Three Pieces: Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays enter the off-season with the look of a team on the rise. The Jays ownership has pledged to raise payroll from 50 million to 85 million, giving baseball fans North of the Border their first good news since about 1992. How should the Jays use their upcoming cash infusion? Is Canadian baseball really dead? Should Alan Thicke or Michael J Fox take over announcing?

1. Middle-of-the-order Slugger

The Jays offense is competent, but unfortunately for the Jays, competent isn’t going to cut it in the AL East. Vernon Wells has continued to put up some good numbers without anyone noticing, (.269/.320./.463 28 HR 97 RBI) and while Shea Hillenbrand is solid enough as a supporting player in the offense, he is not nearly good enough to protect Wells in the lineup. Alex Rios has shown some promise, but shouldn’t be counted on to carry the club. I’m not going to waste my mind speculating too much about trades, especially since the Jays can’t afford to spare either hitting or pitching (on the Major League level anyway) if they want to compete in the toughest division in baseball. But I think it might worthwhile to take a quick look at some of the bats currently on the market.

Mike Piazza (Mets, C) : He’s old. His skills behind the plate… let’s just say he’s still the Mike Piazza we all know and love. He might be a good short term signing if he’s willing to play DH. However, Jays fans would be well advised to remember that this is not Piazza Circa 1999. He hasn’t hit more than thirty homers since 2002 and his OBP has been on the decline each of the past three years. In summary he’s a good guy to take a flyer on, but only at the right price.

Paul Konerko (White Sox, 1st Base) : After this postseason the word is that Konerko will be commanding up to 15 million a year on the free agent market. He’s a good bat to have, but I suspect that his numbers are bit inflated due to US Cellular Field (considering he slugs almost 100 points better there). Not worth it, unless the Jays have even more money to spend than I think.

Todd Walker (Cubs, 2nd Base) : With indications that the Jays want to move Orlando Hudson Walker might be a good offensive boost to the middle infield, but he’s not the answer the Jays are looking for.

Not a promising bunch. Although this is by no means an exhaustive look at the market, it is a representative one. The rest of the free agent crop either play positions the Jays have locked up or seem to be out of their league in terms of money.

2. A Solid Number 2 Starter

All of the online media outlets are a-buzz with the news that free agent pitcher AJ Burnett had a steak dinner with Roy Halladay and former Marlins (now Blue Jays) pitching coach Brad Arnsberg. The Jays seem very intent in adding another ace quality pitcher to the staff. Although the Toronto Staff certainly looks far better with the addition of Burnett, I would warn Blue Jays fans not to get too optimistic about him. The recent track record of inconsistant NL pitchers with great stuff leaves much to be desired (see Clement, Matt; Wright, Jeret). Still, no one better appears to be on the market right now. The bottom line is Burnett might help, but no one should expect him to be the team's savior. The Jays might be better off either looking at the trade market or signing another solid arm along with Burnett (Jerrod Washburn for example).

3. Saving Canadian Baseball

Back in the early 1990’s the Jays were drawing more than four million fans a year. With a competitive Expos team and a World Champion Blue Jays organization baseball looked to be in excellent shape in Canada. The 1994 strike hit the Expos the hardest, but it devastated the Jays as well. The Blue Jays went from being on pace for another year exceeding four million fans to about 2.8 million in 1995. Without a quality product on the field, interest in baseball waned. The Jays did have a modest increase in attendance last year, but they need a playoff appearance to begin to reignite Canadian passion for baseball. The Jays need to produce, and quickly.

The Bottom Line:

As much as I would like to somebody win the AL East aside from the Yankees or Red Sox, I’m not convinced the Jays have enough talent available either from within or from the free agent market to do it. But hey, I thought the White Sox were going to collapse down the stretch.

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