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Toronto Blue Jays: Surprising AL East Start Puts Them in Good Position for April

It has proved to be an interesting beginning for the AL East, with the Baltimore Orioles currently sitting at the top of the standings.  The Orioles have come out hitting with their newly improved batting lineup, and pitching surprisingly well with a rotation that was projected as the worst in the AL East.

It is, of course, only the first week of the season, but winning and losing streaks are important no matter when they happen.

The Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays can’t be happy with their starts. Both Boston and Tampa managed to grab their first win of the year on Friday, after starting off their season with six straight losses.  

This puts the Toronto Blue Jays in a good spot to start the season with their impressive 5-2 start.  The Jays played the Minnesota Twins and the Oakland Athletics to start the year, and in both three-game sets, they ended up winning the first two games and losing the final one.

With a win in their first road series against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, it puts the Jays in second place in the AL East, sitting just ahead of the New York Yankees with their 4-3 record.

This doesn’t imply that the standings will stay this way for long. The Yankees and Red Sox are just too strong and the Orioles just don’t have the depth of pitching.  But it certainly doesn’t hurt the Jays when the season starts this way.

Looking ahead in the Jays schedule, they will be playing the Seattle Mariners after they finish the series with the Angels.  Seattle lacks in offense, so it will be important for the Jays to jump on their pitchers early, putting the Mariners in a situation where they would have to mount a comeback.

This could be difficult if they matched up against the AL Cy Young award winner from last year, Felix Hernandez.

If the Jays can win two out of three against both the Angels and the Mariners, they will be in a good position and mindset to go into their first series of games against the AL East.  On April 15th, they start a four-game series against the Red Sox, play two games against the Yankees and then have a day off before a series against the Rays.

They finish off April with four games against the unbeaten Texas Rangers and then two more against the Yankees.

This part of the schedule will be a hard two weeks for the Jays.  Though they have traditionally played well against the division rivals, it won’t be easy to win these upcoming series.  If they can build up a strong record heading into the second half of the month, their built-up confidence will be crucial to battle out the wins against these powerhouses of the East.

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Toronto Blue Jays Pitching Stars: Who to Grab for Your Fantasy Pool

Fantasy pools are not exactly an exact science, mainly due to the unpredictable nature of sports.  But from looking at past numbers, health, age and any particular player’s track record, you can often predict what a player is capable of.

The Toronto Blue Jays are starting to have a lot of interesting fantasy options, something that wasn’t always the case in past years.  They led the league in home runs last year, a category they will likely have strong numbers in again this year.

But what about their starting pitching?  They have a young, talented staff.  Not one of the starters is over the age of 26.  The magic age for pitching is often said to be around 27, so it is unlikely that any of the Jays starters have peaked.  

This suggests that the pitching staff will continue to improve over the next five years, barring any massive injuries.

But who can contribute to your fantasy pool this year?  

Brandon Morrow is one Jays pitcher to take a look at.  His numbers weren’t that strong overall last year, but it was his first complete year as a starter, and he was shut down in early September to preserve his innings limit.  His 4.49 ERA and 1.38 WHIP and 10 wins were all rather pedestrian in 2010. 

One of the positives that should be noted is his astounding 10.9 strikeout rate in Toronto, which allowed him to notch 178 strikeouts in just 146.1 innings of work.  That ratio would have led the entire league if he finished off the season.

When Morrow puts all his impressive tools together, he could be a fantasy stud, as suggested by his August performance against the Rays when he struck out 17 in a one-hit shutout.

Morrow will start the year on the 15-day DL, but the injury is thought to be minor, just some forearm inflammation.  When he returns, and if he stays healthy, he is likely to improve on all his numbers and crack the 200 K mark.

Another Jays pitcher who could make some strong contributions to your fantasy pool is Opening Day starter Ricky Romero.  

Romero has steadily progressed as a starter, improving on all of his numbers from 2009 to 2010.  He also broke the 200 innings level last year, which suggests he will be given free reign this year to push deep into games and try and be the win leader for the Jays. 

Romero already strikes out twice as many batters as he walks, and at age 26 and entering his third year in the majors, he could take another step forward.  His 1.29 WHIP and 3.73 ERA could fall slightly and he could very well win 15 games this year and strikeout 200 batters.

Brett Cecil, Kyle Drabek and Jesse Litsch are not the type of pitchers who will net large fantasy returns, at least not yet.  If you are in a keeper pool, Drabek could be your man, as most projections suggest he will be a top of the order rotation pitcher.

