For us poor Jays fans, this was supposed to be the year that the Yankees players all aged and fell apart before our very eyes, and the Jays snuck up and contended for a possible wild card playoff spot . We knew Boston was going to be good, and optimistic Jays fans thought that Tampa Bay may have been weakened enough by the players they turned over between 2010 and 2011 that the Jays COULD contend. Alas, it was not to be...
Yes, some of you are snickering right now, but despite the ups and downs on this rollercoaster season for the Blue Jays, there are some trendlines that are extremely positive. It looks as though AA is going to be able to fine-tune the roster enough for the Jays to contend for the Wild Card in 2012.
Let's recap the bright spots that have answered some of AA's key concerns moving forward;
Colby Rasmus - AA wanted ,and now has, a talented CF'er. This move is good for both player and team, and hopefully Rasmus can produce like we know he can in 2012.
Jose Bautista - Proved 2010 was no fluke, and at the end of the day if he didn't hit another homerun all season I would still be happy with his production. Jays fans were hopefully optimistic heading into the season, and Jose has fully delivered in 2011. Keeping in mind he also played 3rd base for the Jays when called upon by management, he is worthy of the MVP this season in my view. Jose was what kept this team at or above .500 for most of the season and he should get proper credit. He also had several injuries so consider that when you compare his final 2011 tally to other players like Granderson and Gonzalez that he did it all in about 20 fewer games. That right there should win the Guy the MVP. Sigh...
Brett Lawrie - AA has found his 3rd baseman of the foreseeable future, it looks like. Lawrie's debut has been a dream situation for the player and team (and fans too.) We've all seen his production thus far and actions speak louder than words. If AA had called him up earlier he would be contending against Ivan Nova for Rookie of the Year right now.
Yunel Escobar: Has proven himself to his teammates and fans this season. He has played with hustle and heart the entire season. He has hot-dogged it a couple times and made some errors, but he has also made some incredibly graceful plays as well. His bat has returned to its 2008/2009 form and this bodes well for the Blue Jays moving forward, regardless of whether Escobar plays SS or 2b for the Blue Jays.
Ricky Romero: Proven he can handle the #1 role. Next season, he turns it up a notch to prove he is a legit Ace in MLB. I believe in him, he's a bulldog and guys like that will win lots of games in the Majors. It is going to be a treat to watch Romero over the next 3 or 4 years as he comes into his own...
Perez/Alvarez/Villanueva: Henderson Alvarez as a call-up has been nothing short of brilliant and appears to showcase a high ceiling. Luis Perez, since moving from the Pen to the Starting rotation, has shown himself to be a valuable asset. If he does't have a role in the rotation, he could become a very useful trade chip. Carlos Villanueva has gotten it done for the Jays in the Pen when needed, but he also showed very good promise when he joined the Rotation for the Jays when we had injuries and issues with our other starters. He rattled off several good, quality starts prior to injuring himself. Now back in the Pen, Villanueva is someone I wouldn't mind seeing back in 2012, considering his body of work this season.
Thames/Arencibia: Both rookies have shown good presence at the plate, barring minor issues with J.P. Arencibia who makes up for his issues with power and production - classic Slugging Catcher if you ask me... Eric Thames filled in when Travis Snider couldn't live up to whatever expectations Management had for him, and in my opinion has been a good player for the Jays this season who kind of goes along under the radar it seems. His glove sometimes leaves a little to be desired, however, and this is perhaps where in 2012 Snider can overtake Thames on the Depth Chart. This remains to be seen.
Of course, these are the bright spots. A few negative developments for the Blue Jays this season would include the following (extremely briefly):
Travis Snider - It would ould have been nice to see further development, but he was struggling at the time he was sent down. Big question mark moving forward for this team. I still completely expect him to have a great MLB career, for what its worth. He is very young still...
Cecil/Morrow - Brett Cecil posted 15 wins last season while Brandon Morrow was dominant in the second half of 2010, leading Jays fans to expect a lot from the #'s 2 and 3 pitchers for our rotation this season. Things have not went as planned, leaving the Jays rotation in flux looking forward.
Drabek - Not a lot to say on this. He is a young prospect and we all recall how Halladay had to straighten some things out at AAA for a bit. Hopefully Kyle Drabek can clear his mind this off-season and build off the positives he had in 2011 and have a really strong spring for the Blue Jays in 2012... You may even end up seeing him this September, although this is a question mark amonst fans right now. If he doesn't straighten things out, there are lots of pitchers in our farm system who are awaiting to surpass him on the Depth Chart, and that is just a matter of fact...
Lind - I'm staying positive on Adam Lind, but at this point Jays fans have started openly talking about him being used as a trade chip. This includes me, but only in my fantasy world where we can trade Lind + two other prospects for Joey Votto. Pipedream yes, but you can't blame me for day-dreaming about it.
With all of these things to consider, AA has been able to cross of several items from his "To-Do List". The Jays are test-driving Kelly Johnson for 2nd base next season and so far so good, while Escobar and Lawrie have solidified SS and 3rd for the Jays. Our outfield is 2/3 set with Bautista and Rasmus, the only question mark for 2012 being can Snider overtake Thames somehow on the chart to play in LF. Whoever loses out on that one is probably going to become a trade chip.
The Jays clearly need to address their pitching, including starting and the bull pen. Options for AA to consider include CJ Wilson, although Texas is going to make a very strong push for him. Also, we have had it confirmed by AA himself that the Jays are in on Yu Darvish. This is a costly option, but Darvish clearly has potential based on his domination of the US team at the 2008 World Series of Baseball. As for an even longer shot than signing Darvish, there are rumours that CC Sabbathia is going to opt out of his contract with the Yankees to demand millions of dollars more. This is a possibility, because why else would CC have put that stipulation in his contract if he didn't intend to flex his muscles after several very strong seasons with the Yankees. If this happens you can count on New York doing whatever it takes to appease Sabbathia in his contract quest. There are not many quality arms out there in Free Agency this season so hopefully the Pitchers in our farm system continue to blossom as they have thus far.
The bullpen is much more problematic and the Jays will likely look to free agency and internal roster moves to address several question marks. Pat Hentgen has a done a good job this season as bullpen coach, and in his fairness he hasn't had a lot to work with, as many of our good relievers were used as trade chips. This left many poor options, as recently seen with Brian Tallet going in for a save opp. this past week. The bullpen will be a continuing work in progess for AA, but I think this is par for the course for any MLB bull pen. AA knows what needs to be done, and will address it in the off-season.
The only other question now becomes if the Jays are going to make a move on any of the big name free agents this season. This includes Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, and to a much lesser extent Jose Reyes, who I have pretty much discredited the Jays from having any interest in thanks to Escobar, Kelly Johnson and Adeiny Hechavarria.
AA could very well attempt to sign Pujols or Fielder, or he could go the trade route like Pat Gillick did with the famous Jays/Padres flip for Alomar and Carter.
Regardless of the potential for this coming season, comments AA has made indicate that this off-season he will be making much more targeted moves due to not having to deal with some of the big tasks he took on last off-season, like hiring a manager and coaching staff, signing Bautista and overhauling the bullpen, in addition to the Wells trade. AA's point was that he will be spending more time this off-season on direct moves that are going to influence the team in 2012. This is all very promising for Jays fans and it now looks like in 2012 the Jays are going to make their move. All in all it will make for a very exciting Off-Season...