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September 20, 2011

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Toronto Blue Jays

by Ben Lindbergh, 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 from Baseball Prospectus, a front-office take from former MLB GM Jim Bowden, a best- and worst-case scenario ZiPS projection for 2012 from Dan Szymborski and Kevin Goldstein's farm-system overview.

Today we say so long to the Toronto Blue Jays, who continue to make progress in competing the tough AL East, but still found themselves coming up short. It's time to kiss them goodbye, eh?

Projected 2012 Lineup
The Blue Jays will rely heavily on their bats to contend in the AL East, but they can't do that without their young pitchers taking a big step forward.

Batting order
SS: Yunel Escobar
2BKelly Johnson
RF: Jose Bautista
CF: Colby Rasmus
3B: Brett Lawrie
DH: Edwin Encarnacion
1BAdam Lind
LF: Travis Snider
C: J.P. Arencibia

Rotation
SP: Ricky Romero
SP: ?
SP: Brandon Morrow
SP: Kyle Drabek
SP: Henderson Alvarez
 

Baseball Prospectus' Take
Signs of hope:
 The Jays haven’t been bad at bat, featuring the second-best offensive team that won’t be going to the playoffs. Jose Bautista has made his offseason extension seem like a steal by sustaining his offensive onslaught over a second campaign, and Brett Lawrie, a BC native whose exuberant style has already made him a Canadian cult hero, trails just behind the American League’s top five third basemen with 3.1 WARP despite not making his debut until early August. The Jays have also been the AL’s best baserunning team, adding roughly nine runs, or just under a win (over half of that attributable to Rajai Davis) with their legs. Despite their struggles on the mound, the Jays have established two strong young starters in Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow (whose 4.98 ERA, inflated by an utter absence of double plays turned behind him, has obscured the highest strikeout rate among AL starters), and they enjoyed both the successful late-season debut of Henderson Alvarez and the unlikely return of Dustin McGowan, who was prevented from pitching over the past two seasons after undergoing serious shoulder surgery. GM Alex Anthopoulos has yet to make a major miscue, and the Jays have enjoyed both financial (Vernon Wells) and on-field (Yunel Escobar) fruits of his swaps with other organizations.

Signs of disaster: The Blue Jays have had to rely on their bats, since the team’s pitching hasn’t held up its end of the bargain. Among AL teams, only the Orioles and Twins have run up a higher Fair Run Average than Toronto’s 4.88. The Jays were again victimized by their undesirable division assignment and the unbalanced schedule, going 20-30 to date against the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays. The good news is that they’re 13 games over .500 against everyone else, but that doesn’t change the unfortunate fact that the Jays are still stuck behind three seemingly immovable obstacles. They also endured disappointing seasons from Travis Snider and Adam Lind, two players who were expected to be offensive stalwarts but haven’t lived up to their billing lately, and top pitching prospect Kyle Drabek made the team out of spring training only to lose his control and continue to struggle even after a demotion to Triple-A. 

Signs you can ignore: The Jays endured a sign-stealing controversy that erupted in Augustand briefly made them the object of unwanted attention from armchair baseball ethicists, but the bad publicity blew over before long. If in fact that Jays had been up to something sneaky and were forced to reform, it didn’t affect their ability to hit balls a long way; the team has gone yard even more frequently at the Rogers Centre after the report’s publication on August 10, as a percentage of balls in play:

 

Pre-8/10 HR on Contact%

Post-8/10 HR on Contact%

Home

4.65

5.47

Away

3.45

5.31

 

However, the Jays have improved their home-run hitting to an even greater degree on the road, where they’ve presumably been playing without any foreknowledge of upcoming pitches, which suggests that they’ve derived a bigger benefit from the hot second halves of Lawrie and others than any illicit activities in which they might have engaged. —Ben Lindbergh, Baseball Prospectus

Bowden's Bold Move
The Blue Jays are 11th in the American League in both ERA and WHIP, while the offense is one of just five teams in the league to have scored more than 700 runs. In other words, they need some help in their rotation.

The bold move the Blue Jays should make this off-season is to sign a proven veteran starting pitcher with leadership capabilities. Specifically, they should target starting pitchers C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle. Either one would bring a 15-win and 200-innings pedigree along with veteran leadership to the top of the Jays' rotation. Romero remains the "ace", but either veteran would help develop the young pitchers who follow.

