, Toronto did their best to shore up the only question mark in the field with the acquisition of veteran shortstop Royce Clayton. He will split time with John McDonald, who is developing into a reliable defensive asset. Between Clayton, McDonald, and second baseman Aaron Hill, the middle of the infield has been secured.

The rest of the defense only lost Frank Catalanotto and he isn't a big loss. Adam Lind, 23, who played in 18 games last year, will provide comparable depth.

Troy Glaus and Lyle Overbay are excellent corner pieces both defensively and offensively. They had standout seasons last year and will be important elements of Toronto's title hopes.

Other than the loss of Catalanotto, Toronto's outfield hasn't changed and with a healthy Alex Rios all year, the combination of Reed Johnson and Vernon Wells will be a vaunted threat in the field an at the plate.

The only player who left after 2006 who had a major impact defensively is Bengie Molina. Greg Zaun and Molina didn't want to share catching duties and Zaun was cheaper with equal abilities. Zaun's intensity and stability behind the plate will make him a key cog defensively. He is not a liability at the plate, so the Blue Jays came out winners in the catching debacle.

The key for Toronto is hinged on the success and health of their starting rotation. If the bats stay hot and the home runs keep flying out, Toronto will be back in the playoffs for the first time since they won the World Series, and the pig will be playing a backup role to the Blue Jay.

Comments and Conversation

February 26, 2007

Yankee Fan:

Here’s to laying an egg!

February 26, 2007


The Yankees stink, and it’s quite likely they engage in less than manly acitivties in their locker room. Go Jays Go!

February 27, 2007

Mike Round:

Is Halladay, Burnett and Chacin plus 2 x A.N. Other a play off bound rotation - even if the 3 set-in-stone starters stay healthy?
Despite the age of the Yankee starters and the questions marks over the Red Sox rotation, JP would swap rotations with either of these clubs in a heartbeat given the chance.
I think, like you, that the Jays (as do Baltimore, by the way) look a lot stronger this year but I’d be really surprised if they make it into October in the strong AL.

March 2, 2007


I think the jays lack another consistant left handed bat in the line up. The back end of the pitching rotation is a little weak. I think unless someone like a josh towers has a great rebound year, the AL east is going to end up exactly how it has the last several years with the jays stuck in third behind the Yankees and Red Sox.

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