Cecil won 15 games last year and Litsch won 13 in 2008, but both aren’t projected to break those totals this year.  But all three of these pitchers could be late-round sleepers if you are running low on pitching options or are in an AL-only pool.

As for the Jays bullpen pitching options, they are a bit muddled to say the least.  If your pool has a category for holds, then Jason Frasor or Shawn Camp could both be reasonable options, as they have solid peripheral numbers.  

If your pool really only uses relievers for saves, then the Jays staff might be better served as a waiver pickup depending on how they perform through the season.

Jon Rauch is expected to start the season as the closer while Frank Francisco and Octavio Dotel might start on the DL.  If Rauch runs with the opportunity and performs well, then Francisco could work in the eighth upon his return.  But if he falters, then there are other options to take over the role upon their return to health, making the Jays a difficult choice for saves.

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Toronto Blue Jays News: Snider Improves, Morrow’s Catcher and the Batting Order

The full squad of the Toronto Blue Jays hs only been at Spring Training a week now, but already decisions are being made, injuries are happening and news is emerging.

John Farrell, the Blue Jays’ successor to Cito Gaston, is already working on the batting order in the first few games.  He would like to have a set lineup determined by the time the season begins, one for facing left-handed pitching and one for right-handed.  

Early reports have Rajai Davis leading off, with Yunel Escobar batting second and then Adam Lind and Jose Bautista in the third and fourth positions.  Which one bats clean up remains to be determined, as Lind has been averse to that role in the past, but has mentioned that he is more open to where he bats this year. 

Jose Molina acted as Brandon Morrow’s personal catcher last year, as well as received the occasional spot start on other days, and now looks to claim the same role this year.  Morrow has some pretty intense life on his pitches, so a veteran defensive catcher is needed to prevent wild pitches.  

Molina and Morrow developed a strong chemistry for pitching last year, pushing Morrow to his most successful year to date.

Travis Snider has been hampered early in Spring Training with a muscle injury in his chest that has restricted his ability to run and take batting practice.  He was able to take 25 swings off a tee on Friday and felt strong after it, suggesting that he isn’t far away from being able to compete in games.  

Snider will be looking to avoid injury for the rest of the season so he can log some consistent playing time this year.  Last year, he suffered a wrist injury that took him out for two months, and he was never quite able to regain the momentum that he was building before his injury.  

This could be a break-out year for Snider, as he will be a constant fixture out in the field and will be looking to improve on his 14 home runs and 32 RBI from last year.

Scott Podsednik is feeling better after being held up from practicing by plantar fascitis, but he believes that he could be back in action in two weeks time.  Posednik is competing for a backup outfielder role and could also provide another option at leadoff.

Frank Francisco is improving at Spring Training.  The relief pitcher is attempting to build up strength in his right shoulder by doing some long toss and having short bullpen sessions.  Francisco looks to claim the closer’s role for the Blue Jays, but could see some competition from Jon Rauch or Octavio Dotel.

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Blue Jays Sign Six To New Deals, Bautista and Frasor Headed for Arbitration

Alex Anthopoulos, the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays, had a busy couple of days leading up to the 1pm Tuesday deadline for arbitration cases.  

The Blue Jays had eight players who filed for arbitration and thus had to work out new contracts with each of them or have the chance of going to a hearing where it would be independently assigned.

The Blue Jays, as an organization, haven’t gone to arbitration with any of their players since Bill Risely in 1997, a pretty impressive record of contract negotiations.  They signed three to new contracts on Monday, then another three on Tuesday, but a deal wasn’t reached with Jose Bautista or Jason Frasor.

On Tuesday, before the deadline, the Jays were successful in signing outfielder Rajai Davis to a two-year, $5.25 million deal with a club option for a third year at $3 million, as well as both Brandon Morrow and Yunel Escobar on one-year deals worth $2.3 and $2.9 million, respectively.

The day before, they signed Jesse Litsch ($830,000), Shawn Camp ($2.25 million) and Casey Janssen ($1,095,000), all to one year deals.

There is a chance now that record could be broken, as Anthopoulos has stated that he will not negotiate one-year deals after the deadline but could still work out multi-year contracts.