The Jays should also take a chance and sign Jonathan Broxton of the Dodgers to a low-salary deal with incentives based on games pitched. Broxton, 27, had elbow surgery recently to clean out bone spurs. If he is healthy, he could bounce back to his 2009 form, when he saved 36 games with a 2.61 ERA and a WHIP of 0.961. His ineffectiveness the last two years had to do with command problems that were directly related to health.

Signing Wilson or Buehrle would give Toronto the pitching boost it needs to legitimately compete for a playoff spot in 2012. —Jim Bowden

Hopes and Fears
Best-case scenario ZiPS projection: 89-73

In most divisions, an 89-73 record makes you a serious contender. In the AL East, however, it gets you a third- or fourth-place finish. The Jays have pitching on the way, but it probably won't be enough in 2012. But if the Jays are going to flirt with 90 wins and September relevancy, they're going to have to get better pitching behind Romero and his unhittable changeup. And unless they are active in the Wilson or Buehrle market, Morrow's going to have to figure out how to pitch with runners on base (.847 OPS allowed with men on), and Drabek and Brett Cecil need to step forward and improve their inning-to-inning consistency. It's possible given the talent involved, but it's a lot to put together suddenly.

Worst-case scenario: 70-92
There are a lot of young players with upside on the team, so the Jays will probably at least be moderately respectable without some truly awful luck intervening. The Jays could help their case by having role players who won't drag down the Bautista-and-Lawrie-fueled offense, like Corey Patterson or the now-departed 2010-11 version of Aaron Hill; the current pitching staff isn't good enough to prop up an offense getting .650 OPS or worse performance from three offensive positions. Another season of both Lind and Snider underperforming their potential, would leave the Jays without the proper secondary cast to safely outpace the Orioles. —Dan Szymborski, Baseball Think Factory

Organizational Future
The Blue Jays are trying to get out from under those looming AL East shadows, and everything towards that is moving in the right direction under Anthopolous, thanks to a series of excellent trades and remarkably aggressive drafts. The Blue Jays have already gotten big-league production from Lawrie, but there is more to come if Jays fans can be patient, as the organization possesses arguably the most impressive collections of young arms in the game, even after failing to sign 2011 first-round pick Tyler Beede. While it's hard to see them competing for a playoff spot in either of the next two years, there are plenty of scenarios to see them playing with the big boys by the middle of the decade. Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

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

Ben Lindbergh is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben 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

21 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

CRP13

Ben, with the crummy way Rasmus hit all year and the nice showing of Lawrie and Encarnacion at the end of the year, what's your reasoning for projecting him to bat cleanup? I would think he'll probably start 6th or lower, just based on 2011 performance. Heck, Arencibia had a lot better season than Rasmus.

Sep 20, 2011 10:27 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

The projected lineup portion of these pieces isn't part of "Baseball Prospectus' Take," so I can't actually take credit or blame for that. You probably have a point.

Sep 20, 2011 11:25 AM
 
CRP13

Ohhh...I didn't know that, because it immediately precedes your blurb and there's no name attached. Sorry.

Sep 20, 2011 13:16 PM
rating: 1
 
Lloyd Cole

Signing Mark Buehrle is comparable to signing C.J. Wilson? I know that a lot of people have been picking on poor Jim during this series, but there ARE (many)reasons why. However, at least we all do realize that "veteran leadership" is worth at least 5 WAR........

Sep 20, 2011 12:23 PM
rating: 3
 
timber

Just including Drabek in the projected rotation is some pretty blind faith. I haven't heard anybody say he looks like he can handle that yet. In fact, most reports on him sound fatalistic at this point - as in, afraid he may never make it.

And Buehrle won't go to Toronto.

Sep 20, 2011 13:00 PM
rating: 1
 
ddufourlogger

I agree. Buehrle would retire first, I expect. He's waffled on it for years. He'll be a Cardinal at a good price, or still a ChiSock.

Sep 21, 2011 07:16 AM
rating: 0
 
Greg Ioannou

I think you're grossly underestimating AA's inventiveness. I'd expect to see several radical changes to the batting order and rotation over the winter. For starters, I'd be surprised if Lind or Snider were Jays next April.

