Reflections on the Blue Jays’ Off Season
- Updated: February 2, 2009
Hi everyone, and greetings from the great white north (metaphorically speaking, in my case– I actually live in Washington DC). I’m Hugo, and Rincewind and I (more on that later) run Bluebird Banter, a blog dedicated to discussions and ruminations on our favourite azure-tinged corvids. It’s a great site full of great folks and we’d love to have you visit anytime. But enough about that – Rincewind and I will be writing about the Jays around these parts, and we’re thankful for the opportunity to write on Baseball Reflections, a great site, and looking forward to talking some baseball with y’all.
If you forgot that Toronto has a major-league baseball team this offseason, you can be forgiven, since we’ve been in the news only as the team that sent A.J. Burnett over to his new digs in the Bronx. It’s been strange, JP Ricciardi hasn’t even accused a player he wasn’t able to get of not liking baseball (although, let’s face it – whoever Riccardi’s new bosses are at Rogers Communications, they don’t seem to have much of an affection for the game themselves).
Yes, it’s true, the economy isn’t doing so well (Though you wouldn’t know from a look at the ledgers of Rogers Communications, which continues to post huge profits, at least last quarter. People don’t seem to cut back on TV, internet, or cell phones as a first resort in tough economic times). Anyway, it makes sense that baseball, and the Jays, aren’t immune from the sluggish economy. But when you’re biggest offseason acquisition (thus far) is Matt Clement on a minor-league deal, a guy coming off major shoulder surgery and who hasn’t pitched in the majors since a disastrous 12-start stint in 2006, that’s not belt-tightening, it’s a hunger strike.
What is upsetting about the offseason to us Jays’ fans is that, if you look at it from the right way, the Jays really should’ve been spending this offseason. If you look behind the win-loss record (86-76), you see a team that scored 714 runs and allowed only 610, good for a +104 run differential and a Pythagorean record of 93-69. In fact, as luck is defined by deviation from expected record, the Jays were the unluckiest team in the league last season, and they still managed to win 86 games. According to run differential, the Jays were the 4th best team in all of baseball last year (behind the Sox, the Phillies, and the Cubs) and 1 run ahead of the AL East winning Tampa Bay Rays. It wouldn’t have taken but a drop of luck, and the Jays would’ve been a 95-game winner, which would have tied them with the Red Sox for the wild card.
Behind a lights-out starting pitching staff consisting of Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, Shaun Marcum, and Jesse Litsch, a crazy-deep bullpen (the best in baseball) and an excellent defense, the Jays allowed, by far, the fewest runs of any team in the AL. In fact, they allowed the fewest runs of any team in baseball. Unfortunately for the 2008 Jays, they also scored the 4th fewest runs in the AL, dragged down by horrible performance at DH and left-field, two offense-first lineup spots (well, one offense-first spot and one offense-only spot).
With a number of hitting-first types: Bobby Abreu, Adam Dunn, Pat Burrell, Raul Ibanez, Jason Giambi, Milton Bradley and, dare-I-say-it? Manny Ramirez on the free agent market, one would’ve thought that the Jays, who have not been afraid to spend over the last several years, would pounce on one of these hitters, tweak a few other things, and plan for the parade to roll down Yonge Street. Some of these players are still on the market, but the Jays haven’t so much as squeaked about any of them, nor have they signed any pitchers, other than Matt Clement and fellow shoulder-casualty Mike Maroth, to fill the holes in the rotation left by A.J. Burnett, who left to don the accursed pinstripes, and Shaun Marcum, who, after a brilliant 2008, went under the knife in September for ligament replacement surgery.
That said, even though no big names have been brought in, there’s reason for Jays’ fans to be optimistic. Other than Marcum and Burnett, all the significant contributors to the 2008 Jays are back, and none of the duds are. Adam Lind and wunderkind Travis Snider are set to start their first full seasons in the bigs at the aforementioned DH and LF spots, and while the two lefties will doubtless undergo some growing pains, they are all but sure to better what their positional predecessors managed (Frank Thomas, Shannon Stewart, Brad Wilkerson, and Kevin Mench managed 71, 69, 68, 81 OPS+es, respectively, over 600 soul-crushing at-bats last season). Aaron Hill, an exceptional fielder and good hitter, will be back manning the keystone after an admirable fill-in job by Joe Inglett. Vernon Wells had a very good season in 2008 (124 OPS+) marred by a wrist he broke on a diving catch in center field. And a rejuvenated Alex Rios hit like we Jays fans expect him to (.299/.336/.540) after the all-star break.
Yes, Marcum and Burnett will be missed in 2009, but the Jays return an incredible bullpenand the best pitcher in the AL (sorry C.C.) as well as a cast of young starters (Jesse Litsch, Casey Janssen, Brett Cecil, David Purcey, Dustin McGowan, who may be back by May) more than capable of filling the shoes of the dearly departed. It has been a long, cold, and quiet winter, but I’m excited to see the kids, and I have a feeling 2009 looks a lot better for the Jays than many folks (particularly those in the Toronto media) think they will. If you can’t get optimistic about your team in late January and early February, when baseball withdrawal kicks into high-gear, you’re not a baseball fan (well, or you root for the Pirates).
Hugo also writes for Bluebird Banter. Please follow the link provided to read his and Rincewind’s work there.