The final instalment from our brainy bunch, having debated the merits of the American League, Jones vs. Jones, Young and Younger and even a dash of Luis Sojo. Now on to the Jays ... (UPDATE: Will be along later in the day with a postscript, noting weekend developments and what our panel is saying on their blogs) ...
JABS: Brown’s Disease is very close to Boone’s Syndrome, which I was diagnosed with last May, or Irabu’s Revenge, which ran through me a few years back. They aren’t pretty, these fantasy ailments. Let’s move on to the local heroes. Most people were quite laudatory of J.P. Ricciardi’s work over the off-season. Of all the moves the Jays made, which one is going to be the most important in terms of how well they do over-all?
CHRIS: Overall, I’m very pleased with the moves J.P. made this off-season. Glaus will add that big bat we needed in the middle of the order, A.J. will take the pressure off Chacin, and Ryan will help to alleviate that damn ulcer I have developed during the Batista experiment, but more than any of these, the best move the Jays made this winter was locking up Halladay long-term. He is the franchise, the rest are just parts. Glaus or Burnett may make the biggest difference in how we do THIS year, but keeping Halladay is the most important in terms of how well they do over-all.
The worst move, not that you asked, was making Cito and not Tony Fernandez the bobble-head of the year. Shameful.
|Troy Glaus: The big bopper they needed.|
PISTOL: The Jays needed power more than anything else and they got that in Glaus.
JABS: In the pantheon of Blue Jay pickups over the last decade, where does Glaus rank?
PISTOL: Below Clemens, but well above anyone else. I have no idea who would be even third on that list. David Wells? Jose Cruz?
JABS: It’s not a real long list.
MARK: The one move that keeps me awake at night is the Glaus/Santos for Hudson/Batista trade, because I'm not completely sold on the team's overall defence. Russ Adams may have been the worst fielding shortstop in the majors last season, while Troy Glaus has historically posted poor results. In 2005, Glaus had the most errors among all third basemen (24). Of those, 15 were throwing errors, which suggests that his arm is too erratic for the position. Since Aaron Hill hasn't had much experience at second base, I'll reserve judgement on him for now.
As for the bobblehead fiasco, I plan on attending Cito Gaston Bobblehead Day. Tony's day will come soon enough (I hope).
MAGPIE: 1) Troy Glaus
2) Troy Glaus
3) Troy Glaus
There are no guarantees in life, but if Glaus hits 35-45 homers, which he's done repeatedly throughout his career, I can live with the ten extra guys getting on base because he made an error. The biggest room for improvement on this team was with the offence, and the offence's biggest need was a Big Powerful Bat.
|RON BULL/TORONTO STAR|
|Cito Gaston: His bobblehead time has come.|
And hey! Cito Gaston Bobblehead Day should wait for nothing and no one. I will rant on this subject! Gaston put on a Blue Jays uniform some 2500 times between 1982 and 2001; no one else comes remotely close. Okay, winning back-to-back world championships may not have been enough to get him a second chance to manage a major league team (by the way, don't try to find someone else you can say that about - Gaston's the only one) - but he's surely earned his own Bobblehead.
AARON: This will certainly be considered heresy by some, but I think that the best move Ricciardi made this summer was to trade away Hudson while his value was high. I am a huge Orlando Hudson fan. I loved watching him play, I loved listening to him talk (please, Orlando, when you retire from playing come back and do colour commentary for either our radio or TV crew), and I begged and pleaded with a gate attendant to give me a "Grow With O-Dog" growth chart, which proudly hangs on the back of my office door.
So why should any self-respecting Jays fan be happy to see him traded away? Certainly not his hitting -- while he isn't a great hitter, he's not awful, and he's always been pretty consistent. Nope, I'm just terrified that artificial turf will ruin his career. Two back-to-back seasons with significant time lost to injuries are enough for me. Let him play on the grass in Arizona and have a long career, and let the Jays have a heavy hitter in return.
If he stayed in Toronto, I had visions of him becoming one of those very expensive, very fragile guys who cheer on the team from the dugout with ice packs on their legs. And once that happens you won't get a Troy Glaus for him no matter who you throw in.
|Orlando Hudson: Aaron calls his trade J.P.'s best move.|
JIM: I like the Glaus move, for a couple of reasons. It's clear that Brian Giles was the first choice for a big bat, and he would have fit better into the Jays lineup at the time. It didn't work out, but instead of seeking out another, lesser, outfielder, J.P. chased the best bat - never mind that he was a third baseman. I much prefer the "let's draft the best guy available" strategy, to the "we need to fill this hole" approach. The Jays landed their hitter first, and then dealt with the consequences - in this case paying Milwaukee to play Corey Koskie. Not the ideal situation, but it's much better than bringing in a "proven" outfielder like Juan Encarnacion or Jacque Jones. As for Troy's defence, I'm sure that 40 homers and 100 walks will, ahem, gloss over any shortcomings.