The arbitration hearings are still a ways off, so it is possible that new contracts could be worked out in the meantime.  Bautista’s agent requested a $10.5 million salary while the Blue Jays countered with a $7.6 million offer, a rather large discrepancy, but one that could be predicted by the difficulty involved in figuring out comparisons for Bautista’s tenure in the majors.

They are a little closer in the negotiations with Frasor, as he submitted a $3.725 million offer while the Jays countered with $3.25 one-year salary.

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Toronto Blue Jays Depth Chart: Outfield For 2011 Features More Speed

Right Field

Travis Snider, in his third year in the majors, is looking for more consistency and a clean bill of health; 2011 could be the year that he achieves both.  Snider hasn’t had a smooth path to the majors, but has shown at different times that he is more than capable of excelling at the highest level.  

Snider should take over starting duties in right field, with the occasional start by Jose Bautista to give him a day off.  Bautista will get most of his starts at third base unless the Jays acquire another player between now and spring training, and will back up Snider in right.

Snider batted .378 in May with a .711 Slugging Percentage before the injury that took him out for all of June and July, then rebounded with a .304 average in September and October.  A full year of at-bats should see an impressive increase in production with a batting average likely around .290.


Center Field

The longest serving member of the Blue Jays, Vernon Wells, will again return to his position in center field.  The veteran outfielder will work to unite the young Snider and new Rajai Davis into a defensive unit with his responsible play and experience.  Wells has had over 500 at-bats over the last eight seasons, remaining relatively injury free, despite struggles with his wrist last year.  His resurgence in power saw him post his best home run and RBI totals since 2006, at 31 and 88 respectively.

Davis will cover for him on his off days, creating a chain effect that will see Snider move to left field and Bautista to right, or Corey Patterson filling in where needed.


Left field 

The speedy new acquisition Rajai Davis will be taking over left field for the Toronto Blue Jays.  They will try to have him in the line-up as much as possible so they have a legitimate base stealing threat in the leadoff position.  Davis has stolen 142 bases over the last four seasons, including 50 last season alone—far more than even the next closest Jay.

Corey Patterson is slotted to be the fourth outfielder right now, another base stealing threat with 21 last season.

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Toronto Blue Jays Infield Depth Chart: The New Look for 2011

At the end of the 2010 season the Blue Jays have seen many of their players depart through free agency, yet not that many players have been added from outside the organization to fill out the roster.

This suggests that many of the openings are being filled internally, through prospects or position changes.

Alex Anthopoulos has worked tirelessly in his time with the Blue Jays to fill the system with high-end prospects, but many of them aren’t ready yet.

You will see them starting to fill out the lineup over the next few years, players such as Travis D’Arnaud, Brett Lawrie and Zach Stewart.

In the meantime, players who have seen some time in the majors will likely become a permanent part of the roster, such as Kyle Drabek and J.P. Arencibia.


First Base

Adam Lind should get the majority of the starts here since Anthopoulos wants to see if he can take over the position for the future. Lind is still young enough to be a part of the core for the future, and he also has the capacity for power that is desirable at the corner infield spot.

Lind will be backed up at first by the recently re-signed Edwin Encarnacion, who was improving defensively but still struggled with his throwing. His skill set fits first base, and both of these players can take turns at designated hitter.


Second Base

Aaron Hill will remain a part of the double play duo in the central infield by continuing his play at second base. He faltered in 2010 both in the field and with his hitting, but with a return to being completely healthy, his play should rebound in 2011.

There was discussion of Hill being moved to third base if the Jays had traded for another second baseman, but no move was made, so he will retain his position for now.

When Brett Lawrie was acquired, he stated his desire to make this team out of spring training, which is a little far-fetched, but look for him in the near future.

The defensive stalwart John McDonald will back up Hill at second, as well as both shortstop and third.



Yunel Escobar will continue to make highlight-reel plays at shortstop for the Blue Jays as the second part of the double play tandem. His defensive flair was viewed as a distraction in Atlanta but has lit up the crowds here in Toronto. His versatile approach at the plate also gives the Jays some much-needed diversity, as he can hit to all fields and drop in a bunt when necessary.

The highly coveted Adeiny Hechavarria, who signed a four-year, $10 million contract with the Blue Jays last year, will have a chance to make the squad out of spring training. He has made it as far as Double-A, so he might not be ready yet, but he could still impress the coaching staff enough to stay with the team.


