As spring training enters its last two weeks, the Jays pieces seem to be falling into place.
After a slow start (not unheard of for control pitchers), Tomo Okha has looked quite sharp and appears to have locked down a rotation spot. Although he has had some legal troubles, Gustavo Chacin also appears to be a lock for a rotation spot (in my mind, this was never really in doubt). People are down on Chacin, and he took his lumps last season, but he is still young, is lefty (impt in the AL Beast), and has a career 112 ERA+.
What is a surprise, though, is that it appears that Josh Towers has earned his spot in the rotation after a disastrous 2006. I say this is a surprise because it seemed like John Thomson was a lock for a rotation spot. However, according to Ken Rosenthal, the Jays are looking to trade or release Thomson (they are off the hook for a sizable portion if he does not break camp with the team). While I'm not enamored with Towers, 1) he has the ability to at least be passable; 2) he surely will not have as long a leash as he did last season; and 3) he can't possibly be as bad as he was last year. Towers has resurrected his career before after a dreadful season, and his control looks sharp. He may even be ahead of Okha. I have to believe that now that Okha and Thomson seem to be healthy, they must have some trade value. I mean, Ramon Ortiz got 3 million guaranteed.
And if Towers or Okha should falter, surprise of surprises, another guy who has really impressed is Victor Zambrano. He definitely looks like he will go north with the squad in the bullpen, and I would not be surprised to see him in the rotation soon enough. Janssen also impressed and looks to have taken a step forward, while Marcum and McGowan seem to need more work. They will probably all have their chance at some point this season.
As for the bullpen, Ryan, Frasor, and Downs are locks. League has had some health issues with a tight lat, but if he is healthy, he is a lock as well. I've already said that I think that Zambrano has earned a spot. Rosario has impressed and is out of options, so I definitely expect him to be there with the club. That's 6. Tallet seemed to be a front-runner, but 1) he hasn't been very good; and 2) do the Jays really need a 3rd lefty, especially one with control problems? Accardo has been good and is probably the better choice. Marcum, McGowan, Taubenheim, and Janssen probably need to start in the minors if that is indeed their future. If the Jays think Zambrano would be better served starting in Cuse, there's always Pete Walker....
Around the Field
Elsewhere Lind was sent to the minors, which is no surprise. He will be the first called up if there is any injury to an outfielder or to Frank Thomas (or possibly Overbay, who knows). Smith has hit very well and came up as a shortstop so he is a lock. The Jays seem locked on McDonald, although I don't see the need since Smith is around. Stairs will be the 4th outfielder, which will be fine so long as he doesn't actually see much time in the outfield. Phillips has probably earned the roster spot after being a good soldier in the minors all last season. He's not too bad a hitter, which is important since Zaun will need some days off so he doesn't wear down. Russ Adams was also sent down, no surprise there although he showed good hitting and good patience at the plate and didn't seem too awful in the field. He looks like an excellent utility player right now, but I still think he could be a good starting 2B somewhere, if not in TO.
So, here's what I see the roster shaking down as:
Starting Lineup (this is just A starting lineup, though in my opinion not a bad one)
C- Greg Zaun
Super Util-Jason Smith
RP-Brandon League (if healthy)
Next in line for starts: Zambrano/Janssen/Marcum/Taubenheim/McGowan (in that order)
I have to say, injuries are always a big part of it, but this looks like a 90-win team. IF key members can stay healthy and some folks can avoid regression. Can't Wait!
Update [2007-3-23 10:27:44 by hugo]: Unfortunately for Thomson, some of his previous shoulder problems seem to be dogging him - he got lit up in his last start, then got shut down. One would think that would make him even less likely to remain with the Jays, who are not crazy about him anyway (they like Okha's inflappableness and Zambrano's doggedness, but view Thomson as more high-maintenance), but perhaps not - apparently, if he begins the season on the DL rather than the active roster, he doesn't get his $1.5 million ($US).
Personally, I think there is enough depth without Thomson, given how good Zambrano has looked and how impressive Janssen (and Marcum) were. I think all of those three will be just fine, and they will all get their chances this season regardless. Towers faltered in his last start, but seems likely to maintain his roatation spot, at least to start the season, though I'm sure he will be on a short leash. That said, it might be good to keep Thomson around. He won't have trade value now that he has health issues, he will have trouble going elsewhere if the Jays want to send him to the minors, and he's not a bad insurance policy.