Hi everyone. I'm thrilled to have y'all to discuss the Jays coming 2008 season. Part I will focus on some introductions and talk about the offseason, so let's get started after the jump!
1. Since Bluebird Banter has some new faces and some old, let's do a little introduction and reintroduction, borrowing a little from our friends at Batters Box. Can you all state your age, location, how you spent the offseason, your favorite movie, your preferred entrance music if you were a player, and the player your little league career most closely resembles? Let's start with Bluebird Banter's newest writer, Quinton.
Quinton: Since I am the newest member I guess I will give you some extra details about me. My name is Quinton Howes and I live in Kingston, Ontario (3 hrs from Rogers Centre) where I work as a department supervisor of Lumber/Building Materials for Home Depot. I usually make it to at least 2 or 3 games a year with my fiancee Heather and she is a big Jays fan too. This offseason was spent moving out of my apartment and buying my first home, as well and taking a trip to Florida where I hope to see some grapefruit action next year.
My favourite movie is For Love of The Game with Kevin Costner pitching for the Tigers. My entrance music would be Big League by Tom Cochrane "My boy's gonna play in the big league, my boy's gonna turn some heads". It is hard for me to choose one player that best resembles my baseball career because i pitched/played the corners but I will go with Billy Koch because it seems more interesting from a pitcher's stand point. The reason I chose him is because he (like myself only on a little league scale) had dominating power, however had issues with control, and not much of a pitching arsenal beyond the fastball. The arm power that I had was however helpful at 3B because it made up for my lack of agility, and could help me out with close plays.
Mark W: I'm 22 and I currently live in a suburb that's about 20 minutes north of Toronto. I spent the offseason applying for law school, traveling, and working odd jobs every now and then. I haven't followed baseball as closely as I have in years past, and it's the first year in what seems like forever that I haven't read at least one baseball annual, though I did read a few baseball-related books.
My favourite movie is Manhattan, and my entrance music would either be "Why Can't We Be Friends" or "Baby I Love Your Way", except with 'your way' replaced by 'the Jays'.
I never played organized baseball growing up, though I did sign up for a league in the summer after grade 5 before pulling out for whatever reason. So I guess my top comparable would be someone like Matt Harrington. Actually, I played a lot of unorganized street-baseball as a kid, so I guess I could be compared to some kid from The Sandlot or one of the kids Macaulay Culkin's character envies in Richie Rich.
AChengy: I'm 19 and I live in the suburbs of Toronto. Specifically what journalists and media call the "notorious" neighbourhood of Jane and Finch. I spent the off-season at school studying various subjects in Biology and Chemistry. I was sports blogging for some time but from the Vick case to steroids in baseball, I got sick of the coverage and started an mp3 blog in turn.
My favorite film is Battle Royale (I love the violence). My preferred entrance music if I were a player would be Pulp's Common People. I never actually played in little league but I did play a lot as a kid. My best asset was speed but I had no power with my scrawny and unathletic frame. I did pretend I was Otis Nixon just bunting to get on base so I'll use him as a comparison.
Hugo: Just to interject here, if you're at all interested in music, you should definitely check out Chengy's blog -- it's really top notch and they have a great team of writers who do great reviews of lots of great music. And I'm not just saying that because he favourably reviewed my band, haha. Alpheus?
Alpheus: I am 22 and I am currently in my final semester at Middlebury College in Vermont. Before college and during the summers, I live in Vancouver. I spent most of this past offseason at school slaving away at my homework, and obsessively checking mlbtraderumors.com. My favourite movie is a tough one, probably something like Memento that really messes with my head. My entrance music would be "Carry on My Wayward Son" by Kansas.
It is hard to compare my little league career to one single player, at the plate, I am kind of like Tony Gwynn, a high average hitter with gap power but doesn't take too many walks. As a pitcher I am kind of like Nolan Ryan, I threw hard but have a tendency to miss the plate a lot, and hit a lot of batters. But when I do find the plate, my opponents usually couldn't hit me.
Hugo: Well, I guess I am the old man. Harsh. I'm 28 and just moved from Washington DC to a town right outside the city. I'm married and have a 1-year old daughter, and both Mrs. Hugo and Anna are big Jays fans as well. I spent the offseason selling our apartment and buying the house, changing diapers, and reading about science and classical Rome, as well as playing in my band, International Graduate University .
My favourite movie is a three way tie between Ghostbusters, Kurosawa's Rashomon, and Stand By Me. My entrance music would be "The Frug" by Rilo Kiley (I'm laughing just thinking about that but it sure would relax me) and the player my little league and school career most closely resembles, taken all together, is Pee Wee Reese, as both he and I were slick in the field, a threat on the bases despite only moderate speed, and just average hitters. The statue of Pee Wee with his arm around Jackie Robinson at Keystone Park in Coney Island, Brooklyn, which memoralizes a moment when, in his first season, Jackie and the Dodgers went to Cincinnati and the fans booed him and Pee Wee went over to put his arms around Jackie, is my favorite baseball work of art.
