In nature, blue jays feed primarily on nuts, seeds and insects, although they've also been known to eat the nestlings of other birds. This seems like a serious violation of the bird code, yet somehow jays keep getting away with it.
In recent years, Toronto has mimicked the behavior of its animal mascot, poaching young talent from other teams. The Jays acquired Sergio Santos from the White Sox in December, and they raided the N.L. Central last season, nabbing Brett Lawrie from the Brewers and Colby Rasmus from the Cardinals. Yunel Escobar arrived in a five-player swap with the Braves in July 2010. In December of 2009, the Jays acquired Brandon Morrow via trade with Seattle, plus they added Kyle Drabek and Travis d'Arnaud in the Roy Halladay deal with Philadelphia. And back in 2008, the Jays pulled off a trade that might go down as the most lopsided in major league history, getting Jose Bautista from the Pirates in exchange for a PTBNL (who turned out to be this dude. Good grief). Toronto has also managed to shed a pair of debilitating contracts over the past few seasons, dumping Alex Rios on Chicago and Vernon Wells on Los Angeles.
So, all things considered, you have to be impressed by the progress this franchise has made. Yes, the Jays are still stuck in a ridiculously difficult division, but the MLB playoff field is about to expand. These days, Toronto fans should be feeling optimistic.
The Jays certainly have plenty to offer the fantasy community, including a consensus top-five overall pick (Bautista), a top-25 starting pitcher (Ricky Romero, ADP 87.7, SP22), and respectable options at all the talent-scarce roster spots — JP Arencibia at catcher, Kelly Johnson at second, Escobar at short, Lawrie and Bautista at third. Dismiss this team at your own peril, gamer.
What's the price tag on Brett Lawrie this season? How early is too early?
I've seen him go as early as the middle of Round 3 in a 13-man mixed format, although his ADP at Mock Draft Central (56.0) puts him solidly in the fifth round in a typical league. In any case, you'll find that fantasy owners are paying an expectant price. Lawrie is a 22-year-old with clear five-category potential, a player who should go 20/20 in a healthy season, so it's easy to understand the enthusiasm. Third base is an odd spot this year, loaded with talent at the top of the draft, yet lacking a safety net. The position goes a dozen players deep — enough to fill a standard mixed league — and then it dries up. I'd rather have Lawrie in Round 5 than Mike Moustakas (or whoever) in Round 18, but that's me.
Just to give you an idea of how highly the Jays value Lawrie, note that the team reportedly refused to part with him in a potential deal for Michael Pineda.
Colby Rasmus was basically a wreck in Toronto following the trade. What do we do with him on draft day?
Yeah, Rasmus was a disaster as a member of the Jays in 2011, batting .173/.201/.316 over 140 plate appearances. He dealt with a wrist injury in August and September, so perhaps that was a contributing factor. Still, he finished the season in a 4-for-58 slide. This is a player who needs a solid spring. Rasmus is the presumptive opening day center fielder for Toronto, but Rajai Davis remains in the mix, plus 21-year-old Anthony Gose lurks in the minors. Gose hit 16 homers at Double-A last season while swiping 70 bases. And Cuban center fielder Yoenis Cespedes is presently a free agent. So if the Jays lose faith in Colby, they clearly have replacement options.
But let's recall that Rasmus is only 25 years old and just one season removed from a 23-homer, 12-steal campaign. He obviously remains on the fantasy radar, though his ADP has taken a nosedive. Rasmus has fallen outside the top-200 picks in recent mocks. That might seem like a bargain, but there are plenty of outfielders selected after him who rank higher on my board, including Dexter Fowler (222.0), Jose Tabata (223.5) and Grady Sizemore (228.1).
What's happening in left field for the Jays?
Well, Travis Snider and Eric Thames are both still in the team photo, and both still have options. One of 'em figures to open the season in left field for the Jays, while the other will head to Triple-A Las Vegas. So that's that. Rajai would appear to be an in-case-of-emergency outfield option, a guy who can fill multiple spots. He and Ben Francisco should get at-bats against left-handers, no matter who regularly starts in left and center.
Many of you have already written off Snider as a failed prospect, but it's worth noting that he's just entering his age-24 season and he's been a terrific player at Triple-A. Over three partial seasons at the highest minor league level, Snider has hit .333/.407/.550 in 551 plate appearances, with 20 homers and 15 steals. There's talent here. Snider certainly fits the post-hype sleeper profile. However, it won't necessarily be easy to edge Thames for the everyday role. As a 24-year-old rookie, Thames hit 12 homers and 24 doubles in 95 games for Toronto last season. He was a terror in the PCL, too, hitting .352/.423/.610 over 241 PAs for Las Vegas. Snider will get an edge over Thames in my preseason ranks, but this seems like a legit position battle, currently unsettled.
Is Sergio Santos definitely the Jays' closer, or is he competing for the job in the spring?
The Jays inked Francisco Cordero to a one-year deal, which led to a few tremors in the fantasy closer market, but Santos remains the best bet for saves. Cordero is expected to fill a set-up role in an improved Toronto 'pen, where he'll join Darren Oliver, Casey Janssen and the re-acquired Jason Frasor. Cordero's velocity and his K-rate are in multi-year decline; Santos saved 30 games for the White Sox in 2011 while striking out 13.1 batters per nine innings. On talent, this thing is really no contest.
Oh he'll be great. ... He's a good kid. A big strong power [arm], 95-96. The ability to miss bats. A wipeout breaking ball. The ability to strikeout three hitters in an inning. A tremendous addition to our bullpen. Hopefully he'll be there for a long time, so we don't have to worry about our closer for a while. We know who our closer is. It makes it a little bit easier to manage the bullpen once you have a set closer and he's our guy. He's got the weapons to close. He's got the [mentality], he's got the stuff.
Still concerned with Santos' role? Well, then you'll never be convinced.
You mentioned Travis d'Arnaud up at the top. When will we see him? Are there any other Toronto prospects to consider?
It shouldn't be long before d'Arnaud's arrival forces Arencibia onto the trade block. As a 22-year-old, d'Arnaud claimed the MVP in the Double-A Eastern League last season, hitting .311/.371/.542 with 21 homers over 114 games. He's skilled enough defensively to stick at catcher, and he clearly has respectable power. D'Arnaud will likely open the season at Triple-A Las Vegas, and it will be no surprise if he puts up ridiculous numbers in the hitter-friendly PCL. Assuming he remains healthy, he could easily make his MLB debut at some point in 2012.
We mentioned speedy outfielder Anthony Gose up above in the Rasmus blurb, so he's covered. Gose is definitely a person of interest for the dynasty crowd, as is 20-year-old outfielder Jake Marisnick. Following a huge year in the Single-A Midwest League (.320/.392/.496, 14 HR, 37 SB), Marisnick seems ready for a greater challenge in 2012. The Jays also have a pile of semi-interesting, low-level minor league pitchers (details here, via Sickels), but none that fantasy owners need to jump on. Whenever these guys reach the majors, they can expect a rude welcome from the A.L. East.