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2005 Record – 80-82
2005 Runs Scored – 775
2005 Runs Allowed – 705
2005 Pythagorean W-L – 84-78
The Toronto Blue Jays found themselves flush with extra money to spend this off-season and General Manager J.P. Riccardi made sure not to leave a penny of it sitting on the table. In a spending spree unlike any other in the team’s history, the Jays acquired three players by free agency (pitchers A.J. Burnett, B.J. Ryan and catcher Bengie Molina) and two by trade (1B Lyle Overbay and 3B Troy Glaus).
Will these moves help them to compete in the ultra-competitive American League East? To try to answer that, let’s take a closer look at how this team stacks up, position by position:
2005 Starter – Gregg Zaun
Projected 2006 Starter Starters – Bengie Molina, Gregg Zaun
Molina is one of the top defensive backstops in the league, notching a .994 career fielding percentage (.996 in ’05) and he has also thrown out 36% of attempted base stealers in his career. Last season he also posted one of his best offensive years with a .295 average, 15 homers and 69 RBI.
He has, though, been prone to injury, making his backup all the more valuable. The Jays couldn’t ask for a better one in Gregg Zaun. Zaun has earned a solid reputation for working with his pitchers, and has put up solid defensive numbers as the Jays’ primary catcher the last two seasons, albeit not quite in Molina’s ballpark.
Zaun also put up career bests last year in games caught (132), home runs (11), RBI (61) and walks (73). His on base percentage of .355 was impressive in light of his .251 average and he slugged .373.
Positional Grade – A-
2005 Starter – Eric Hinske/Shea Hillenbrand
Projected 2006 Starter – Lyle Overbay
Overbay, acquired in an off-season deal with Milwaukee, put up solid numbers for the Brew Crew the last two years and will be counted on to solidify the corner spot for Toronto in ’06.
He plays a solid defense (.993 career fielding %) and has shown glimpses of power potential by hitting 35 home runs over the last two years. In ’04, he had 53 doubles to lead the National League. He is a career .285 hitter and he sports a .373 lifetime on base percentage.
At 29, he is entering the prime of his career and will be counted on to be a big contributor for the Blue Jays in 2006.
Positional Grade – B+
2005 Starter – Orlando Hudson
Projected 2006 Starter – Aaron Hill
Hill takes over for the departed Orlando Hudson, (traded to Arizona in the deal to acquire Glaus) who last year won a Gold Glove for Toronto at 2B.
Drafted as a shortstop, Hill was placed on the fast track to the big leagues after hitting .323 his first pro season in A ball in 2003. The next season he hit .279 with 11 homers and 80 RBI at Double-A New Hampshire and in ’05 he was hitting .301 with 5 homers in 156 at bats at Triple-A Syracuse before getting the call to the big leagues and he ended up appearing in 105 games for Toronto, playing second, third and short.
As a 2B, he committed just 1 error in 111 chances for a .991 fielding percentage, and at the plate he posted very respectable percentages of .274/.342/.385. Those numbers project out to be comparable to those put up by Hudson.
Positional Grade – B-
2005 Starter – Corey Koskie, Shea Hillenbrand
Projected 2006 Starter – Troy Glaus
Glaus, the MVP of the 2002 World Series for the Angels, spent just one season in Arizona after signing a 4 year, $45 million contract with the Diamondbacks. He hit 37 homers and drove in 97 for the D’backs last year, and has twice in his career topped the 40-home run plateau. The Jays will count on him to provide the big bat in the middle of their lineup.
He has been injury prone however, missing 165 games in 2003 and 2004 and can be shaky defensively, having committed 24 errors to post a .946 fielding percentage in 2005 for Arizona, right at his career mark of .945.
His health his will be a huge factor in the Jays success or failure in 2006.
Positional Grade – B+
2005 Starter – Russ Adams
Projected 2006 Starter – Russ Adams
A favorite of Riccardi and Oakland A’s GM Billy Beane (as noted in Moneyball), Adams at 25 begins his second season as the Blue Jays starting SS.