The second part of the trade, dealing Orlando Hudson, opens a spot for Aaron Hill. This almost hearkens back to the Dave Andreychuk-Grant Fuhr trade. A great side benefit of that deal was that it allowed Felix Potvin to play. Hill will be somewhat haunted by Hudson's ghost. Every time a ground ball just sneaks through the infield someone somewhere will whisper "O-Dog would've had it." True, Hill's not going to be as good with the glove, because it's likely that no one in BASEBALL is as good. But it's possible that Hill will still be a plus defender, and he won't burn up nearly as many outs as Orlando.
P.S. I think both Tony and Cito can wait until we see a Dave Stieb bobblehead - complete with surly action.
JABS: This two-pronged discussion has opened up a whole new avenue: Blue Jay bobbleheads we’d love/hate to see, and the more obscure the better. I’d opt for a Mark Lemongello that took a bite out of its own shoulder instead of just bobblin’.
JOEL: How about the George Bell Bobbleass? Suitably purple, of course.
CHRIS: While I like the Bobbleass (who thought that sentence fragment would come up in this blog?), I think Bell would be better suited to some kind of Kung-Fu action figure. I could see a whole series of BJ Toys streaming from Kung Fu George . . . how about GI-Johnson, complete with phony Vietnam papers, or Optimus Loiaza, who transforms from a pile of crap to a Cy Young candidate? As for bobbleheads, I'd like something with a sleeping Glenallen and his dream spider.
|TONY BOCK/TORONTO STAR|
|George Bell: Joel plumps for a different kind of bobble.|
AARON: I'd vote for a Huck Flener bobblehead, complete with Shawn Green jersey and someone else's shoes and glove.
SEAN: I think it was Leiter's gear Flener wore that day . . . sadly he was struck in the face by a comebacker (in the minors) and lost his sight in one eye. I think the bobblehead would still be appropriate, 'cause who wouldn't want one of themselves?
I'd like to see a Luke Prokopec vanishing bobblehead - after an hour it evaporates into a cloud of potpourri.
Seriously though, I'd love a Tom Henke bobblehead - if Rollie Fingers can get into the HoF then Henke should too. His glasses were just as distinctive as the 'stache and not nearly as waxy.
MARK: Erik Hanson wearing a ski mask and holding a giant bag full of money. Although, bobbleheads of Cito Gaston sitting with his arms crossed and Pat Borders chewing a big wad of tobacco would be fine as well.
JABS: Hate to put a cloud over this here thing of ours, but how nervous do we get about the A.J. Burnett saga this spring? Are there any other items on the uncertainty agenda making you queasy?
PISTOL: I'm not particularly worried about Burnett. I'm more worried that his ERA will be above 4 than him reaching 200 innings pitched.
The number one concern with the Jays is Halladay's health. If he can't pitch you can forget about the Jays making the playoffs. It's not that the Jays couldn't find a decent starter to fill in, it's just that Halladay is so good there's going to be a drop-off when he's out. There's no reason to think he's going to get hurt (and if the Jays were worried at all they wouldn't have done his extension this spring), but you could say the same thing in 2004 and 2005 and it ended up happening.
But besides Doc what I like about this team is that they have tremendous depth. If anyone besides Halladay gets hurt they have someone that can fill in without much of a dropoff.
CHRIS: The current Burnett saga doesn't worry me much - breaking down scar tissue is just breaking down scar tissue, not a huge deal, and it's been handled right. The next injury saga will bother me more, and then the next after that, even more.
I'm much more queasy about an outfield with one real everyday outfielder and four platoon guys, three of which would make good 4th outfielders, and one who should be sitting on a bench in Milwaukee with Corey Koskie. Unlike most Jays fans, I am cool with the IF for the most part, much less concerned with Adams and Hill than I am with Tank Glaus manning the hot corner. I watched quite a bit of Hill last season, and after a full season at ONE position, I have little doubt he will be an above average or better second baseman defensively.
|A.J. Burnett: No cause for alarm, says the panel.|
MAGPIE: I think Burnett will likely be OK, and if he'd been on the 2005 Jays he would have been the fourth best starter anyway. I think the real concern should be the middle infield. If either Adams or Hill goes down for an extended period, this team has nothing - nothing at all - with which to fill that hole.
SEAN: The uncertainy I feel about the Jays is that their success will depend on having several young players make the leap into top-drawer players all at once. If you felt like you waited years for the three aces of Carpenter, Escobar and Halladay to step up, and Delgado, Green, and Gonzalez to blossom into All-Stars you know that even if players eventually take that step (five out of six did, one way or another) the odds are against ALL of them doing so at once.