Also, I should mention that Bluebird Banter has another excellent writer, Matt. He wasn't able to participate in the roundtable because he's busy down in Dunedin for all of spring training, keeping us all updated on the Jays' spring and interviewing one of our site's favourite players.
2. Who are your favorite current and all-time Jays? How about favorite current and all-time non-Jay players?
Quinton: Favourite current Jay is an easy one: Reed Johnson...not the most talented player in that clubhouse but he is the biggest competitor and the hardest worker. The man is just all out hustle. If you have never had the opportunity to see him warm up before a game I suggest you try and get to the ball park a bit early to watch...his mood before the game is always loose (he challenges other players to race him, who can throw the ball furthest into the stands, etc.) Not to mention it's a rarity to see Reed without a uniform covered in clay by game's end. Another now-former Jay that may surprise some as a recent favourite of mine was Josh Towers. The main reason here is because before a game I have always seen him on the sidelines signing cards, jerseys, etc, and he really takes the time to talk to the kids and stick around for pictures. Good for PR but basically its genuine. He signed my jersey and program last year, and when i thanked him he looked right at me and said: "No problem, enjoy the game". Classy.
Former Jays: Hrm well Joe Carter for obvious reasons "Touch em all Joe, you will never hit a bigger home run in your life". Shawn Green, Pat Hentgen, Roger Clemens, to name a few.
Alpheus: For the longest time, my favourite Jay is Roy Halladay, but I am developing a steady man-crush for Dustin McGowan. Going back a little further, I was a huge Shawn Green fan growing up. My favourite all-time non-Jay player is Pedro Martinez, watching him pitch during his glory years is one of the most incredible thing ever. No one dominated like he did. I am not sure who my favourite non-Jay player is right now.
Mark W:Current Blue Jay: Frank Thomas; All-time: Tony Fernandez. I have a soft spot for the aging vets on the downside of their careers. I also liked Otis Nixon (Growing up, whenever someone said, "Oh disss!" someone in the background would yell out, "Nixon!" to complete the sentence.) He also bunted to make the final out of the World Series in 1992 and he looks rather unique.
Current non-Blue Jay: Pedro Martinez, though Felix Hernandez/Justin Upton are my two favourite young players to watch/follow; All-time: Probably also Martinez, though my other favourites tend to be players with a lot of personality, such as Satchel Paige, Babe Ruth, Keith Hernandez (at least on Seinfeld), etc. It's the same reason why a complete non-entity like Freddie "FredEx" Mitchell is one of my all-time favourite NFL players.
Hugo: Haha, Otis Nixon "looks rather unique." You're in the right line of work, Mark. My favourite current Jays are Roy Halladay, Casey Janssen, Shaun Marcum, and Lyle Overbay. Normally, I favor role players, but Doc is the exception to that rule because he's in a class all by himself as a ballplayer and a person. My favourite all-time Jay, in addition to Halladay, is Jimmy Key. Guy was just steady, and even when he was a Yank I loved him because he basically got by on pure guile.
As for non-Jays, it's not close and my favourite current and all-time is Ichiro. I love how unique his game is and also how he basically is the polar opposite of the ballplayer stereotype, and how funny his quotes are. I've got an all-time Ichiro quotes post in the works! Besides Ichiro, I'm a big fan of Jose Reyes and John Maine, since I root for the Mets in the Senior Circuit.
Chengy:My favorite current Jays are Aaron Hill and Alexis Rios. Always loved them from since they were called up to the big club. My all time favorite Jays are Carlos Delgado, Tony Fernandez (I loved his batting stance) and Shannon Stewart (I was sad to see him traded to the Twins).
I rooted for the Expos when they were in Canada so I must say my favorite non-Jay has to be Vladmir Guerrero.
3. Moving on, how would you grade the Jays' off-season and why? Do you think the Jays improved their chances of making the postseason or are they spinning their wheels?
Alpheus: B-. Since most of the moves made this offseason are minor and/or lateral moves, I can't justify giving J.P. Ricciardi a high grade for this offseason. However, the club is not necessary status quo to last year's 83-win club. Health permitted, we'll have a full season and 200-innings of Halladay, Burnett, McGowan, and Marcum in the rotation, giving the Jays one of the best front-four in the majors. With Ryan back in the closer role, and Accardo pushed to the setup role, the two of them will form one of the best late inning duos in the majors, effectively shortening the Jays game to 7 innings. In compliment to the team's pitching prowess is their excellent team defence. Rolen, McDonald, Hill, Overbay, Rios, and Wells all rank among the best defensively at their position. The strength of this team is their ability to prevent runs. If we can get some consistency with our offence, I am very confident in the Jays' chances this year. Health is obviously the biggest question mark for this team.