After hitting .370 in his junior year at the University of North Carolina, Adams was selected by Toronto in the first round (14th overall) in the 2002 amateur draft. He quickly rose to the Majors, hitting .283 over parts of three minor league seasons.
He hit only .256 last year, but slugged 8 home runs and drove in 63.The Blue Jays have particularly high hopes for him. Freshman nerves seemed to have affected him in the field as well, as he was charged with 26 errors and posted a sub-par .952 fielding percentage. Yet the Jays believe he will continue to improve with experience and that does seem a likely scenario.
Positional Grade – B-
Hinske and Hillenbrand can both play first or third and McDonald can play second, third and short. Together the three of them give the Blue Jays some of the best infield depth in all of Baseball.
McDonald began last season with the Jays and played well, hitting .290 in 37 games before they traded him to Detroit, where he hit .260 to finish at .277 in 166 at bats. He gives the team valuable veteran experience off the bench in the middle of the infield.
Though Hillenbrand, and to an extent Hinske, will see a majority of playing time at DH (though Hinske will likely see time in the OF as well), the pair give the Jays solid backup options to both Overbay and Glaus.
Hinske last year hit .262 with 15 homers and 68 RBI while Hillenbrand hit .291 with 18 home runs and drove in 81.
Positional Grade B+
2005 Starters – Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, Frank Catalanotto and Reed Johnson
Projected 2006 Starters – Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, Frank Catalanotto and Reed Johnson
Vernon Wells is the backbone of the Blue Jays outfield. In 2005, Wells rebounded from a poor offensive showing in ‘04 to hit 28 home runs and drive in 97. Good numbers, but still not as impressive as his 2003 campaign that saw him hit .317/.359/.550 with 33 HRs and 117 RBI while leading the AL in hits (215), doubles (49), extra base hits (87) and total bases (373). All of those numbers were career highs.
In the field, Wells was merely perfect last season, going errorless in 155 games. He also tied for second in the league with 12 assists and tied for first with 4 double plays. Vernon has committed just 1 error over his last two Gold Glove winning seasons.
2006 will be a crucial one for Alex Rios who has yet to live up to the potential he was billed with as a 1st round draft pick in 1999. In two Major League seasons, Rios is a .273 hitter with a .711 OPS. He has hit just 11 home runs in over 900 big league at bats.
He hit just .262 in his sophomore year last season, and saw his defensive numbers decline as well, though part of that could have been attributed to a greater league-wide appreciation of his arm, which saw him register 11 assists and 4 double plays in ’04.
Catalanotto and Johnson should both see action in left field for the Jays, as well as some time at the DH spot. Last season, the two combined to hit 16 home runs and drive in 117 in 817 at bats. Johnson is entering his fourth big league season and is a .277 career hitter. In the field, he is solid if unspectacular. Catalanotto, who hit .330 in 2001 for the Rangers, is a .297 career hitter, and last year played errorless baseball in the field, logging a 1.000 fielding percentage.
Positional Grade – B
2005 Starters – Shea Hillenbrand, Eric Hinske, Aaron Hill, Corey Koskie
Projected 2006 Starters – Shea Hillenbrand, Eric Hinske
Though several players (among them Hinske, Johnson and Catalanotto) will see time at the DH spot, Hillenbrand will see the most action from that place in the order.
A .288 lifetime hitter, Hillenbrand has hit lower than .291 in just one of the last 4 seasons, and has hit 15 or more home runs in each. He is sub-par in the field, and may be perfectly suited for the designated hitter position.