Third Base

The ever-versatile Jose Bautista is slotted in for third base at the moment, as a long-term option hasn’t emerged to fill the role. There was an outside chance that Brad Emaus could have played some time there, but he was selected by the Mets in the Rule 5 draft after the Jays didn’t protect him. They believed that his skill might not translate into the big leagues as a full-time player.

Mike McCoy will be in the infield utility role along with McDonald, so both of them may play some time at third to allow Bautista to play the occasional day in right field.



J.P. Arencibia will get his chance to prove that he can be a full-time catcher in the majors this season.

There was talk that the Jays were pursuing free agent Russell Martin, who could have played some third for the team as well as his typical role of catching. They lost out in pursuit of him to the Yankees, so it will be important for Arencibia to quickly prove that he can handle full-time duties.

It will be important for the catcher to get to know his starting staff so he can work on calling a strong game at the major league level.

He will be helped out in this regard and with his defensive play by the veteran Jose Molina, who was brought back for his leadership and experience.

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Rangers Listening to Offers for Michael Young, Is a Return to Toronto Possible?

The Texas Rangers have always hoped that when they acquired Cliff Lee last year, that it wouldn’t just be for the remainder of the season.  They were hoping that they would be able to sign him this offseason despite him becoming a free agent. 

Whether they can or not depends heavily on what other teams are willing to offer.  Sources say that both the Yankees and the Rangers don’t want to offer more than six years, but that there is a mystery team (or teams) willing to go to seven.  

It would also be in the $20 million-per-year salary range, which on most teams would take up a great deal of their budget.  The Yankees can always seem to afford it, but the Rangers might have to move salary to make room to sign Lee.  

Which brings us to Michael Young.  Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports tweeted that the Rangers were taking offers, and owner Nolan Ryan later said that they were not shopping Young, but would listen.

The Toronto Blue Jays originally drafted Young in the fifth round of the 1997 draft, but he never actually played a game with them, as he was traded to Texas while still in the minors.

At 34, the six-time all-star and 2008 Gold Glove winner is somewhat injury prone and coming down from his peak, but he is still a superb, contact hitting third baseman.  

One of the things that the Jays were lacking last year were players who could consistently put the ball into play, as they struggled to score runs by any other means than the long ball.  

Young is one of those hitters who has always hit for average and sprays singles and doubles all over the field.  He would also be a veteran presence who has had recent playoff experience.

After letting Edwin Encarnacion to a waiver claim, the Jays are looking for options at the hot corner.  Jose Bautista both played at third and in right field in 2010, but is more valuable in the outfield because of his strong throwing arm.

Young is still under contract for three more years at $16 million per season, which makes him an expensive option.  The Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos seems to favor young and inexpensive options, who can turn into All-Stars, but that doesn’t necessarily rule Young out.  

The benefits he could bring to the club could outweigh the risks, if Anthopoulos believes the team is close enough to contending.

This is, of course, still all speculation since the Rangers have not said they are actively shopping Young, and there have been no reports that the Blue Jays are interested in acquiring their former draft pick.

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Toronto Blue Jays’ Shaun Marcum Traded for Prospect: Future Piece or Trade Chip?

Shaun Marcum has been traded to the Milwaukee Brewers, Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has reported.  Coming back to the Blue Jays is Brett Lawrie, a Canadian infielder who was rated by Baseball America as their second best prospect.

Marcum, at 28 years old, was the veteran and oldest member of the Jays starting pitching staff.  A third round pick in 2003, Marcum has pitched with the Jays his whole career. With a career 3.80 ERA and 1.22 WHIP, the starter was always known for his control rather than any ability to overpower a batter.

There were injury concerns with Marcum after he spent 2009 on the DL after elbow surgery.  He made a strong comeback in 2010, but there was always the chance that he could regress after pitching too many innings in his return.

Lawrie had a strong 2010 at Triple-A Huntsville, batting .285/.346/.451 with eight homers in 135 games.  Lawrie is known for his strong bat at second, but the 20-year-old will need to work on his defense to make to become a reliable second baseman at the Major League level.

This is the second trade that the Blue Jays have completed with the Brewers in a weeks time.  Earlier in the week acquiring relief pitcher Carlos Villanueva for a player to be named later.  This helps to shore up a bullpen that was heavily depleted in free agency, where they will possibly lose both Scott Downs and Kevin Gregg.

There is a chance that the Blue Jays acquired Lawrie as a trade chip to offer the Kansas City Royals for Zack Greinke, as they have had some preliminary talks.  

