With all the craziness surrounding the Christmas present everyone in eastern Pennsylvania and southern Jersey just received, it's easy to get excited as Jays fans seeing what we had all expected to be a shoe-in Yankee superstar for the next few years sign elsewhere. This morning, Tom asked if this opens up the AL East for us in 2011. I figured I'd chime in, but my comment got a bit long-winded, so here it is as its own post.
In a way, the AL East should be open for us because even though missing out on Cliff Lee frees up money for the Yankees to spend -- as Joe Pawlikowski writes for Fangraphs -- there just aren't that many places for them to spend it.
One thing that isn't brought up enough when folks talk about how free agent starting pitchers get overpaid is that you start five pitchers but only one player at each other position (though the DH frees that up a bit), so having a star pitcher does not preclude a team from signing or trading for another star pitcher. Obviously, for free agents, this only impacts teams that operate on large-scale budgets, because other teams are limited by payroll restrictions as much as they are by the number of positions on the field. For the Yankees, however, losing out on Lee is a big deal. They've already missed out on upgrading their outfield with Carl Crawford and they cannot very well go out and spend the money they've saved on Adrian Beltre because they've already got a third baseman. Basically, unless they are willing to move some valuable future pieces, they should be worse in 2011 than they were in 2010.
I don't think the Jays are far from making a run this year. Positionally, we're looking at:
We need to replace Shaun Marcum's production. While Kyle Drabek probably won't do it, if we can get a full (good!) season out of Brandon Morrow and a decent season out of Drabek -- considering the (lack of) production we got from our fifth starter position -- if the pitchers can stay healthy, I think we should be able to at least come close to replicating the production we got from our rotation last year.
Bringing back former Southern Illinois Saluki Jason Frasor (2010 xFIP 3.85) helps. We'll certainly miss Scott Downs (2010 xFIP 3.51) and as little as I thought we would entering 2010, we'll miss Kevin Gregg (2010 xFIP 4.22), too. On the other hand, I do think AA will be able to shore up the bullpen some, so I really don't think we'll be appreciably worse than we were last season.
It won't be easy to match what we got from John Buck last season. If we're lucky, J.P. Arencibia can get us almost there. John Buck was actually one of the better catchers in baseball (eighth in WAR).
Assuming Adam Lind can play first base competently, I imagine he should be at least as good as Lyle Overbay was last season (Lind batted .267 / .309 / .498 after the All Star Break last season compared to Overbay's season line of .243 / .329 / .433). I do think Lind will bounce back some and playing the field should help his bat some as well (see Tom Tango's The Book).
Even if Yunel Escobar's power doesn't fully return, his ability to get on-base and his glove should play fine at short and the Jays should be able to get about as much production from short as they did last year. If it does return, we could be looking at one of the top five shortstops in baseball or so.
Who knows? I'd like to bring back Edwin Encarnacion. I know at least one person who agrees with me here. Last year, Edwin hit better than league average (wRC+ 113) in spite of a BABIP of just .235 and really wasn't an atrocious fielder (-2.3 UZR/150; -3 TZ/yr; +4 DRS/yr). If this progress is real, Edwin is -- wait for it -- actually good.
Travis Snider is already good. He will get better. I don't know how much better, but just pro-rating his 2010 into a full season for 2011 almost doubles his value. Nothing against Fred Lewis, but Travis Snider is already better.
Vernon Wells, please, please, please let 2011 be more like 2010 and less like 2009. I think it can be. Last season, vernon did not rely on an inflated BABIP (.279) or HR/fly rates exorbitantly above career norms (excepting his wrist injury in 2009). He'll likely regress some, but hopefully not too much.
Okay, so Jose Bautista probably won't hit 54 homeruns. That's okay; given his propensity for drawing walks (13.9% even in 2009), I can live with it. If he bats -- as Bill James projects -- .251 / .355 / .509, we've lost a bunch of value from last season, but we're still afloat. And, really, with Jose Bautista, anything's possible. Who knows, maybe he'll 60?
If we do sign Manny, we're looking at a very significant upgrade from Lind's disappointing 2010. Last season, Adam Lind had a wOBA of .309. Manny's was .382. Let him DH and he'll stay healthy -- he could play 150 games. Pro-rate what he did at the dish last season (16 runs above average over 90 games) and we're looking at about +25. Adam Lind's offensive production was worth about six fewer runs than an average hitter in 2010, so that's a big swing.
In spite of trading Marcum and losing some players to free agency, with a few low-cost moves (bringing back EE, bringing in Manny) and a little luck, the 2011 Blue Jays could very easily be better than the 2010 Blue Jays. I think the Yankees are appreciably worse in 2011 than they were in 2010. The Rays should be a bit worse as well. Their young starters will probably get a bit better, but David Price and Wade Davis were both pretty lucky last season. As a Jays fan, I wouldn't bet the farm (system) on 2011, but this team really could be contending for a playoff spot as early as next season.
Thanks, by the way, to Los Campesinos! for today's title.