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Yesterday in Part One, I reviewed 2003 and gave the organization two thumbs up. Tomorrow, don't miss Part Three, Jordan's look at the system's best prospects. Now, let's meet your 2004 Fighting Jays.

Here's where I could have done some research, crunched the ZiPS numbers, factored PECOTA and invented a longevity quotient. It's more fun for me to rely on my eyes and my baseball instincts. However, I have refined my tried-and-true WAG (wild-ass guess) method — you know, the nonsensical approach that appraised Doc at 22-7 last March and foolishly predicted a career year for a 37-year-old backup catcher — into the COACH system, an acronym for Completely Optimistic, Analysis-free hunCH.

Don't laugh; I use the same unscientific style in fantasy ball, where I'm usually a contender and have won a league or two. I've loved baseball stats for more than 40 years, and Bill James and his disciples have greatly increased my understanding and even appreciation of the game, but I'm also from the Stengel-Berra school — if you know where to look, you still can observe a lot by watching.

25-Man Roster

Unless otherwise specified, ESPN three-year platoon splits are used, from the majors only; AB in parentheses. Instead of listing the starters, bench, rotation and bullpen, I'm counting down the likely roster from twenty-fifth to first, in order of their importance to the team. "Important," in this context, is a combination of the expected 2004 role for each player, how easy it would be to replace him in the event of disappointing performance or injury, and what he might bring to the Jays in 2005 and beyond. In other words, it's a completely arbitrary ranking.

25Simon PondUTIL Age: 26Bats: L AAA in 2003: .306/.353/.460 (248) / AA: .338/.440/.513 (228)

The determined Pond, attending his first big-league camp in his tenth year as a pro, has made the most of the opportunity. He's even earned the affectionate nickname, "Bamm-Bamm Rubble," from the GM. The B.C. native made dramatic progress in 2002, his first year in the Jays organization. He was a bit old for the FSL, so nobody really took notice. He destroyed AA last year, earning a promotion to AAA, where he became the Syracuse MVP in half a season. Pond has followed that up with a very good winter in Puerto Rico and an outstanding spring.

His value to the Jays includes public relations — it can't hurt in Toronto to have a Canadian player, and TV ratings should go up on the west coast — but even if he makes the club, he'll be the most replaceable man on the roster. If Pond was a good defender at any position, he would get more at-bats; he's primarily a pinch-hitter who can DH or play a few innings at the various corner spots. If something unfortunate were to happen to Eric Hinske, Simon would be one of the prime candidates to fill in at third, and could make a more significant contribution.

Pond, whose teammates call him "lumberjack" among other things, could actually be more valuable to his country this year than to his employer, but as he told Richard Griffin last week, he'd much rather play in the big leagues than the Olympics. You can't blame him — he's been consistently ignored by national team selectors. While the door to the majors has finally cracked open, it may not stay that way for long. By 2005, some of the younger options in the farm system, like John-Ford Griffin, may be ready to challenge for Simon's job.

Actually, it isn't his job just yet. Still competing in Florida and deserving of the 25th spot is Howie Clark, who has a better glove than Pond, plays one more position (second base) and has already hit .302 and .357 in parts of two seasons in the majors. The Jays might also break camp with 12 pitchers. Justin Miller appears to be fully recovered and has looked good in Florida; perhaps the best solution, if it's within the rules, would be to start him on the DL — he is returning from surgery — and work him up from Dunedin to Syracuse on rehab assignments. Why rush him? Bob File seems to be all the way back from the surgery he had on his collarbone; he might also benefit from taking it slowly, and I don't remember him being in the Ligtenberg-Adams class when he was 100%. Vinny Chulk has also looked good in the Grapefruit League. The decision to go with just four bench players and a dozen pitchers, one I generally disagree with, often depends on the time of year, the upcoming schedule and the health of the other eleven arms. Maybe later, I won't complain.

For now, I've been touting the Canadian-bred rookie all spring, and I'll never apologize for letting my heart overrule my brain. Welcome to the Show, Simon!

COACH 2004 Forecast: 140 AB, .285/.355/.470

24Jayson WerthOFAge: 25Bats: R AAA in 2003: .236/.285/.420 (236) / AL: .208/.255/.417 (48)

There's a widely-held belief that Jayson is merely keeping a spot warm for Gabe Gross or Alex Rios, and his Toronto days are numbered. Some have speculated that the main reason he'll go north with the team is because he's out of options. Even if it's his last chance with this organization, he's still trying to prove himself to others. If he makes a positive contribution for a month or two, Werth may have more trade value than Pond, because he's younger and a former #1 draft pick with better "tools."