The Jays have given the middle infield jobs to Adams and Hill, and if one or both of them struggle there are no clear alternatives right now. Gustavo Chacin will be counted on to repeat last year's performance and workload as the #3 starter, and for a young pitcher 200+ innings can be a tall order. Alex Rios could be anything from a perennial All-Star to a total bust, and if he does tank there are no other breakout candidates in the lineup.
What scares me is that the Jays will still have a lot of guys who are pretty good, or decent, or okay, but too few who are great. I'd almost rather have a team that is half great and half replacement level, because that team is easier to improve. A whole lot of decent in the AL East still gets you third place.
MARK: As with others, I'm more concerned about Burnett's long-term health, considering how much time he's missed in the past. Moreover, since his strikeout rates have been significantly worse when he's pitched away from Pro Player Stadium, I'm also somewhat, though not especially concerned about how well he'll perform when healthy.
The Blue Jays have been unlucky in regards to injuries this spring, so hopefully that turns around. In addition to Burnett, Gregg Zaun, Scott Downs, Reed Johnson, and Frank Catalanotto have experienced health issues this spring. The good news is that none of them appear to be long-term related.
AARON: Chris has it right on Burnett -- it's been amusing to watch some of the I-told-you-he-was-fragile chatter over something that it not a big deal. I particularly liked the breathless "and it's so bad he's going to miss TWO starts!" Gee, I mean, he had to completely stop all of his Spring Training regimen for five days to let that crazy MRI juice get out of his system, so should we be shocked that he's about five days behind in his schedule to be ready to start the season? I'm not.
And I'd like to point out for all those who seem to have forgotten it how very, very unlikely it is for a guy who's had Tommy John surgery to need it again. His elbow is not a ticking time bomb.
JIM: The patience they're showing with Burnett is encouraging. There would be a lot of pressure in most organizations to rush the debut of the newest $55-million asset, but April starts are the easiest to miss. I'm a little concerned with the back end of the rotation. Chacin didn't pitch quite as well as his ERA last year, and could be in for a tougher ride as a sophomore. And while I admire Josh Towers, he always strikes me as a pitcher walking a high-wire act - everything is dependent on pinpoint control. If he puts the ball
here -----} it's strike three
but here------} it's going 400 feet at escape velocity.
All that said, these guys could both suffer a rise of half a run in ERA and still provide the Jays with a very solid 4-5 combo.
JABS: Okay, let’s wrap this up. How many wins for the Jays? Where does that land them in the AL, and what’s the rest of your playoff grid? I really haven’t spent enough time this season to make an informed prediction (I have an auction Saturday, but haven’t even had a minute free to make up my own list, which I usually prefer doing) – but I will guess. And I’m guessing the Jays are in contention for a wild-card spot into late September, from which anything can happen.
PISTOL: I see the offence improving and the pitching/defence staying just about the same as last year. Plugging those numbers in gave me 90 wins which could be anywhere from the division winner to out of the playoffs.
MAGPIE: I have foretold it - which means much less than zero - but one of the Beasts of the East must fall, this year. I'm saying it'll be Boston. Which leaves the Jays and Yankees fighting it out much of the summer and into September. The Yankees pull slowly away and win it by 5 or 6 games, leaving Toronto locked in a wild-card battle with Chicago, Oakland, and Los Angeles. Their 90 victories leave them two games short of whoever finishes second in the AL West.
|Jim Brown: Glory days return for Cleveland, predicts Chris James.|
CHRIS: The Jays start off hot, led by a desperate Eric Hinske, who plays well enough to be traded by the All Star Break to the Twins, who realize that Tony Batista sucks. As the season draws to a close, the Jays are battling both the Yankees for the division lead, and the Angels for the wild card. Chicago chokes, and Cleveland has the division locked up by the end of August. In the NL, Atlanta's streak comes to an end, and a resurgent Barry Bonds leads the Giants to the West Division title. The Cardinals win the Central, the Mets the East, and the upstart Brewers take the wild card.
Back in the AL, Oakland, LA, NY, and Cleveland advance; the Jays win 93, but miss out by one game. Cleveland beats L.A. in the division series, Oakland beats NY. The Brewers upset the Mets and the Cards beat the Giants. Cards vs. Cleveland in the Series, and led by Jhonny Peralta and Ghrady Sizemore, the Indians bring it home.
JABS: If only it were so. As a Browns fan who knows something of the pain in Cleveland, I hope you're right.
CHRIS: I've got an autographed Jim Brown photo hanging in my hall and a fresh Albert Belle article up at TBG.com . . . I know the pain.