Chengy: I would give the Jays a B. I was a bit disappointed that they didn't spend more money with the rising Canadian dollar but if you told me they would've gotten Eckstein for $4 million I would've have been ecstatic. I definitely think the Jays improved their chances of making the post-season with shortstop as our glaring offensive weakness. We'll have to see about Rolen but Glaus was a major health concern anyway.
Quinton: If I were to assign a letter grade to the Jays offseason I would give it a solid B+, understanding that a quiet offseason doesn't mean it wasn't productive. Without any key departures, and improving the bat at SS and brining in a utility player like Scutaro I see it as a success. Ricciardi sees the Blue Jays as contenders in '08 and did a little fine tuning in the offseason. In my mind, the Jays need to stock up on ice packs and ibuprofen and make a run at the Sox and Yanks. Last year injuries crippled a competitive team, but on the positive side, the youth stepped up, as did a certain veteran in LF. They can certainly be a 90+ win team this season and a healthy Burnett and Halladay will be most important followed by the developing Marcum and McGowan. Having BJ back will allow all the relievers to be bumped an inning. At some point they will need to determine whether or not they think Adam Lind is the real deal.
Mark W : Overall, it was an uneventful offseason, which is both good and bad. They failed to put themselves in the same class as the Red Sox and Yankees, but they didn't shoot themselves in the foot with another Royce Clayton-style signing. Unlike others, I don't mind the deal for Scott Rolen, given that his marked defensive superiority over Troy Glaus overcomes his minor offensive inferiority, assuming he can stay relatively healthy. My one concern, however, is that it improves the team's major strength (defense) at the expense of its major weakness (offense). But regardless, I'd rather have the better player, which I believe is Rolen, assuming 2007 was an aberration rather than a harbinger of what's to come.
Hugo : Mark, you owe us all a round for mentioning Royce Clayton! I would have to agree with everyone, perhaps leaning more towards Quinton's optimism. This Jays team seems a lot deeper than last year's squad, with Barajas, Eckstein, Scutaro, and perhaps now Stewart poised to take at-bats that last season went to the likes of Royce Clayton, Jason Phillips, J-Mac, and Hector Luna. So I like those signings (not sure about Stewart but we'll see how it shakes out). I like the Rolen deal as well because I think that overall, he offers more potential upside as a complete player than Glaus, which is what the Jays need if they're going to beat the Yankees and Sox. And I like resigning Stairs - while he's unlikely to be as great as he was last season, the Jays could really use another lefty bat and Stairs has always hit righties well and likely will continue to do so. In fact, I would hit Stairs cleanup against righties, I think - at least until someone else shows they deserve it.
4. To round out Part I, what is a nagging concern you have about our heroic corvids as spring training begins?
Mark W: I'm concerned about whether the various players who were plagued by injuries and poor play can rebound. I also fear that Adam Lind won't receive the playing time he deserves.
Quinton: My nagging concern is, well what else but injuries? Halladay and Burnett have to start 30 games each this year, while the 3/4/5 guys have to be consistent. Wells needs to rebound from a disappointing season, as does the rest of the offence, which struggles mightily under Brantley last year, falling 12th in BA and Denbo will be asked to study more video than Brantley did.
Chengy: The offense. Wells and Overbay need to rebound
Alpheus: Health, Health, and Health. Talent-wise, we are up there with the best of them. But our players are having problems staying on the field the past couple years. That would be my biggest concern. Another concern I have is the lack of starpower/franchise player in our lineup. To me, Vernon Wells never was and never will be the franchise player we are looking for. He is a top-5 center fielder but not someone who is a game-changer. Alex Rios is very similar in that regard. Aside from Halladay, we don't really have any game changers. Although teams have won in the past without franchise position players, it is rare.
Hugo: I would basically echo everyone else in saying injuries and the offense, but I'd also add that I'm a little concerned that our young pitching will struggle in their second full seasons. I believe that McGowan, Marcum, Janssen, Litsch, and Accardo all have great futures ahead of them, but the second year can be tough on pitchers, with batters adjusting and expectations sky-high. I generally think they'll be successful, particularly McGowan and Marcum, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little concerned.
Allright everyone, that's it for now. Thanks so much for contributing, and everyone, stay tuned for Parts II and III. In part II, we'll discuss the Jays' starting rotation, who should be playing when at shortstop, who on the Jays is due for a great year, and who's heading for a fall.