Welcome to what I'm calling my Hastily Assembled Previews series, a swing around the world of major league baseball in more or less random order. I had a ton of fun writing about the non-Colorado teams of the National League West, and don't see why fans of the many other teams out there should miss out on my opinions. These do usually end up being a bit time-consuming, so there's a chance I might not make it around to everybody by the time interesting things start happening to the Rockies again. Then again, I have been a Rockies fan for some time now, and can easily count all of the truly interesting things that have happened to them without exhausting my allotted supply of fingers. So, onward!
We're starting with the Toronto Blue Jays, because I have a burning question involving them that I have yet to hear a satisfactory answer for: if the organization knew well in advance of this offseason that their payroll would be going up dramatically starting in 2006, why did they end up with the rather lukewarm haul of B.J. Ryan, A.J. Burnett, Troy Glaus, and Ben Molina? There's this other guy I think could have helped them:
This Other Guy is Carlos Delgado, who up until last year had spent his entire career as a Blue Jay. He signed an exceptionally back-loaded deal with the Marlins last year and is now the property of the New York Mets, who owe him $48 million. Now, I don't claim to understand baseball finances, but wouldn't it have been at all possible for Toronto to give Delgado the same deal the Marlins gave him, pay him $4 million in 2005, then ramp up his annual pay starting this season? Who doesn't think that Carlos Delgado at around $50 million is a better deal and a surer thing than B.J. Ryan or A.J. Burnett at the same price? Even throwing out the whole "years of loyal service" thing, this doesn't make a lot of sense to me. You can't tell me Delgado honestly wanted to go play in that empty, depressing Greater Miami barn. He was ushered out. But why? Delgado's not young, but he's not particularly old either. And they do have the DH rule in the Blue Jays' league. Very strange.
It's odd also that Toronto chose to spend most of its free agent money on pitching, as their pitching was OK last year even with Roy Halladay missing a chunk of time (6th in AL ERA). Their offense (9th in AL OPS) needed a little more work, one would think. Putting aside the statistics for a second, my impression of last year's Blue Jays team was that while they had average or better hitters at most every position, they were desperately lacking a real menacing offensive leader, a guy whose mere presence affected the rest of the lineup top to bottom. In short, a Carlos Delgado. They traded for Troy Glaus, which is very well assuming he's healthy and can play third credibly, and Lyle Overbay, a nice player who seems kind of like more of the same (although he's a better defender than Shea Hillenbrand or Eric Hinske). Perhaps the additions of Ryan and Burnett make Toronto's pitching so much better that they can afford to continue forward with a middle-of-the-pack offense. Perhaps not.
On paper it's a pretty nice rotation -- Halladay, of course, plus Burnett, Gustavo Chacin, Ted Lilly, and Josh Towers. Short of Oakland and Chicago there's not much better in the American League, and certainly the Jays have fewer questions in that department than their most immediate competitors in New York and Boston. When you look at the names in their bullpen, it's somewhat clear why they broke the bank for Ryan, but dig into the numbers and guys like Justin Speier, Jason Frasor, Vinnie Chulk, Pete Walker, and even Scott Schoeneweis (whom I always confuse with erstwhile Promise Ring bassist Scott Schoenbeck) all had very solid seasons in 2005. Indeed, the bullpen regular with the worst numbers last year was closer Miguel Batista, now off to start for Arizona. Ryan's not bad, but Toronto wouldn't be a lot worse off with Speier as the top guy, and they'd be way better off with Speier and Delgado, just to beat that dead horse a little further.
I understand that it was a lousy free agent class, and you have to overpay guys to get them to come to Toronto what with the exchange rate and the eyesore uniforms and everything, but with the money the Jays spent fans will be expecting them to get a lot better. Safely over .500 but not seriously in playoff contention will not serve. Then there's the odd, late Molina addition -- Greg Zaun has been better than serviceable in Toronto, for no money, for two years now. They can't DH three guys a game, but for Hinske, Hillenbrand, and probably Glaus, that's the most natural position. They have no power at the outfield corners or at first with Overbay. It's a nice little team, but do you really want to pick in the AL East against the Yankees, whom (as the performance last year of Shawn Chacon clearly evidenced) have Satan on their side? Not so much.