Positional Grade – B+
2005 Starters – Roy Halladay, Gustavo Chacin, Josh Towers, Ted Lilly, Dave Bush
Projected 2006 Starters – Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, Gustavo Chacin, Josh Towers and Ted Lilly
Halladay was limited last year by a broken leg to just 19 starts, but had a 12-4 record and a 2.41 ERA and 5 complete games. At the time of the injury, the 2003 Cy Young winner looked well on his way to his second such award. The Jays announced on March 16 having signed Roy to a 3-year contract extension worth $40 million that will keep him anchored as the staff ace through the 2010 season. It is a contract befitting his status as one of the best pitchers in the game.
Burnett was one of the most coveted free agents in the off-season and signed with the Jays for 5 years and $55 million. Unlike Halladay, that is quite a lot of money for a pitcher with a sub-.500 career record (49-50). Still, his talent is unquestioned, as he has posted a career ERA of just 3.73 while allowing just over 7.58 hits per 9 innings in his career (hitters have hit just .230 against him). Plus, he strikes out a lot batters (nearly 8.5 per 9 innings over the last four seasons), although he tends to walk far too many as well (3.97 per 9 innings lifetime).
Chacin made quite an impressive mark in his debut 2005 rookie season, winning 13 games and posting a 3.72 ERA in 203 innings. He finished 5th in the Rookie of the Year balloting, while tying for third in the league with 34 starts.
The lefty Chacin shared for the team lead in wins in ’05 with Josh Towers who posted a 3.71 ERA in 208.2 innings, while walking just 29 batters at an average of only 1.25 per 9 innings (a mark below his already impressive career mark of 1.34 in 557 innings pitched).
Left hander Ted Lilly rounds out the rotation, though he was the least successful of the five last year, winning 10 games but losing 11 with an ugly 5.56 ERA in 126.1 innings. He averaged just 5 innings in his 25 starts.
If he falters, hard throwing right hander Dustin McGowan will be waiting in the wings. The Blue Jays 2000 first round pick has averaged 8.81 strikeouts per 9 innings over 4 minor league seasons.
Positional Grade – B+
Closer – B.J. Ryan
Lefties – Scott Schoeneweis and Scott Downs
Righties – Jason Frason, Justin Speier, Vinny Chulk and Pete Walker
Ryan, signed last November to a 5 year, $47 million contract anchors an impressive bullpen. Last season he collected 36 saves as a member of the Orioles while posting a 2.43 ERA. He also struck out 100 hitters in just 70.1 innings. He has averaged an impressive 10.97 Ks per 9 innings over his career, including marks of 11.26, 12.62 and 12.80 from 2003 to 2005. At the same time he has lowed his walk ratio from a then-career best of 4.83 per 9 innings in ’03 to 3.62 in 2004 and 3.33 last season.
Together, these seven guys combined to throw 518.2 innings in 2005 (the fewest innings thrown was 57 by Schoeneweis, who nevertheless pitched in 80 games as the situational lefty), compiling an impressive ERA of just 3.38. The bullpen could very well be this team’s strongest virtue in 2006.
Positional Grade – A-
The Blue Jays aim to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox in the East and they have compiled a team that can do just that, certainly on paper at least. There are question marks however, like whether Burnett and Ryan will prove themselves worthy of the large contracts the team dished out, whether the outfield will produce enough offense, or whether Adams and Hill will reach their potential and become one of the league’s best double play combos or a pair of highly drafted busts. But there should be no question that the Jays have improved themselves. Only time will tell if it’s enough.
I believe that Burnett is way overpaid and quite likely to underachieve. Ryan, though I don’t believe a closer to be worth that much money if he’s not named Rivera or Gagne, will not end up an embarrassment for Toronto, but rather will become one of the league’s better closers. The outfield could be quietly productive, but a lot rests on Alex Rios, who needs to begin to reach his potential lest the team decide to move on without him. As for Adams and Hill, I see a double play duo that will in future years become one of the top in the game. As for this year, it may be a bit much to expect All-Star caliber performances.
So can they do it? Can they overtake the Yankees and Red Sox? It’s possible, but more probable is that the time may still be a year or two away.
Overall Grade – A-
Projected Finish in AL East - Second