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Blue Jays fail to meet lofty offseason expectations

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports
Blue Jays fail to meet lofty offseason expectations
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General manager Alex Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays were expected to pounce on some big names in the free-agent …

Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Toronto Blue Jays.

2011 record: 81-81
Finish: Fourth, AL East
2011 final payroll: $70.6 million
Estimated 2012 opening day payroll: $85 million
Yahoo! Sports' offseason rank: 15th
Hashtags: #rogerscentreoffense, #guyinwhiteshirt, #bautistamagic, #dailydrugtest, #18yearsandcounting, #dohcanada

Offseason action

It's not entirely Alex Anthopoulos' fault that the Blue Jays were supposed to be the "it" team of the 2011-12 offseason.

After all, team president Paul Beeston hinted last winter it might not be long before the franchise's player payroll had doubled. And Rogers Communications was indeed flush with cash. And the Blue Jays did have 166 wins over the past two slogs through the AL East, which, incidentally, extended to four their run of consecutive fourth-place finishes, despite being six games over .500 in that time.

This wasn't a bad winter for a team to be ready to make its move, either. Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Yu Darvish and Jose Reyes were out there, and the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox weren't going to be players. On the trade market, there was young pitching to be had in Oakland, Seattle, Chicago and San Diego.

By some sort of miracle, the Jays had relieved themselves of the bloated Vernon Wells and Alex Rios contracts. Painfully, they'd done the same with the Roy Halladay contract.

As the World Series wound down, rumors – OK, rumours – persisted that the Jays would be active, that Anthopoulos had set them up just right with his clever maneuvering, that the Jays were the winter's sleeping giants.

Even Anthopoulos' goals – obtain a frontline starter, a power bat, bullpen help and a backup catcher – fit the supply.

Well, he rebuilt the bullpen and he did get that backup catcher.

As Pujols, Fielder and Darvish flooded the American League, and as the Yankees added Michael Pineda and Hiroki Kuroda, the Blue Jays would not or could not commit.

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Instead, a so-so bullpen that pitched a lot of innings in 2011 did look better with the acquisitions of Francisco Cordero, Sergio Santos, Jason Frasor and Darren Oliver. They traded for catcher Jeff Mathis, whose career .194 batting average could only benefit from the guy in the white shirt. They got outfielder Ben Francisco from the Philadelphia Phillies and re-signed second baseman Kelly Johnson. They also signed Omar Vizquel, who will be 45 in April.

All of which was fine, none of which was Fielder or Darvish or Pineda.

Reality check

The division provides all the reality the Jays need, day after day, year after year.

They build, they rebuild, they hire and fire, the Yankees and Red Sox flex, the Tampa Bay Rays blow past, and the Jays are adequate enough but apparently not rich enough or smart enough or something enough.

Meantime, they haven't drawn as many as two million fans since 2008, creating a community-franchise stare down. Ownership implies it'll spend when the fans come out. Fans insist they'll come out when ownership spends.

After payroll reached a franchise-high $98 million in 2008, it dipped to $70 million by 2011, though should be somewhere near $85 million in 2012, with all the big free agents elsewhere.

While another $15 million or so could be viewed as progress, it may not be viewed as terribly competitive, because so many of the same faces – and games – remain.

Led by Jose Bautista's mid-career makeover, the arrival of Brett Lawrie, the rebirth of Yunel Escobar, and the pop of Adam Lind, J.P. Arencibia and Edwin Encarnacion, the offense is AL East worthy.

The problems come in the other halves of the innings.

The Jays were 11th in the AL in team ERA and 11th in starters' ERA in '11, and there were no major upgrades in the rotation. That means they'll require more of the same from 15-game winner Ricky Romero and serious improvement from the likes of Brandon Morrow (who appeared to turn a corner late in the season) and Brett Cecil. It's not impossible – all of them are coming into their primes and have the benefits of manager John Farrell and pitching coach Bruce Walton in the dugout.

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Also, they're hoping on breakthroughs from one or two of Kyle Drabek, Henderson Alvarez, Dustin McGowan, Drew Hutchison and Deck McGuire.

It could happen. The Blue Jays are good, and could be better.

They've just picked the wrong time and place to be just good.

Savior

Bautista apparently is going to keep on hitting, and Lawrie looks plenty legit, and for a half-dozen other reasons it would seem the Blue Jays are going to score runs. Pitching, at least for the first six innings, might be an issue, but the arms are coming.

Meanwhile, what would really help the Jays is the real Colby Rasmus, he of the clear head and amazing athletic ability and left-handed thunder, the guy the St. Louis Cardinals just couldn't wait on any longer.

The Jays don't mind taking shots on the likes of Rasmus (or Escobar), because there's little substitute for talent.

Rasmus is 25. He's amassed nearly 1,600 big league plate appearances. He's hit at times, and hit for power at times, and gotten on base at times. Still, left-handers remain for him a mystery, as did nearly every pitcher in the AL, against whom he batted .173 after being traded from the Cardinals last summer. A wrist injury that put him on the disabled list for three weeks presumably had something to do with that. He's a career .137 hitter at Rogers Centre.

Rasmus, of course, is better than all that. The Blue Jays will be better when he is.

Blue Jays in Haiku

Tested 16 times,
For him a frequent anthem,
Jose, can you pee?