Friday, December 16, 2011
Blue Jays could be another beast in AL East
By David Schoenfield
If you believe the various tweets, rumors and stories out there, the Toronto Blue Jays may or may not have been the high bidder for Yu Darvish, and they may or may not be in on Prince Fielder.
I'll say this: If both of those guys end up in a Toronto uniform, the Blue Jays suddenly look exciting, imposing and like a potential playoff threat. Yes, we're jumping ahead of ourselves, but let's have some fun. Imagine this squad:
Jose Bautista and Toronto could have one of baseball's most potent lineups next season.
The lineup could be deadly, with arguably the best 3-4-5 trio in baseball -- yes, I believe Lawrie will be that good. If Rasmus bounces back, he's another solid bat. You would have effective platoons in left field and DH and a catcher with power. The rotation has some question marks after the top two, but Morrow is close to putting it all together (he had the highest strikeout rate in the American League in 2011, but struggled with runners on base) and Cecil and Drabek remain interesting arms with potential.
What's even more exciting is the Blue Jays have one of the highest regarded farm systems. Catcher Travis d'Arnaud, who tore up Double-A, may be the only Grade A prospect in the bunch, but the lower levels of the system are loaded with pitching prospects like Drew Hutchison, Deck McGuire, Justin Nicolino, Noah Syndergaard and Daniel Norris. Hutchison may be the only one with a 2012 timetable, but it's an excellent collection of arms. Outfielder Jake Marisnick, a third-round pick in 2009, hit .320/.392/.496 with 37 steals in the Midwest League and Double-A outfielder Anthony Gose is one of the toolsiest prospects in the minors.
The Blue Jays are also in terrific shape with their long-term contract situations. Bautista's $14 million salary for the next five seasons now looks like a steal; the Jays have one of baseball's best players for not much more than the Yankees are paying their third-best relief pitcher. Romero is locked up through 2015 at $27.5 million. The only other major outlay on the books is at least $12 million for Adam Lind over the next two seasons. Once the prospects arrive, the Blue Jays will have a crew of inexpensive reinforcements.
That means, in our little dream world, the Jays can absorb the salaries of Darvish and Fielder. The Blue Jays haven't acted like a big-market franchise in years, but Toronto has a bigger metro population than Boston, Detroit or San Francisco-Oakland (not to mention all of Canada, if you want to consider that). What the Blue Jays have lost, of course, is their fan base. When the club ruled Toronto in the early '90s, it drew over four million fans three consecutive years. But after the 1994 strike season, attendance fell to third in the league, then to sixth ... eighth ... 10th ... finally bottoming out in 2010, when the club drew just 1.49 million spectators, an embarrassingly low total for an 85-win team in a large market.
Years of Yankees pennants and Red Sox spending sprees sapped the baseball enthusiasm out of a once great baseball market. That fan base can return. The Jays have put a decent product on the field in recent years (only one season under .500 in the past six). It's time to raise the level of that product to the next step. General manager Alex Anthopoulos may have taken the plunge on Darvish. Will he be willing to take the plunge on Fielder?