Jayson's had some tough luck with untimely injuries, particularly last spring. He can't expect regular at-bats because he hasn't hit enough to earn them; he has some power, especially against lefty pitching, but is prone to striking out. It's the fourth outfielder's conundrum; if he did play every day, perhaps he'd improve at the plate. A terrific athlete, Werth can contribute as a late-inning defensive replacement for Catalanotto, and provides flexibility as the third catcher. Obviously, his value goes up, at least temporarily, if any of the outfield regulars gets hurt.

It's also possible that Jay will be the odd Jay out. Pond could make the team as the fourth outfielder, with Clark or a 12th pitcher becoming the 25th man. Rumours are currently floating that the Mets or Dodgers might be interested, so a Werth trade before they break camp would not come as a huge surprise. It seems inevitable that Jayson will be moving on; let's hope he brings something decent in return.

We're going to have to get used to this. One of the direct results of a well-stocked farm system is that talented players will be leaving every year, because there isn't room for everyone. Reed Johnson came from out of nowhere last year to pass Werth on the depth chart, and the AAA phenoms are closing in. Jayson's window is closing fast.

COACH 2004 Forecast: 40 AB, .240/.300/.430

23 Chris Gomez IF Age: 33Bats: R v R .274/.314/.418 (720) v L .217/.244/.327 (217)

The Jays made overtures to free agent shortstop Rich Aurilia, who presumably would have taken the starting job from Chris Woodward. When Aurilia chose Seattle, Gomez became the affordable alternative, a $750,000 insurance policy in case Woody falters. Chris won't be the bargain Mike Bordick was in 2003, and he's not as brilliant defensively, but that's an unfair comparison. Perhaps because of his relationship with J.P., Bordick accepted a contract for a fraction of his value, and there's simply no way to replace him in this price range.

Gomez, a teammate of Jason Giambi on the 1991 College World Series team at Long Beach State, reached the majors two years later with the Tigers, then was traded to San Diego in 1996. He became the regular shortstop for the Padres, signing a three-year contract for almost $8 million, and played in the 1998 World Series. Knee problems, eventually requiring three surgeries, limited him to just 76 games in 1999 and a mere 54 at-bats in 2000. He was released in 2001, catching on with Tampa Bay, for whom he hit 18 home runs in a season and a half. Last year, as a utility infielder for the Twins, he didn't provide a lot of offence in 175 AB, but made a significant contribution by playing 3B when Corey Koskie was hurt, as well as filling in at second and short.

Gomez will instantly become much more important to the 2004 Jays if starter Chris Woodward can't hang on to the everyday job. In any event, he'll get a few starts when Woody deals with the inevitable aches and pains and takes a day off. With Jorge Sequea, Russ Adams and Aaron Hill not too far away, it's likely that Chris will be moving on — I hope he enjoys his time in Toronto, and spends most of it on the bench.

COACH 2004 Forecast: 105 AB, .255/.315/.350

22 Dave Berg UTIL Age: 33Bats: R v R .256/.308/.372 (508) v L .264/.310/.384 (242)

His three-year numbers don't suggest much of a platoon split, but last season, Berg's OPS was an anemic .506 vs. righties and a robust .859 off southpaws. If Orlando Hudson continues to have problems trying to hit lefthanders, Dave will get more playing time. Otherwise, he's a jack of all trades — the sixth infielder, fifth outfielder and occasional pinch-hitter.

A 38th round pick in the 1993 draft, Berg finished in the top ten in hitting in the Eastern League in 1996 and the International League in 1997, finally making it to the Show in 1998. After three more seasons as a part-time player with the Marlins, he came to Toronto in 2002, where he started games at seven different positions: everywhere in the infield, both corner outfield spots and DH. It's stretching it a bit to call Dave a shortstop; he's third on that depth chart behind a couple of guys named Chris.

The doctors never really solved his mystery illness in 2003, when he would become dizzy and fatigued after a few minutes of practice. Let's hope it doesn't recur, but if it does, Dave can go on the DL and the Jays could either give Gomez more work or take a good look at Jorge Sequea. As long as he's OK, Bergie, a "character" who helps keep the clubhouse loose, should be a capable bench player who gets a few starts at second base. He'll probably have to catch on somewhere else in 2005, as a half dozen (or more) Jays rookies will warrant strong consideration for roster spots next spring.

COACH 2004 Forecast: 120 AB, .270/.325/.415

21 Valerio de los Santos LH Age: 31 v R .218/.312/.383 (266) v L .242/.315/.331 (124)

A healthy de los Santos should be more valuable than LOOGY Trever Miller was last year. Miller probably could have returned, but wasn't on the same page as the Jays with his salary expectations. They are paying a bit more ($850,000) for de los Santos, on the theory that he's a harder thrower, at least as tough against lefty batters, and considerably better vs. righthanded hitters. In 189 big-league appearances, Valerio has a respectable 1.32 WHIP vs. RHB, compared to a woeful career WHIP of 1.79 for Miller against righties.

