The Toronto Blue Jays are a pretty decent team with the misfortune of being in the toughest division in baseball, year in and year out. This creates an interesting dilemma, as they’re struggling to put up a winning record but know that even if they can they’ll probably finish somewhere in the range of 15-20 games back of the division winners.
Toronto’s only true chance to compete is by putting together what I like to think of as the “perfect storm,” a la the Rays of 2008. With a payroll slightly lower than that of the Rays, it’s imperative that the Blue Jays use young talent at or near the major league minimum to provide the majority of the core of their team.
For the 2008 Rays, pre-arb players like Evan Longoria, BJ Upton, Matt Garza, and Andy Sonnanstine allowed the team to compete with teams like the Yankees and Red Sox while running a much lower payroll. In fact, these players produced 17.2 WAR while making only 1.7125 million dollars. To contrast this, Alex Rodriguez received 27 million dollars to generate 6 WAR. In slightly more than 10 games, Rodriguez made as much as each of these four Rays combined over the entire season.
The Blue Jays aren’t set up as well for such a perfect storm as the Rays were, but they’ve certainly got a shot. However, their chances hinge on the progression of four young hitters, who may be able to produce just enough for just cheap enough to give the Jays a chance to compete.
Adam Lind, 26, came up in 2006, considered the Blue Jays leftfielder of the future. Since then, he’s played a higher and higher proportion of his games at DH, and is now the Blue Jays’ everyday designated hitter, having been penciled into the lineup as the DH 106 times in 2010. Lind showed his offensive potential last season, putting up an outstanding 144 OPS+ and winning the AL Silver Slugger Award, but has faltered this year. He’s had an OPS+ of 87 so far this year, and his K rate has jumped from 18.7% to 25.3%. He’s continued to hit for some power, as his .175 ISO indicates, but in order for the Blue Jays to have a shot, he has to be more like his 2009 self going forward.
Yunel Escobar, 27, came over from the Braves at the trade deadline in what was essentially a challenge trade for Alex Gonzalez, with the two teams swapping shortstops. Escobar was said to be a “clubhouse cancer” in Atlanta, but the change of scenery seems to have been a good thing for him, as he’s put up a wOBA of .331 in 37 games with the Jays after only managing a .290 in 75 games this year with Atlanta. If Escobar can continue to mesh well with the rest of the Toronto clubhouse and the results follow as they have this season, he could be a key piece of a contending Toronto club.
Travis Snider, 22, could just be the best of the bunch. A big leaguer since the ripe age of 20, Snider is now in his third season, and is flashing some of the power that made him a top prospect for the Blue Jays at the time of his callup, as his .202 ISO shows. He does strike out a lot, and he’ll never be a particularly high-average guy, but 30+ HRs down the road is not at all out of the question.
JP Arencibia, a 22-year-old rookie, may be the last piece of the puzzle. Arencibia has been at the top of Toronto prospect lists for years, and he’s got the bat to fulfill the expectations that come with that. Jays fans were excited when Arencibia got called up to make his major league debut on August 7 of this season, but no one could have expected his immediate impact. Arencibia went 4 for 5 with two home runs, including one on the first pitch he saw in Major League Baseball. So much for an adjustment period. Arencibia has been overshadowed somewhat by the debuts of other highly touted rookie catchers such as Buster Posey and Carlos Santana, but don’t be surprised if he becomes a fixture in the heart of Toronto’s lineup.
So wait til next year, Jays fans, but know that your perfect storm could be coming sooner rather than later. Check back tomorrow, when we’ll be taking a look at a good Red Sox club with the misfortune of being in the same division as two great teams.