For the Jays to make the playoffs, really all the players are key players. In our division, none of our players, who get significant playing time, can have a bad year. Almost everything would have to go right for us to contend. But these are the 4 that I think it is especially important to have a good season.
Colby Rasmus: Colby was having a pretty average season, with the Cardinals, then he came to us and he couldn't hit at all. A wrist injury contributed to the .173/.201/.316 line in 35 games, in Blue Jay colors. Going into spring there were all sorts of stories about confidence and optimism and how much happier he was now that he was away from Tony LaRussa. His spring numbers haven't matched that happiness, he's hitting .188/.333/.313 in his first 16 spring at bats, but it's much too early to be worried about that. I get the feeling he is the type of player that needs a bunch of swings to get his timing down.
Center field wasn't a good position for us, last year. Rajai Davis missed a bunch of games with various injuries and, when he did play, he hit just .238/.273/.350. All the speed in the world doesn't help if you only get on base 27% of the time. The less said about Corey Patterson the better, I'll just say he looked so bad out there the Jays thought playing Travis Snider in CF was a better idea.
Colby doesn't have to get to the 23 home runs and .276/.361/.498 line of 2010 to be a big improvement from what we got out of CF last year, but something close to that would sure help in our perennial quest to raise above 4th in the division. It wouldn't hurt Colby's bank account either. He only has a one year contract and, with Anthony Gose and Jake Marsinick waiting in the wings, he'd have to have a good season if he wants to stay in Toronto.
Kelly Johnson: Another in-season pick up for the Jays. He hit .270/.364/.417, a marked improvement over Aaron Hill's numbers with the Jays, and still Blue Jay fans don't seem to like him. Or maybe it was just one fan at the State of the Franchise night. John Farrell wants Kelly to bat 2nd in the order and has told him that his power numbers don't matter, but his on base percentage does. Last year, our number 2 hitters got on base at a .311 rate, which, when you have Jose Bautista batter right after you (yeah, Bautista shouldn't be batting 3rd, but what can you do), should be a sin of some sort.
Like Rasmus, Johnson is only signed through this season and like Rasmus, the Jays have his replacement almost ready for him, if Adeiny Hechavarria's improved bat is something real and not just a spring time illusion. If Kelly isn't very good this year, I'm sure the Jays will be, gently, asking Yunel to move over to second and have Adeiny take over at short. If he can get on base a bunch, Jose can better his 103 RBI from last year, and get that MVP trophy he so richly deserves.
Dustin McGowan: It is not news that the starting rotation wasn't a strength of the
2010 2011 Blue Jays. With Jo-Jo Reyes and Carlos Villanueva getting 33 starts between them, we shouldn't expect it to be. If Dustin McGowan can come back from all the injury troubles and show the stuff that made him a first round draft choice back in 2000, it would go a long way towards improving the rotation.
The last time Dustin was healthy he had a 12-10 record, with a 4.08 ERA in 27 starts. He was also able to average 6 and a third innings an start. That would take some stress off the bullpen. 5.5 innings a start was all got out of Jo-Jo and Carlos (sounds like a morning radio team). If Dustin can pitch us into the 7th inning, in most of his starts, and keep a reasonable ERA, we'll be so much better off. Of course, we have no real idea if he can do it now. Farrell has been glowing in his praise for how Dustin has looked this spring, so we can hope.
Dustin is a free agent after the season and has no options left so this is his one chance to prove he belongs in the Jays rotation. By next season there will be half a dozen of our pitching prospects ready to take his spot.
Sergio Santos: I really have no doubt that Sergio can do the job as closer, but after the trouble of last season, if he proves he can early and holds the job all season, we are much better off.
Last year, managing the pen seemed to be a problem for Farrell. Part was a lack of patience. Frankie McFrankfrank started the year on the DL and had some troubles in his first little while back. Farrell went back to Jon Rauch, who seemed to be on a 'give up a home run a day' program, to close. After Farrell tired of him, he tried Casey Janssen for a couple of minutes and then back to Francisco, who did a really good job for the last month of the season.
If Sergio can gain Farrell's confidence right for the start of the season, it can save us the trouble of auditioning different guys and Farrell can just worry about figuring out how he's going to use the rest of the pen. I know the talk about the 24 blown saves is overblown but if the back of the pen is decided on early, that's one thing that Farrell won't have to devote any time to.
Sergio did blow 6 saves last year, if he does that again and if three of them come at the start of the season, and Farrell panics and decides the job has to go to Francisco Cordero, we could go down the same road as last year. But I don't expect it. If he does a good job and the starters go a little deeper into the game, the bullpen could be much better than next year. A good bullpen could make us 3 or 4 games better than last year.
So those are the 4 guys that I think will be key players for the Jays this year. What do you think?