Rebuilding is never easy. So with that said, this coming season is not going to be an easy one for the Toronto Blue Jays.
After another disappointing 2009 campaign, the Jays promptly fired general manager J.P. Ricciardi, who spent the better part of the first half of last season finding a taker for Roy Halladay. New GM Alex Anthopolous then had the unenviable task of finding a new home for his ace, and arguably the best pitcher in the game. The page had to be turned, though, and Halladay was eventually shipped to the Philadelphia Phillies for a handful of prospects, none of whom are expected to have any sort of impact on this year's Blue Jays team.
So with a reduced payroll, a rotation in shambles, a shaky-at-best closer situation, as well as the continued fall from grace of outfielder Vernon Wells, expectations are at an all-time low north of the border.
Not helping any is the status of lame-duck manager Cito Gaston, who some veterans on the team asked to have removed following last year. Barring an unbelievable turnaround from their 87-loss campaign of 2009, it is a safe bet that this season will be Gaston's last as an on-field presence for the Jays.
Anything better than a last place finish in the top-heavy AL East this season would be considered a rousing success.
(75-87) - Fourth Place (AL East)
Key Offseason additions
John Buck (C); Dana Eveland (SP); Jeremy Reed (OF); Brandon Morrow (SP); Kevin Gregg (RP); Jose Molina (C)
Key Offseason subtractions
Roy Halladay (SP); Brandon League (RP); Kevin Millar (DH/1B); Rod Barajas (C); Michael Barrett (C); Joe Inglett (INF); Brian Wolfe (RP); Marco Scutaro (SS)
Second baseman Aaron Hill is the one bona fide star on this Blue Jays' team. Last year Hill put any concussion-problems he may have had in the past behind him and had a spectacular year.
After injuries limited him to just 55 games in 2008, the 28-year-old Hill played in 158 games last season and set career-highs with 36 home runs and 108 RBI while winning the AL's Comeback Player of the Year Award.
Hill will have a new double play-partner at shortstop, as the Jays inked slick-fielding Alex Gonzalez to a one-year deal this offseason. The 32-year- old Gonzalez split the 2009 campaign with Cincinnati and Boston, batting .238 with eight home runs and 41 RBI. Anything that the Jays get out of him from an offensive standpoint is a bonus, though.
Third base could be a interesting spot to watch for Toronto this season. Edwin Encarnacion, who was picked up from Cincinnati in the Scott Rolen deal last season, will open the year at the hot corner, but could be pushed out for prospect Brett Wallace later in the year. Wallace was acquired from Oakland from outfielder Michael Taylor, one of the players that came over from Philadelphia in the Halladay deal.
Across the diamond will be mainstay Lyle Overbay, who despite trade rumors remains in Toronto. Overbay hit .265 with 16 home runs and 64 RBI last year while falling out off favor with Gaston.
Overbay will be a prime candidate to be moved at some point, especially if Wallace progresses the way the team thinks he will.
Behind the plate will be veteran John Buck, who appeared in 59 games for the Kansas City Royals last season and hit .247 with eight home runs and 36 runs batted in.
Adam Lind will once again serve as the team's designated hitter, one year after being named the top at his position in 2009. Lind played in 151 total games in 2009 and hit .305 with 35 homers, 114 RBI and a .370 on-base percentage.
Wells has stated all offseason that he intends on re-establishing himself as one of the best center fielders in the American League. However, he hit .260 last season with 15 home runs and 66 RBI - both career lows since becoming an everyday player. He is hoping that offseason wrist surgery gets him back to the player that he once was.
Not helping matters any is Wells' enormous contract, which still has four years and $86 million remaining after this season.
With Lind likely headed for full-time DH duties, Jose Bautista will get the bulk of the action in left field. Bautista, who will also bat leadoff for the Jays, hit safely in 32 of his last 39 games last season and finished the year batting .235 with 13 home runs and 40 RBI.
Travis Snider will start the year in right field, but how he handles left- handed pitching will determine whether or not he sticks around. Last year he only had 40 at-bats against lefties and hit a putrid .235. Then again, he only hit .244 against righties.
There is no way to fill the gigantic void left by Roy Halladay, but the Jays staff may not be in as dire straits as some might believe.
Shaun Marcum will assume the role of staff ace after missing all of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery. Marcum, who will start for the Jays on Opening Day, won 12 games for the team in 2007 and nine in 2008 before being sidelined for the 2009 campaign.
Toronto also has high hopes for 25-year-old left-hander Ricky Romero, who won 13 games in his rookie season a year ago. Romero, though, pitched to a 5.54 ERA in the second half and struggled against left-handers, who hit .297 off of him.
Brandon Morrow was acquired from Seattle and should slot in as the Blue Jays' third starter. Morrow started last season as the Mariners' closer, but the team inserted him into the rotation late in the season. A former first-round pick, Morrow pitched to a 3.68 ERA in his 10 starts.
Brett Cecil and Marc Rzepczynski figure to round out the rotation. The left- handed Cecil has electric stuff, and some believe his future could be as a closer. Rzepczynski, meanwhile, made 11 starts for the Jays last season and was 2-4 with a 3.67 ERA.
Another player to watch will be righty Dustin McGowan, who like Marcum, missed all of last season because of knee and shoulder surgeries. The team is not exactly certain, though, when or if McGowan can contribute.
A big battle in camp figured to be at the back end of the bullpen, where incumbent closer Jason Frasor had to fend off newcomer Kevin Gregg for the team's ninth-inning role.
Frasor saved 11 games for the Jays last season and only allowed 43 hits in 57 2/3 innings while pitching to a 2.50 ERA. Gregg, who was signed by Toronto in early February, appeared in 72 games for the Chicago Cubs a year ago and was 5-6 with 23 saves and a 4.72 earned run average. He also struck out 71 batters in 68 2/3 frames, but issued 13 home runs.
Left-hander Scott Downs could also find himself closing games if the aforementioned duo struggles. Once known as a left-handed specialist, Downs saved nine games last season and was actually more effective against righties (.246 BA) than lefties (.263).
Also helping in the bullpen will be lefties Jesse Carlson and Brian Tallet, as well as right-handers Shawn Camp and Jeremy Accardo.
Like other areas of this team, Toronto will not offer up much in terms of depth off the bench. John McDonald will be Gaston's jack-of-all-trades in the infield, while Jeremy Reed can spell all three outfielders from time-to-time in addition to giving the team a left-handed bat off the bench.
Catcher Jose Molina was signed at the start of camp and is a serviceable backup to Buck.
This is a transition year for the Jays. Offensively there is something there, but the pitching staff is just too young. It doesn't help that they play in a division with maybe the three best teams in the American League. Ownership has said that it will spend the money when this team is ready to make a run. Unfortunately for fans in Toronto, the Jays are still a good two or three years away from that happening. It will be a long year north of the border.