Baseball Prospectus’ Pre-season Projection: 76-86, fourth place
Current record: 73-84, fourth place
So-anyone want Vernon Wells, or what?
Buster Olney of ESPN.com’s Take
What went wrong: The Blue Jays charged out and started strongly, winning 22 of their first 34 games, but then the Yankees/Red Sox/Rays portion of their schedule began, and Toronto collapsed. In a series of rapid-fire decisions, the Jays dumped expensive reliever B.J. Ryan, weighed offers for ace Roy Halladay (and the expectation among other teams is that he will be traded this winter), and unloaded the $60 million contract of Alex Rios in a waiver claim. As the regular season ends, the team is in the process of choosing its front-office leaders; the future of GM J.P. Ricciardi remains murky.
Biggest puzzler on the drawing board: The Jays’ ownership has been presented with a recommendation from the front office of going one of two ways: either raise the payroll dramatically to about $110-120 million, or slash it back to $60 million. The thinking behind those numbers is that if Toronto wants to seriously go toe-to-toe with the AL East money monsters in Boston and New York, then they’ll have to spend a lot more-and short of that, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to overspend, so better to keep a modest payroll and give the team a chance to earn a profit. Odds are that the Blue Jays will go with the lower number, as Paul Beeston steps aside as the team’s CEO.
The Baseball Prospectus Take
As far back as the 2006 season, the Blue Jays have been one of the best teams in baseball to not reach October, generally combining average or below-average offense with top-notch pitching. This season has reaped little in the way of any different results, even though their usually sure-handed staff could not stay healthy, but Aaron Hill and Adam Lind gave the Jays their first 30+ home-run hitters since 2006, and others have joined the fray to bump the club’s aggregate mark up to 190, the highest team total for the Jays since 2003. For the most part, their 2009 season will be remembered for the non-trade of Roy Halladay; in spite of J.P. Ricciardi’s “failure” to move Halladay for the bounties offered by both the Red Sox and Phillies, the GM did find ways to cut costs by letting Rios slip away on waivers to the White Sox and trading away Scott Rolen to the Reds. The Jays had a tough road ahead of them to remain competitive, and their final record should in no way be surprising.-Eric Seidman, Baseball Prospectus
Key stat: $107 million
In spite of moving Rios and Rolen, the Jays are completely hamstrung by the deal of Vernon Wells. The seven-year, $126 million deal breaks down to $25.5 million in signing bonuses and $100.5 million in salary from 2008-14, with $8.5 million being paid in the bonuses in each of the 2008-10 seasons. That leaves the Blue Jays on the hook for $107 million over the next five seasons to a player perhaps overrated to begin with, and who has since regressed to the offensive mean of Omar Vizquel. Harsh as that sounds, Wells has hit .266/.318/.428 over the last three calendar years, a triple-slash line eerily similar to that of Jose Guillen (.270/.324/.433) over the same span, and we all know how sunny Guillen’s offensive reputation has become. Even Wells’s .343 OBP and .496 SLG last season can be considered a relative disappointment when compared to the contractual expectations and the number of players providing equal or better production for far less money. At this point, with a .255 EqA on the books for 2009, Jays’ fans would relish production even remotely resembling that which was accrued in his injury-shortened 2008 campaign. It will be very difficult to build a winner when the highest-paid player falls below the replacement level mark.-Eric Seidman, Baseball Prospectus
ESPN.com Rumor Central
Trades: Sure, they’ll shop him all winter, but don’t be shocked if Doc Halladay is still a Blue Jay come April, for two big reasons. First, with upheaval in the organization that could see a GM switch, it’s no time for major deal-making-and the teams that could trade for Halladay would have to be extremely confident they can sign him, mitigating his status as a mere rental. Teams simply covet their prospects too much.
Free Agency: Cito Gaston has not expressed a ton of confidence that the team will be able to re-sign Marco Scutaro, who was a big hit for the Jays this season. No, that doesn’t add many spikes to the 2010 Hope Index. Instead, expect the Jays to look for rotation help, something Gaston said this week he expects they’ll do. The offense might not change much, but consider that youngster Travis Snider could be next season’s Aaron Lind, ready for a breakout year. The stout outfield/DH-type kills minor league pitching. He just needs to get the major league ABs. Speaking of…
Who 2 Watch 4: Travis Snider, OF
It’s easy to forget that Travis Snider is just 21 years old. Of the six other high school hitters selected in the first round of the 2006 draft, none were even close to the big leagues this year; only three had even gotten as high as Double-A. Snider’s time in the big leagues has been more a matter of on-the-job training than anything else, but even then he’s shown significant adjustments in the second half, as despite a .235 batting average overall, his .359 on-base percentage and .437 slugging have still provided some value at the plate. His 2010 campaign could still very much be a breakout season, and scouts still project him as a future number-three hitter on a first-division club.-Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus
Signed: 33 of 51
Spent: Just over $4 million
Hit: Jake Marisnick, OF (104th overall) and Ryan Schimpf, 2B (160th): Marisnick was a first-round talent heading into the spring, but he fell due to a somewhat disappointing showing at the plate. Nevertheless, he’s a potential power bat whose athleticism profiles well in a corner outfield spot. Schimpf signed for less than $200,000 and he might be the second coming of Dustin Pedroia or Marco Scutaro.
Miss: Although the Blue Jays inked right-hander Chad Jenkins, the club’s first-round pick, they failed to lock up lefties James Paxton and Jake Eliopoulus, as well as right-hander Jake Barrett, leaving their draft haul as light as any in recent memory.-Jason A. Churchill, ESPN.com
The Bottom Line
The Jays’ only notable free agents to hit the market will be Scutaro and Rod Barajas, and the team should really resist the urge to re-sign either. Though Scutaro has impressed with a flashy glove and a .286 EqA in a career year, he is not a franchise shortstop, nor is he someone in which to invest three years and $30 million, while Barajas has his uses but should not be the starting backstop on a team serious about contending. Aaron Hill (27), Adam Lind (25), and Travis Snider (21) can form a potent nucleus, but the Jays desperately need help elsewhere. Jose Bautista is currently playing right field, Lyle Overbay is the varsity version of Casey Kotchman-which still equates to below-average performance at first base-and the team only has one designated hitter spot despite several players with no business playing the field. Luckily, pitching help is on the way with the potential returns of Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum, and Jesse Litsch, who should rejoin Halladay and the rest of this year’s crew to form an impressive rotation. The team will not win with its currently constructed roster, so it needs to maximize return on trades in an attempt to bolster the farm and hope to become competitive in the inevitable post-Halladay era.-Eric Seidman, Baseball Prospectus
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .