AL East Roundtable: Blue Jays

Hey, everyone. Here's a quick roundtable discussion about the 2007 Blue Jays. I hope you enjoy it.

Participants:

Pinstripe Alley (Anaconda)
Over The Monster (Randy Booth)
Bluebird Banter (Mark Willis-O'Connor)
Camden Chat (Scott Christ)
DRays Bay (Patrick Kennedy)
Beyond The Boxscore (Marc Normandin)

1. The Blue Jays finished higher than third place last year for the first time since 1993. Have they overtaken the Red Sox as the Yankees' chief competition in the AL East? Where will they finish this year?

Pinstripe Alley: Jays will finish in 3rd place. The Red Sox seem to have improved enough to jump them in the standings.

Over The Monster: No, they are not the new number two in the American League East. The reason the Blue Jays surpassed the Sox last season is because the Sox beat themselves with injuries. The Blue Jays are a great team - I certainly can admit that - but they still don't have the fire power that the Red Sox have. They've got talented players like Vernon Wells and Troy Glaus, but I don't see some of their players, like Alex Rios, being great players for the rest of their careers. I think the Blue Jays will come in third - just like the good ol' days - right in front of the Orioles and Devil Rays.

Bluebird Banter: Sadly, I'll have to side with the others on this one. Based on the roster in place, as well as the lackluster farm system J.P. Ricciardi has assembled, their window of opportunity appears to be rather narrow. Last season was likely their best shot at the playoffs,
especially now that the Red Sox have restocked and the Yankees have smartened up. The situation isn't hopeless, though, because the Blue Jays do have a strong core in place, led by Roy Halladay, the best pitcher in the entire division. However, they lack the roster depth of the two superpowers, and must win via alternative methods. Unless they replenish their farm system or drastically increase their payroll, they will always be considered third best, for they simply cannot hope to contend long term with the Yankees and Red Sox without using an alternative organizational strategy.

Camden Chat: No, they aren't the chief competition for New York, and they aren't the chief competition for Boston, either, as that title still belongs to the Yankees. They are a good team, but the buck stops there - they finished one game ahead of a battered Red Sox team last year. If Frank Thomas stays in the lineup, I really like the middle of their order, but Wells, Thomas and Glaus are not as good as Ramirez, Ortiz and a healthy J.D. Drew, either. Their rotation is as potentially flaky as Boston's, maybe moreso. They had a good year in 2006, but they have a
couple of starters (Rios and Johnson) that need to prove they can do that again, and I'm not sold, personally. They're going to drop this year, and I think it's possible they could fall to fourth if the Orioles get their pitching straightened out.

DRays Bay: I certainly don't think so. I don't think one year will, in the long run, reverse the precedent. The Red Sox just merely had a worse than normal year, and the margin by which Toronto finished ahead of Boston was slim anyways. With the upgrades Boston made this offseason, I
really don't see them being usurped by the Blue Jays just yet. Toronto is doing their best free spending imitation of Boston and New York, but
ultimately the Red Sox and Yankees are on a different level with regards to spending, and as a result it will be very hard to displace them at
the top for any sustained period of time. I see Toronto finishing third this year in the division, although it is entirely possible that they would reach 90 wins in falling back one spot.

Marc Normandin: I like the Jays more than most, but they have some problems. Their hitters are incredible at the Rogers Centre, but not quite
as good on the road-see Vernon Wells, Lyle Overbay and Troy Glaus for some eye-popping splits on that note-and their rotation is still a serious question mark, although I really like the strategy employed this winter by signing Ohka, Thomson, and everyone else with a pulse who was at one point deemed a useful starter. I don't see them as the chief competition for the Yankees though; the Red Sox were a bit overrated last year, and injuries helped drive them down towards where they belonged, but with the additions they have made to their roster in comparison to what the Jays have done, I don't see 2007 being as close as some may make it out to be. Anything can happen over 162 games though, as we've seen many a time in the past.

2. The Blue Jays spent $126 million to keep Vernon Wells in Toronto for the seven seasons beyond 2007. Good move or bad, and why?

Pinstripe Alley: Good move. Wells is one of the best young players in the game. It's never a bad idea to sign those kind of players to long-term deals.

Over The Monster: Great move. The Blue Jays have the money to spend and they spent it wisely. They didn't spend it on a free agent that had a great season in a contract year. They spent it on a proven player that is only going to get better. They locked up the face of the franchise for seven more years. How many other teams - right now - can say that? They made a smart decision and they'll be rewarded by seven really good years out of their center fielder.

Bluebird Banter: This move must be placed in some sort of context. If it doesn't hamper Ricciardi's ability to acquire talent or displace a superior player from CF, then it should be fine. In regards to the former, Ted Rogers hasn't shied away from raising the team's payroll, nor has there been any indication that he will act differently in the future. But the latter is what may present a problem, since Alex Rios' defence appears to be well-suited for CF. Moreover, if Wells were moved from CF in the future, as his defence is likely to decline with age, his offence wouldn't be that great relative to corner outfielders. I like the move based on what he'll contribute at the moment, but it definitely presents some major long-term concerns.

