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September 20, 2010

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Toronto Blue Jays

by Christina Kahrl, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade—whether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. It combines a broad overview of this season from Buster Olney, a take from Baseball Prospectus, a look toward an immediate 2011 move courtesy of Rumor Central and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview. You can find all the teams on one page by going here.

Now, it's time to kiss the Toronto Blue Jays goodbye.


The overview

For the first time in a decade, the Blue Jays did not have Roy Halladay anchoring the staff, and as the summer went along and Toronto seemed to lack only that one lead starter, some scouts asked an open-ended question: would the Blue Jays have been better off keeping Halladay in 2010, giving the team a better chance to win? In any event, Toronto might have lacked the necessary depth to keep up the AL East powers, especially in light of the down years for Aaron Hill and Adam Lind, whose batting averages hovered just over .200. But their overall performance this season made that question legitimate.

The young pitching that was in place when Alex Anthopolous took over as general manager—such as Ricky Romero—has continued to blossom, and the first year GM augmented the staff as well. Brandon Morrow, acquired from Seattle for reliever Brandon League, made some mechanical adjustments and evolved into one of the most dominant strikeout pitchers in the AL. And Jose Bautista, a journeyman who had bounced from team to team for years, had a breakout season, shattering the team's single-season record for home runs. In addition, Vernon Wells improved over recent seasons, becoming a credible source of production again in the middle of the Toronto lineup, which will finish the year with more homers than any team in the majors.

Ultimately, to compete, the Jays must continue to see improvement and maturation in the likes of Romero and Morrow and Kyle Drabek, as well as from new shortstop Yunel Escobar, who seemed to be energized by his trade to Toronto. The Blue Jays also will have a tough call on Bautista—should they trade him now to take advantage of his sky-high trade value, or should they hang onto him for 2011, before he becomes a free agent? It's a team on the rise.—Buster Olney, ESPN Insider

Baseball Prospectus' take

What went right: After a 75-win disappointment in 2009 led to a long-anticipated regime change in the front office, Anthopolous managed the neat trick of expanding the club's talent base while also delivering a better ballclub, sending manager Cito Gaston back to franchise Valhalla with possibly another winning season. Many of Anthopolous' canny trade pickups figure to deliver dividends into the future, especially Morrow and Drabek in the rotation, as noted above. A number of veterans delivered useful seasons, especially center fielder Vernon Wells, shortstop Alex Gonzalez (before he was dealt for Escobar), closer Kevin Gregg, and All-Star catcher John Buck. The rotation received the benefit of Romero proving his 2009 wasn't a mirage, Brett Cecil getting established and the successful comeback of Shaun Marcum.

What went wrong: Single-season homer records are what they get to play for, because they're stuck being baseball's best fourth-place team. Bouncing around .500 in the American League East is no mean feat—adjust for their schedule, and you'd have a team that ranks sixth in the league in wins and a contender in either the Central or West. Beyond the geography-as-destiny problem, top prospect Travis Snider didn't blossom, and Lind didn't reward the club for the decision to give him an expensive, multi-year arbitration-avoiding extension. Hill learned that regression's a function of reality, dropping from his 2009 breakout to this season's struggle to get his OBP over .280 or his batting average above the Mendoza line.

The key number: 229 (and counting). The Jays' huge uptick in home runs is the Majors' leading total this season, with the incredible breakout campaign of Bautista leading the way in a lineup where eight of nine positions have tallied 20 or more taters, with only left field coming up short. Can they top the franchise's single-season record of 244 (set in 2000)?

What won't happen again: Another 50-homer season from Bautista, because he's almost doubled up on his previous best ratio of homers per fly ball. You can't call his 2010 a comeback campaign: he's never been this good before, not unless Bautista is the latter-day incarnation of Hank Sauer, a hitter who goes from anonymity to slugging stardom in his 30s. However, even reverting to career norms and an Isolated Power mark between .160-.180 makes Bautista a useful source of power at whichever corner they put him. Blue Jays fans should also take solace in that Hill should bounce back from his terrible season: his power and walk rates have stayed consistent, suggesting some unusually poor luck on the balls he's put into play.—Christina Kahrl, Baseball Prospectus

Rumor Central: 2011 options

Decisions, decisions: The Blue Jays enter the winter with decisions to make on closer Gregg and the rest of their bullpen. The club holds a dual option on the right-hander that allows them to retain his services for 2011, or for each of the next two seasons at reasonable salaries. Gregg could have value on the trade market, too, but the club needs to bring a viable relief corps north with it next spring if it wishes to contend in the AL East. Scott Downs and Jason Frasor are slated to hit free agency—will either be offered arbitration? Shawn Camp and Casey Janssen could cost the club dearly as arbitration eligibles, potentially restricting how active the club can be on the free agent market, where veterans at catcher and infielder could be on the to-do list.

Bautista's bounty: He's well on his way to hitting 50-plus home runs, so Bautista's status with the club is going to be a hot topic this winter. The slugger is making $2.4 million this season and is arbitration eligible one final time before free agency comes. He could break the bank after his monster season, perhaps warranting as much as an eight-figure salary for 2011, though more likely just south of that. Toronto could try and lock him up with some guaranteed money for three or four years, which could be attractive to the player and the club, or he could also be the subject of trade rumors over the offseason. But, as Rumor Central has noted all summer, his value isn't exactly easy to gauge since it took him until age 29 to turn his plus raw power into something more than a platoon bat.—Jason Churchill, ESPN Insider

Organizational future

Between J.P. Arencibia's two-home run debut and Drabek's start again the Orioles last week, Blue Jays fans are already getting a glimpse of a possible All-Star battery in the future, and that future should begin in 2011. With Buck likely to depart for the greener pastures of free agency, Arencibia is ready to step in at catcher after pounding out 32 home runs in just 412 Triple-A at bats. Las Vegas is a launching pad to be sure, but in any environment, Arencibia's power is well above average for a backstop and he has the athleticism to turn into a good defender, although there's still work to be done in that department. As for Drabek, many scouts feel he has been big league-ready for most of the year and he could break camp next spring towards the front of the Blue Jays rotation.—Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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