Sep 20, 2011 13:33 PM
rating: 0
 
Greg Ioannou

For example, how much is C.C. Sabathia worth to the Blue Jays? Not only would getting him away from the Yankees obviously strengthen the BJ's rotation, but it ruins the Yankees' rotation. How much of a financial bonus is it worth to inflict that damage on an opponent?

Sep 20, 2011 13:54 PM
rating: 3
 
Ogremace

I don't see the Jays going for him. They'd have to be all in on him, which is maybe more than they want (10 years? $200 MM?), which means doing nothing else. If they can't outbid the Yankees, which they'd have to in order to lure him, they are somewhat screwed.

Unless you believe that, if they can't get something as good as CC they might as well hold pat. Which, given the East, is possibly true.

Sep 21, 2011 12:16 PM
rating: 0
 
josephras

Kelly Johnson at 2nd base is a possibility, but he's a free agent after this year, and GM Anthopoulis likes his draft picks. I'd think it's just as likely the Jays sign Aaron Hill or another free agent.

Sep 20, 2011 14:53 PM
rating: 0
 
jj0501

A future for Eric Thames ? I would guess Snider might draw
interest from Seattle (he's a local product) among others.

Sep 20, 2011 15:17 PM
rating: 0
 
greenfrog

Somehow the Jays need to get a couple of above-average arms into the rotation. Anthopoulos has proved his mettle thus far, so I wouldn't put it past him to get it done through trades or FA/IFA signings. If the Jays go the internal route, it could be at least a couple of years before we see some of the pitching prospects performing well in the majors. Most of the better arms in the system are pretty young (Hutchison, Molina, Syndergaard, Nicolino, Sanchez, Cardona, Osuna). The older ones (McGuire, Jenkins, Drabek) could be OK but each has had some issues in 2011.

Sep 20, 2011 15:27 PM
rating: 0
 
CalledStrike3

BCecil has a live arm & sometimes lefty's bloom late. I see him as a potential solid 4 or even 3 when he blossomes.

Sep 21, 2011 06:52 AM
rating: -1
 
greenfrog

Oh, and of course Norris belongs in that group of talented young arms.

Sep 20, 2011 15:33 PM
rating: 0
 
lesmash

I would not want to see the Jays deal Travis Snider. He's still very young, he's shown he can mash at AAA, and he has plenty of room for growth at the MLB level. He also offers some defensive value and his legs won't hurt you, either. Heck, he even played a little CF this past year.

Adam Lind, on the other hand, could be traded for some hockey pucks and a dry cleaning coupon and I wouldn't blink. No defensive value at all, no legs, little patience at the plate . . . hopefully AA can work some more magic and find a taker for him. By all means try to get a young SP, but take whatever value you can get irrespective of the position.

Sep 20, 2011 16:55 PM
rating: 0
 
greenfrog

Snider often looked a mess this year, and didn't have much patience at the MLB level either. The potential is still there, but his mechanics seem to have been altered so many times that he no longer knows whether he's coming or going. If Snider emerges as a first-division corner OF, great, but I wouldn't count on it happening.

Sep 20, 2011 17:06 PM
rating: 1
 
CalledStrike3

When Morrow and Cecil mature - and they will - the key for a jump forward lies with a significant upgrade to the back end of the Pen. Janssen looks like a solid 7th inning guy and Camp is a decent utility reliever but they need a lefty- set up - and closer to play the big 3 in their division on even terms. Then 20 over .500 vs rest of MLB and they get a sniff.

Sep 21, 2011 07:00 AM
rating: 0
 
ddufourlogger

Isn't Shaum Marcum a free agent after the season? Bring him back. He did very well there, even with the AL East schedule. Or does he have one year of arbitration left?

Sep 21, 2011 07:20 AM
rating: 0
 
ddufourlogger

Shaun, sorry.

Sep 21, 2011 07:20 AM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

Someone, responding to the Reds' "Kiss 'Em Goodbye" article, suggested a challenge trade of sorts between the Reds and the Jays with Snider going to Cincinnati and Homer Bailey (as well as possibly Travis Wood) coming to Toronto. I don't think the Reds would give up both guys for Snider, but maybe one. I have long considered Edinson Volquez to be an AA kind of guy. Good upside play and the Reds have definitely soured on him.

Sep 21, 2011 13:06 PM
rating: 1
 
dolbear65

Drabek in the 2012 rotation? That was a joke, right?

Sep 23, 2011 07:19 AM
rating: 0
 
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