Camden Chat: Wells' profile isn't terribly dissimilar from Carlos Beltran's, and the Jays made a good move in locking up their center fielder before they had to fight someone else with deep pockets for him in free agency. He'll be a good player for the rest of his contract, probably. If you've got the money to spend, which Toronto obviously does, then you're a fool to not use it for a situation like this.

DRays Bay: How good this move is depends a lot on the financial shape of the Blue Jays. I don't really know where they are. They have been a mid to low payroll ballclub in the past, but with the sudden infusion of cash in the previous few years from Rogers, I'm not really sure where they stand. I very much doubt they are self-sustaining with their current spending spree, so I don't know how long it will be until the flow of money is cut off at the spigot. But if Toronto can afford the salary, and they can eat the contract if things go wrong, it can never really be a horrible move, and the presence of Wells no doubt helps improve the ballclub. From a strictly production for money standpoint though, it is a terrible deal. Wells has had exactly two seasons of great offensive production, the rest have been merely good, and this has evened out to a .303/.336/.492 career batting line. That's a pretty good player, but a $126 million player? I think not. Further, when this contract expires after the 2014 season, Wells will be 35 years old, not exactly on the upswing of his career. And the deal is structured so that the Jays will have to pay Wells $21 million in the final year of the agreement. Again, if they can afford the deal it isn't necessarily bad for them, but I can't imagine the flow of cash running forever, and if the Jays don't have substantial on-field success in the next few years they could be swimming in quite a bit of red ink by the time this contract terminates. Again, without knowing where Toronto really is financially, it is hard to fully evaluate the deal, but I'll tell you one thing: I wouldn't bet on Wells giving you anywhere close to $126 million worth of production over the life of this contract.

Marc Normandin: I like this for the first few years of the deal, although once the price picks up after a few seasons it's an awful contract. Wells is one of the more overrated players in the game, who relies on his home park to boost his stats and isn't quite as incredible defensively as he used to be. I'm going to catch a lot of crap for this, but going forward, I like Alex Rios better than Vernon Wells. His splits are much, much less severe, and he's a great defender in his own right.

Also, if Wells dips back down to his 2004-2005 production at the plate, the Jays will be paying $18 million AAV for an aging centerfielder who
will need to be moved off the position as he continues to put on weight without hitting like a corner guy. I don't really see where the idea of
Wells being a proven player who will only get better comes from.

3. Will the Jays miss Ted Lilly? He wasn't great, but he did start 25 games each of the past three seasons, which is more than you can say
about any other Jays starter. Can the staff just stay healthy?

Pinstripe Alley: For all of his faults, Lilly did eat up some innings for that team last season. That said, he's not exactly irreplaceable.

Over The Monster: They'll miss Ted Lilly, but they're really not going to be thinking about Lilly once Halladay wins the American League Cy
Young. That's if he's healthy, of course, which I think he will be. Lilly was a strong starter for the Jays, but he wasn't going to win the division for them anytime soon. Plus, he was overpaid and they have better things to spend their money on at this point.

Bluebird Banter: Lilly's production will be missed to an extent, of course. Players of his calibre, while not stars, are important pieces to any successful organization. But he's replaceable, and his production won't be missed if any of his potential replacements come through.

Camden Chat: They're going to miss Lilly if Gustavo Chacin or someone can't rebound and do the job that Lilly did, and possibly do it better and much cheaper. Lilly is a solid major league starter, but the Cubs paid a premium for that service, and the Jays probably assume they can replace Lilly pretty easily, either in-house or with one of their cheap free agent pickups. They very well may be right, too.

DRays Bay: The Jays will probably miss Lilly a little, but for the contract he signed with Chicago he wasn't worth the cost to keep around. Then again, looking at Toronto's previous two offseasons, the cost for production factor hasn't stopped them from overspending before, so I'm not really sure why they got stingy here. But as for the Jays, they will miss Lilly a little because now they have to slot someone inferior into the No. 5 hole in the rotation, be in John Thomson or whomever. How inferior that particular pitcher will be depends on which Ted Lilly shows up next year. While he is consistent with respect to eating innings, his numbers have never really been that great, and his walk rates have risen dramatically in the last three years. How that translates to Wrigley Field, I don't know, but the Jays will miss Lilly. How much they'll miss him is dependant on which one shows up this year.

Marc Normandin: The Jays will miss Lilly if neither Ohka or Thomson works out for them. Chacin will also need to stay healthy, and if Josh Towers can shave roughly 37.00 points off of his ERA, he'll be a decent option. Chances are good that either Ohka or Thomson will pitch decently for Toronto, or that both of them will combine for an average-ish year, which will help fill the void left by Lilly's departure. Losing him hurts, but signing him to a comparable deal to the one the Cubs gave him would hurt more.

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