This is a tough one because the Blue Jays will be solid but not spectacular overall. Outside of their bullpen, there's nothing great about this team but there is very little bad about them.. What's that? They just signed the left side of the Cardinals infield? Players that contributed to a losing club and a third place finish in the woeful NL Central. OK, let's start there shall we?
1. David Eckstein is Playing Shortstop
Sparkplug? My hairy butt.
David Eckstein is one of the worst free agent signings the Jays have made in years. He is a big drop-off defensively from John McDonald (most other teams wanted to sign him to play second, not short) and hardly an upgrade offensively. He hit .300 last year but it was an empty .300. No power and very little patience at the plate. And that was in a weaker league, in the weakest division in baseball.
Toronto leadoff hitters only got on base at a .321 clip last season. Eckstein will be an upgrade in that sense but since so much of his OBP depends on his batting average, he's going to struggle to post an OBP in the .340 range. He'll be facing tougher pitching in the AL East than in the NL Central.
With the majority of Toronto starters being groundball pitchers, they will be watching a lot of grounders get through for singles to left center. I wonder what that will do for team chemistry.
2. Their Best Offensive Threat Is 46.
Frank Thomas is old. He's going to the Hall of Fame someday but in 2007 he just looked decrepit.
The only other legitimate offensive threat on the team is Alex Rios. The Jays are counting on an old, injury prone veteran to make this offense go. A risky move at best.
3. No Legitimate Catchers
Rick Dempsey's nephew will be 37 and finally started to hit the wall last season. He will be backed up by Rob Barajas who is a good backup catcher but he'll be called upon to carry more load than he should this season.
4. Injury Prone At The Corners
The Jays traded away the injury-prone Troy Glaus for an even more injury prone Scott Rolen. Rolen will be better defensively but they will lose some offense at the Hot Corner. And that's if he stays healthy all year. If he goes down, so will any offensive threat from third base.
1B Lyle Overbay is coming back from having a bunch of screws in his hand. There is no legitimate backup for him if he struggles to a .241 average like he did last season.
5. Legitimate But Injury Prone Rotation
Halladay and Burnett are studs but neither has a great track record of staying healthy. Last year was Burnett's turn as he only started 25 games. Both these guys need to start 30+ games for Toronto to finish above .500. They have some talented kids at the back of the rotation but...
Here's a look at the ERA's and FIP's from the primary starters last season:
Halladay 3.71 3.65
Burnett 3.75 4.44
McGowan 4.08 3.82
Marcum 4.13 5.05
Litsch 3.81 5.23
Halladay and McGowan put up numbers that are legit. They truly pitched as well as their ERAs suggest. The rest? Looks like they were aided by a) good luck and b) great infield defense.
(What's FIP? Start here.)
The Jays had the best infield defense in the AL last year (by RZR rating) which greatly helped their staff of groundballers. Are they going to repeat that performance with Eckstein at short in place of Jason McDonald? I think not. Look for the back half of the rotation to suffer while working around all those extra outs.
Outside of a great bullpen (which will get stronger with the return of B. J. Ryan) there are not a lot of sure things here. You can't hang your hat of a strong lineup, killer rotation or stellar defense. They will do all things fairly well...if everything goes absolutely right! That's a big "if" to deal with.
Next up: The New York Yankees