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Predicted Finish
84-78
3rd place
AL East

Toronto Blue Jays - 2007 Team Preview
by Keith Glab, BaseballEvolution.com
March 31, 2007

2006 Record - 87-75, 2nd place AL East
2006 Runs Scored - 809
2006 Runs Allowed - 754
Pythagorean Projection - 86-76



Nabbing second place from the Red Sox last year put the Toronto Blue Jays the highest they have been in the AL East since they won it all in 1993.  Moreover, their 93 efficiency wins last season tied them for the second most in baseball.  They added one of the top hitters of 2006 in the offseason, and reached into the January bargain bin for some pitching depth,  So what's not to like?

Age and injuries could be a factor yet again for this team.  Several career years led Toronto to those 87 wins last year.  Most importantly, team management has made some very questionable roster moves this spring that will prove detrimental to its success.   

Catcher
2006 Starters -
Bengie Molina, Greg Zaun
Projected 2007 Starter -
Zaun, Jason Phillips

While Bengie Molina proved to be a gigantic disappointment after arguably having the beat overall season of any catcher in 2005, the platoon of Greg Zaun and Brandon Phillips isn't going to wow anybody.  Toronto is weaker here than they were last season.

First Base
2006 Starter -
Lyle Overbay
Projected 2007 Starter -
Overbay

Lyle Overbay could lead the American League in doubles while still remaining just an average first baseman offensively.  He's older than you think at 30-years old, and his defense is not all that it appears to be.

Second Base
2006 Starter -
Aaron Hill
Projected 2007 Starter
- Hill

Aaron Hill ranks among the best kept secrets in the American League.  Apart from leading all of baseball in plus/minus rating from second base, Hill batted .291 last season, including .307 after April.  Don't get me wrong; Toronto should still regret letting Orlando Hudson go, but Aaron Hill can fill O-Dog's shoes quite capably.

Third Base - Troy Glaus
Projected 2007 Starter
- Glaus

How many 30-year old third basemen boast 257 career home runs?  How many 6'5" 240-lb third basemen would be entrusted with eight starts at shortstop in a season?  Troy Glaus is not your average stalker at the hot corner, and the Blue Jays will benefit from his team presence this season.

Shortstop
2006 Starter -
Russ Adams, John McDonald
Blue Jays Fun Fact

In 2005, Russ Adams became the only Toronto player in the post-Alex Gonzalez era to start over 100 games at shortstop.
Projected 2007 Starter -
Royce Clayton, McDonald

Disaster.  Gotcha!  You can't tell whether I'm talking about the shortstop position for the 2006 Blue Jays or that of the 2007 Blue Jays, can you?  Toronto management may be spearheading a campaign to put Tony Fernandez in the Hall of Fame by lining up lackluster candidates for their infield captain position.

Outfield
2006 Starters -
Reed Johnson, Vernon Wells, Alexis Rios, Frank Catalanotto
Projected 2007 Starters -
Johnson, Wells, Rios, Adam Lind

Have a chat with a Toronto Blue Jays fan.  He'll tell you that Alexis Rios is the greatest thing since the foul-strike rule.  I see someone who doesn't walk enough, hit .261 after the All-Star break, and slugged .456 away from Rogers Centre.  Only Robinson Cano outperformed his PrOPS by a greater margin than Reed Johnson did last year.  Don't expect the 30-year old to hit over .280.  Did you know that Vernon Wells has but a .336 career OBP?  What an overrated punk.  This outfield isn't going to come close to its 2006 offensive production.

Adam Lind could have the best offensive season of any Toronto outfielder, as his .893 minor league OPS would indicate.  Trouble is, the Blue Jays have decided to go without a fourth outfielder on their 25-man roster.  That's right, the Bluebirds have room for Royce Clayton, John McDonald, and Jason Smith on their roster, but not Adam Lind.  Those crazy Canadians...     

Designated Hitter
2006 Starter - Shea Hillenbrand
2007 Crew- Frank Thomas, Matt Stairs

We rightfully assume that The Big Hurt will spend some time hurt this season.  The question is, how many games does Frank Thomas need to play before he is automatically more valuable than Shea Hillenbrand?  Given that Frank has averaged about nine Runs Created per game over the course of his career.  Hillenbrand has averaged approximately five.  That means that 90 games of Frank Thomas is equivalent to roughly 162 games of Shea Hillenbrand.  It's safe to say that the Blue Jays have improved here. 

Top of the Rotation
2006 Starters -
Roy Halladay, Ted Lilly, AJ Burnett, Gustavo Chacin
Projected 2007 Starters -
Halladay, Burnett, Chacin, Tomo Okha

If healthy, the Blue Jays should have a better than average rotation. But not one of these four pitchers comes without health concerns, and Chacin and Okha aren't exactly dominant when at their best. Burnett could be a Cy Young contender if he approaches 200 innings, but Halladay's strikeout totals were alarmingly low last year, and his infield defense still looks suspect.

Bottom of the Rotation- Casey Janssen, Shawn Marcum, Josh Towers
Possible 2007 Options -
John Thomson, Towers, Dustin McGowan, Marcum

The latest rumor has John Thomson being dangled in trade offers while the 5th starter's role goes to Josh "Fawlty" Towers.  The Jays have at least three better options than Towers, four once Victor Zambrano is healthy.  One would assume that once JFT gets blown up in April, Toronto would then switch to one of these superior hurlers.  But like a yo-yo, Josh Towers keeps popping back up.  The Blue Jays appear too stubborn to admit that they should not have signed a pitcher with a slider nearly indistinguishable from his changeup to a 2-year, $5.2 million dollar extension in November of 2005.       

Bullpen
2006 Options -
BJ Ryan, Justin Speier, Scott Downs, Brian Tallet, Scott Schoenweiss, Jason Frasor
Possible 2007 Options -
Ryan, Frasor, Tallet, Janssen, Jeremy Accardo

Speier's departure weakens this once-strong bullpen, though Jeremy Accardo has enough upside to possibly replace his presence.  BJ Ryan is still among the best closers in baseball, so even if the middle relief is weakened, Toronto's bullpen is not a liability.

Final Word

Last year's Twins proved that a ballclub with five or six superstars and a bunch of guys who don't hurt the team can reach the top.  These Blue Jays could have a similar makeup, with Wells, Glaus, Thomas, Halladay, Burnett, and Ryan leading a nondescript flock.  Unfortunately, Thomas, Halladay, and Burnett have each been injured two of the past three seasons, and Troy Glaus is more Tony Stark than Iron Man.  It might be asking a lot for this Insidious Six to act as team cornerstones.     

Perhaps more worrisome is the mindset of JP Riccardi.  He should seriously consider doing whatever it takes to coax Keith Law back into his fold.  Signing Royce Clayton, demoting Adam Lind, and putting blind faith in Josh Towers are not personnel decisions made by winning teams.  Riccardi will need to pull of a roster retool comparable to what Terry Ryan accomplished when he jettisoned the likes of Tony Batista, Kyle Lohse, and Juan Castro.  Ryan made that difficult task look easy, and it would take something very unusual for the Blue Jays to finish outside of their normal 78-88 win range.  




Questions? Concerns? Comments? Keith lives in Chicago, and can be reached at keith@baseballevolution.com.

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