MAGPIE: I suppose I should apply my notoriously unreliable crystal ball to the rest of the majors. The AL Central, as everyone has foreseen, turns into a two-team race. Cleveland is generally in control; the White Sox are always in the hunt, but never come closer than two or three games back, and finish six games out. The best race is in the West, where the A's and Angels battle to the final weekend. Oakland comes out ahead, but the Angels get the wild card. Which, unfortunately, takes much of the edge off a great pennant race.
The exact same thing happens in the NL East. The Mets, Phillies, and Braves duke it out for four months, but the Mets can't keep up the pace. The Phillies edge the Braves on the final weekend, but Atlanta can comfort themselves with the wild card. It's the only race in the NL. St. Louis isn't as good as the last few years, but the Astros have some holes and the Brewers aren't quite ready to take over. San Diego cruises in the NL West, with the biggest margin of any division winner. The Giants and Dodgers both bounce back to play a bit better than .500, but never seriously challenge the Padres.
Barry Bonds hits .314 with 44 HRs and 91 RBI in 122 games, and retires. He's still behind Aaron, but he has passed Babe Ruth, which was always the main item on his agenda anyway.
In the playoffs, Atlanta upsets San Diego, while the Cardinals squeeze by the Phillies. The Angels knock off Cleveland, and Oakland stops the Yankees. Atlanta then dismisses the Cardinals while Oakland outpitches the Angels in a riveting ALCS.
In the World Series between Oakland and Atlanta . . . I think I should stop now.
JABS: You can’t stop now! You've got Billy Beane against Bobby Cox there!
MARK: It's probably too early to make predictions with any sort of certainty, but I'll do my best. I'm cautiously optimistic about the Blue Jays' chances this season. I feel that their record will likely improve considerably, but I'm not convinced they're quite on par with the Yankees and Red Sox. A lot of things will have to go their way, both in terms of performance and health, for them to have a legitimate shot during the final stretch of the regular season. After also considering how many great American League teams will have to divvy up wins amongst themselves, I'll play it safe and predict an 85-77 record.
Here are my playoff predictions, which could change at the drop of a hat or the issuance of small, unmarked bills (*denotes wild-card team): Yankees, Red Sox*, Indians, Athletics, Braves, Mets*, Cardinals, and Dodgers.
|Carlos Delgado: Headed to the playoffs, says Darryl.|
DARRYL: Well, I'm not going to hide the fact that I am a Blue Jays homer. I’ll say 92 wins and the AL wild card. Yes I realize that’s the smallest amount of wins for an AL wild-card winner since 2000, but I have faith. For the rest of the league: Yankees, Indians and A's to fill out the AL. In the NL: Phillies, Cards, Dodgers and for the wild card, a Jay I really miss - Carlos Delgado leads the Mets to the playoffs.
AARON: My head keeps telling me to call the wild card, it's safer, but my heart is telling me that this team can take the damn division. Sure, they'll need some luck, but so does everyone. So enough of this tenderhearted we-don't-want-our-dreams-dashed halfway committed nonsense -- the Jays are taking the AL East. End of story. Like the ads say, you gotta believe. Good stuff happens when you do.
How many wins for the Jays? Exactly enough to take the division in a nailbiter all the way to the end of the season. I'm not giving you a number because numbers scare me. I've only ever won a bet that involved a number once, and that was over Shea Hillenbrand's OBP at the All-Star break last year. Other than that, I'm very adept at RBI pool (at the top of the inning, you and the people sitting around you each toss a dollar coin into a hat and call the name of whatever player you think will get the next RBI in the game. It rolls over, inning to inning, until someone wins. I won't claim to do any number crunching or pre-game study to prepare myself -- watching the World Baseball Classic finale on TV in a bar, I won RBI pool by calling out "The Japanese guy with the wicked blonde hair!")
JIM: I have the same heart vs. mind issue as Aaron. The realist in me says 87-88 wins and mathematically alive until the last week of the season, but maybe in need of a consolidation year before taking down an even older set of Yankees and Sox. But if baseball fans used only our heads, no one would ever go to a Rockies game, so let's say 94 wins and a playoff spot, with Oakland, Cleveland and the Yankees also representing the AL come October.
In the NL, the Padres, Cardinals, Braves (because they never lose), and let's say George Mason - those kids have heart. The postseason itself is such a crapshoot that predictions are even more meaningless, but if the Jays make it, the prospect of starting Roy Halladay 2-3 times in a short series will have fans dancing in the streets - perhaps literally.
JABS: Great job, everyone, thanks for your time and effort, and let's tentatively plan on a meet-up again at the beginning of September, in anticipation of the greatest month in sports. This roundtable is adjourned. Bring on opening day.