2005 Team Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

by Keith Glab

2004 Record: 67-94 (5th Place)
2004 Runs Scored: 719
2004 Runs Allowed: 823
Expected 2004 Record: 71-91

At the beginning of the 2004 season, the Blue Jays were a franchise on the rise. Coming off of an 86 win season, they had Carlos Delgado and Roy Halladay, one of the best hitters and one of the best pitchers in the league. They had a 25-year old outfielder named Vernon Wells who was seemingly teeming with potential to build on a 33 HR 117 RBI campaign. They had bargains such as Frank Catalanotto ($2.3M, .823 OPS), Miguel Batista ($3.6M, 3.54 ERA), and Ted Lilly ($1.9 M, 4.34 ERA). Young players Eric Hinske, Josh Phelps, Chris Woodward, Orlando Hudson, and Josh Towers all seemed poised to become solid contributors if not stars.

One year later, everything has gone wrong. Delgado is a Marlin, Halladay started but 21 games last year, and Wells became just above average offensively. Rather than signing bargains, Toronto gave a 3-year $17 million contract to 31-year old Corey Koskie, even though they already had third base covered. Theyíre paying Scott Schoeneweis nearly $3 million per year for the 5.59 ERA that he nurtured last season. Catalonotto managed just one homer in 294 at bats last year, and so suddenly looks more like a wasted roster spot than a bargain. Kerry Ligtenberg and Billy Koch were released, but the team still owes them a combined $3.4 Million. Theyíve cultivated players such as Reed Johnson and Alexis Rios who have empty batting averages. Hudson is the only young player still with the organization who has continued to improve with age.

Here is a position-by-position view of the 2005 Blue Jays franchise:

Catcher

2004 Starters: Greg Zaun, Kevin Cash

Projected 2005 Starters: Zaun, Guillermo Quiroz

Itís hard to imagine the catcher position providing less offense for Toronto than it did last year, but it might just be close. Zaun will be 34 this season, and he hasnít hit at all since he was 30. Quiroz did nothing in Syracuse to indicate that he might be ready to handle major League pitchers, and at 23, may not be able to handle the Toronto pitching staff, either.

First Base

2004 Starter: Carlos Delgado

Projected 2005 Starters: Eric Hinske, Shea Hillenbrand

Hinske has gone from Rookie of the Year in 2003, to one of the lightest hitting first basemen in all of baseball. Heís not polished defensively as a first baseman yet either, and clearly is just an awful replacement for the great Carlos Delgado.

Second Base

2004 Starters: Orlando Hudson, Frank Menechino

Projected 2005 Starter: Hudson

Little O-Dog has begun to pack a wallop. He smacked 51 extra base hits in 135 games last year, and he looks even more dangerous this spring. Itís refreshing to see a young player develop more power through sound hitting mechanics rather than bulking up to the size of a pro wrestler.

Third Base

2004 Starters: Eric Hinske

Projected 2005 Starter: Corey Koskie

Donít get me wrong; Koskie is probably one of the most consistent hitting third sackers around. But the Blue Jays could have gotten a much better hitting first baseman for the money that theyíre paying Koskie, and just used Hinske or Hillenbrand at third. In fact, Josh Phelps, Brad Fullmer, and John Olerud are three players who would have each cost Toronto about $1 million and have career OPSís near Koskieís.

Shortstop

2004 Starters: Chris Gomez, Chris Woodward

Projected 2005 Starter: Russ Adams

After smacking 13 home runs in 312 at bats during the 2002 campaign, Woodward became a worse and worse hitting shortstop. Russ Adams does not appear to improve this offensive situation. But at least in his case the Jays will have a light hitting shortstop that can field a bit.

Outfield

2004 Starters: Vernon Wells, Reed Johnson, Alexis Rios, Frank Catalanotto

Projected 2005 Starters: Wells, Johnson, Rios, Gabe Gross

No outfield in baseball puts up as good of triple crown numbers as Wells, Johnson, and Rios do while being so subpar offensively when you examine it closely. These guys are outs machines, and only Wells has any power to speak of. Gabe Gross looks to change this label, as heís shown the ability to hit for average, hit for power, and draw walks in the minors. In addition, heís had an excellent spring.

Designated Hitter

2004 Starters: Josh Phelps, Frank Catalanotto

Projected 2005 Starters: Catalanotto, Hillenbrand

Hillenbrand showed a little more power in the dry Arizona air than anywhere else in his career. Heíll need to do that up in Canada if Catalanotto canít return to his Most Underrated Hitter in Baseball form. Toronto was probably awed by Hillenbrandís .348 OBP last year, but that was due to a high batting average an 12 HBPís; he still doesnít take walks.

Pitching

2004 Front Three Starters: Roy Halladay, Ted Lilly, Miguel Batista

Projected 2005 Front Three: Halladay, Lilly, David Bush

Sadly, Ted Lilly is the only dependable starter behind Ace Halladay, who comes off of an injury-plagued 2004. But Lilly is injured to start the 2005 season. David Bush put up a nice ERA in his rookie campaign, but just struck out 5.9 batters per nine innings, and surrendered seven unearned runs in less than 100 IP.

Other 2004 Starters: David Bush, Josh Towers, Pat Hentgen

Other Possible 2005 Starters: Towers, Gustavo Chacin, Justin Miller

Towers completely ceased to be effective last year, leaving the back end of the rotation with even more question marks than an article written by Jim Parque. Thatís why itís so surprising that Toronto decided to move veteran Miguel Batista into the closerís role. Now, Batista was hardly effective last year, but at least he would provide stability and innings to a rotation that featured seven pitchers that made 15 or more starts last year.

2004 Top Relievers: Jason Frasor, Justin Speier, Kerry Ligtenberg, Terry Adams

Projected 2005 Top Relievers: Frasor, Speier, Miguel Batista, Scott Schoeneweis

Spier and Frasor combined for an ERA just a hair under 4, so again, why did the team decide to transfer strength from its brittle rotation into its already decent bullpen? A bullpen so allegedly strong that former 1st-round pick Billy Koch and former Atlanta closer Kerry Ligtenberg were cut for not being able to compete for the last spot. Not that Koch and Ligtenberg are great, but 1) theyíre better than Schoenweis, Chulk, and whoever else might fall after their top three relievers, and 2) they would allow the Jays to use Batista in the rotation, where he is needed.

Final Word:

Bad luck and baffling decisions have turned this from an up-and-coming franchise in a strong division, to a perennial cellar dweller no matter where they play. GM Ricchardi has recently learned that ownership will be bumping up payroll significantly over the next few seasons, but will it help? Ricchardi has shown an unsettling trend of misallocating resources, from developing minor leaguers with no secondary skills after decent batting averages, to overpaying for free agents that donít really address the issues of the ballclub. You almost have to wonder whether Ricchardi was offered the GM job simply because he was in the Athletics organization, no interview necessary.

Nah, thatís a bit unfair. Heís made good moves in the past, and maybe he has some kind of 3-year plan that involves trading the Vernon Wellsís and Alex Riosís of the organization to more undervalued players around the league. But as for now, the B-Jays will battle the D-Rays for last place in the AL East.

My Predictions:

73-89, 4th in AL East

Alexis Rios, triples leader in the AL with 16

Orlando Hudson, surprise player of the year (.292 26 74)