Every day in spring training until we finish the entire league, Big League Stew takes a brief capsule look at each team we visit in the Grapefruit and Cactus leagues. Next up is Florida Auto Exchange Park, where the Jays are trying to gauge the glare of their future in the AL East.
2010 RECORD: 85-77, 4th in AL East
BIGGEST ACQUISITIONS: Two-thirds of the Jays' projected outfield is new to Toronto as Juan Rivera(notes) was acquired through trade and Rajai Davis(notes) signed as a free agent. Frank Francisco(notes), meanwhile, will likely get first shot at closer duties. He was traded from the Rangers for Mike Napoli(notes), a fan favorite with the Jays. (Not really.)
BIGGEST DEPARTURES: GM Alex Anthopoulous pulled one of the offseason's biggest surprises, sending Vernon Wells(notes) and his hefty salary to the Angels. But the bigger loss to the Halos in terms of talent might have been stalwart middle reliever Scott Downs(notes), who will also be pulling down big bucks in Anaheim after signing a three-year contract worth $15 million.
FIVE QUESTIONS TO ASK ABOUT THE BLUE JAYS:
1. So who's the new guy? That would be John Farrell, who assumes managing duties after Cito Gaston retired last fall. The 48-year-old is a former big league pitcher who got the job on the strength of his time as the director of player development for the Cleveland Indians (2001-06) and pitching coach for the Boston Red Sox (2006-10). Given that Toronto has a wealth of young pitchers, both resume lines will come in handy. As will his experience in baseball's toughest division.
2. A wealth of young pitchers, eh? Well, Anthopoulous would like to think so, otherwise he wouldn't have dealt Shaun Marcum(notes) to the Milwaukee Brewers in the offseason after a career year. But because the Jays have young studs like Kyle Drabek(notes) and Zach Stewart(notes), the Jays were able to leverage a strong year from an about-to-get-expensive pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery (Marcum) into Brett Lawrie(notes), an infield prospect they highly regarded.
But while Toronto has stockpiled a lot of fresh arms, some still need seasoning in the minor leagues so the Jays will really need to see the top of the rotation make a jump to the next level if the team is to be successful.
3. Is 25-year-old J.P. Arencibia(notes) the man behind home plate? That was the message sent when the Jays watched John Buck(notes) walk to the Florida Marlins and then traded Napoli to Texas almost as soon as he arrived from Los Angeles. The only other catcher on roster is 35-year-old Jose Molina(notes) and since there's no way he's going to catch a majority of the games, it's time for Arencibia to sink or swim. He has all of 37 plate appearances and 11 games of big league experience to his name — a weird game log that featured a 4-for-5 night with two homers and three runs in his big league debut and a 1-for-30 slump that followed in the 10 games after it. It's not going to be easy, Jays fans.
4. Is Jose Bautista(notes) going to hit 54 home runs again? That's the big question in baseball this spring, but we should rephrase the question: Do the Jays really want him to? All those dingers were nice, as was the Jays' runaway win in the team homers category. (Boston's 211 homers were nowhere close to Toronto's total of 257.) But the Jays did rank near the bottom of the AL in OBP and walks and the team ranked fourth in the league in strikeouts. A more balanced approach never hurt anyone. (Whether Davis or Yunel Escobar(notes) are enough to even things out is a different story altogether.)
5. Is this the year the Jays end their AL East division title drought? In a word, no. But this might be the season where we say it all began. Anthopoulous has been impressive in his first two winters on the job, gaining payroll flexibility with the Wells trade and stocking the farm system with players who might soon blossom. Because of that clear vision, I'm high on the Jays' future and this preview could be written with a very different tone — think positive, Jays fans — over the next few seasons as long as we see some gains in 2011.