The question is that Greinke has Toronto on his no-trade list, so he would have to be asked to waive it if Toronto and Kansas City figured out a deal both sides were happy with.

The interesting thing to look at is this: the Blue Jays were considered by many to be close to contending for the playoffs on the strength of their pitching.  So do you give up some of that strength for a prospect who could still be a few years away?  Are they sacrificing the present to be that much stronger in the future?  

Did Anthopoulos want to sell high on a pitcher who had a great year, but could be classified as an injury risk?  In this deal, he acquired a prospect with a high potential ceiling to further build up for the future.

Do the Blue Jays think they have enough pitching right now with Kyle Drabek and Zach Stewart possibly making the big club next year.  Or, as was mentioned before, is there another potential deal in place to further increase the strength of the Jays’ starting five?

As the Winter Meetings get underway tomorrow, the Blue Jays are expected to be active buyers and sellers, and perhaps many of these questions will get answered this week.

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Toronto Blue Jays Rumors and Deals: Mark Reynolds, Dustin McGowan and Pitching

It can be a confusing time of the year in Major League Baseball, what with arbitration offers, non-tender candidates, Type A and B free agents, waiver claims and the Rule 5 draft.  So it can be tough to decipher what is happening with the team you support and whether there is any truth to the rumors that can emerge.

The Blue Jays are no different, especially with the secrecy that surrounds Alex Anthopoulos’ moves.  This is what has happened so far and what could be happening.

Dustin McGowan has re-signed with the Toronto Blue Jays for a one-year, $450,000 deal.  The former first-round pick hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2008 due to a series of injuries.  But with this deal, it gives hope that the hard-throwing pitcher will make his return to the mound at some point in 2011.

The Blue Jays are reported by MLB Trade Rumors to be interested in acquiring Mark Reynolds from the Arizona Diamondbacks.  While negotiations with the team to acquire their other star, Justin Upton, seemed to go nowhere, there is a chance that the third baseman could be had for a much more reasonable price.

Arizona as a team, led the league in strikeouts last year, by a large margin, and Reynolds had the most on his team.  So it is understandable that Arizona would be pursuing a contact hitter in return for the power hitter.

It is also rumored that the Blue Jays are pursuing relievers Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier.  The Jays bullpen is up in the air after both Kevin Gregg and Scott Downs turned down their arbitration offers, though Jason Frasor will be returning after accepting his offer.

Both RHP Jeremy Accardo and OF Fred Lewis were not tendered contracts by the Toronto Blue Jays for the 2011 season, making them free agents.

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A.J. Pierzynski Rumored for Toronto Blue Jays, But Said to Sign with White Sox

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times has just reported that the Blue Jays could be close to signing catcher A.J. Pierzynski, formerly of the Chicago White Sox.  With the catching position not fully determined, the Jays seem to be looking for insurance behind the plate.  Chicago didn’t offer arbitration to Pierzynski, so the signing would not cost the Blue Jays a draft pick.

J.P. Arencibia didn’t get a lot of experience calling the game at the major league level last year, so he might not yet be ready, and Jose Molina is there as a back-up only.  

The durable 34-year old catcher fell off offensively somewhat this past year, as he batted .270/.300/.388 with nine homers in 503 plate appearances.  

Admittedly, Pierzynski seems like a strange choice for the Blue Jays.  The veteran is both an above average defender and batter, but he is known for his rather controversial (some would say abrasive) personality.  

The Blue Jays have a strong bond in their dugout, especially with their pitching staff, so it would make sense to question whether his style of play would meld with the personalities already present.  

With the young starters forming a strong bond this past season and excelling on the mound, it is important to have a catcher that can work with them and continue their development.  

Anthopoulos is no doubt aware of this and wants to take no chances on having someone dependable at catcher.  Pierzynski has been around a long time, and his experience in dealing with pitchers and calling games cannot be underestimated.


Update: A few hours after Cowley reported that Pierzynski was close to signing with the Blue Jays, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports denied that was the case and instead said that the veteran catcher was close to signing a two year deal with the White Sox.

Whether the Jays were actually close to signing Pierzynski remains to be seen, but once again leaves the catcher position somewhat unstable.  There is a chance they could still offer a contract to Miguel Olivo, who they obtained from Colorado but didn’t offer arbitration to.  Or, the Blue Jays could stand pat with what they have, and see how Arencibia and Molina perform together in spring training.

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