A one-time phenom in the Brewers organization, rated their top prospect in 1998 by Baseball America, de los Santos missed most of 1999 after a back operation. Tommy John surgery cost him the entire year in 2001 (he pitched just one inning) and he began 2002 on a rehab assignment, eventually returning to the Brewers in mid-May. Because he was arbitration-eligible, cost-conscious Milwaukee traded him to the Phillies late last season.

Valerio throws mostly low-nineties fastballs and splitters. A tender shoulder early in camp and some individual attention from pitching coach Gil Patterson temporarily delayed his Grapefruit League debut, but he's since looked sharp in four outings.

It won't be long before the young arms in the Jays' farm system are ready for prime time. There won't be room for all of them in the rotation, so the need for free agent help in the bullpen will diminish. For now, the one-year free agent stopgaps are necessary, and we wish de los Santos all the best in his effort to earn a bigger paycheque next season, wherever that may be.

COACH 2004 Forecast: 65 IP, 3-4, 4.40 ERA

20 Josh Towers RH Age: 27 v R .282/.296/.498 (482) v L .312/.347/.541 (443)

Josh's career stalled in the Baltimore organization, only to be resurrected last year, when the Jays signed him as a minor-league free agent. They let him work in the Syracuse rotation, calling him up for good in August. His complete game against the Mariners that month was one of the more emotional nights of the year at the Dome. Though it wasn't the biggest crowd, it fed off the pitcher's obvious excitement; I certainly felt more than just a beer buzz. We stood and screamed our delight when Towers struck out Mike Cameron to end the game, then rushed off the mound to embrace his "awesome" personal catcher Kevin Cash, for whom he has nothing but superlatives.

"Cash is phenomenal, man. He really sets up great."

A refreshingly candid, outspoken player, Towers knows his job depends on throwing strikes. That's what he did in September, going 4-0 with a 3.06 ERA to earn himself a job this spring. Because he doesn't have overpowering stuff, and he's always near the plate, Josh does give up some well-hit balls, but the Jays can live with a few solo homers if he continues to have a K/BB ratio like last year's 6:1 (42 K, 7 BB in 64.1 IP). Fun fact: Towers has never walked more than two batters in a major league game.

It was very hard to decide where Josh belongs on this list. He won't be needed at all for the first couple of weeks, but he could get off on the right foot against Baltimore — he still carries a grudge against the O's — and go on to have a great year, in which case he'll be more "important" than most of the relievers. On the other hand, he could become a victim of the numbers game, lose his spot to Justin Miller (who has no options left) and spend much of the year in Syracuse. I really like Towers, but he is replaceable — the most likely starter to be bumped when one of the prospects is deemed ready for promotion. His future might be in the Toronto bullpen, or in another organization.

COACH 2004 Forecast: 100 IP, 5-4, 4.50 ERA

19 Greg Myers CAge: 38 Bats: L v R .263/.354/.465 (548) v L .291/.333/.430 (86)

Many Jays fans share my admiration for Crash, and are pleased that he's making a farewell tour. Greg, who turns 38 April 13, has discussed retirement already; in fact, he was expecting 2003 to be his last season, but had so much fun, he came back for one more year. Before his body started to show the signs of wear and tear, that first half was truly incredible: a .343 average, .428 OBP and .561 SLG in 198 AB, with 10 homers. The hope now is that by limiting him to one or two starts per week behind the plate, Greg will stay sharp all season.

Last year's astonishing results have been written off as a fluke in many quarters, especially where the contributions of hitting coach Mike Barnett are overlooked or ignored. The truth is, Myers completely reinvented himself as a hitter, embracing the middle-out approach. That was obvious to me in 2003 spring training, when I made the outlandish predictions he not only met, but surpassed. I'm certainly not going to assume he can match last year's numbers — the very definition of "career year" — but he'll be a lot closer to them than to his previous levels.

Myers would rank much higher on this list if there was even the slightest possibility he'd be back next year, or if there wasn't a potential future all-star waiting in the wings in Syracuse. If the Jays are in the race, he'll be an asset down the stretch. If not, or if Guillermo Quiroz is destroying AAA pitching, Crash could be traded to a contender; it's not hard to envision something happening with the Dodgers or A's. If you're a fantasy owner trying to guess when Crash will catch or DH, start him against hard-throwing righthanders.

COACH 2004 Forecast: 195 AB, .285/.340/.460

18 Terry Adams RH Age: 31 v R .279/.333/.382 (785) v L .242/.316/.326 (631)

Check out that platoon split. Adams is actually tougher on lefties than on righthanded batters, which might mean fewer mid-inning pitching changes this year. Terry had his "500 game tuneup," minor elbow surgery, after last season, but so far in spring training, his arm appears to be fine. The six earned runs he gave up the other day are no cause for alarm; both the pitcher and the manager dismissed it as just one of "those" spring innings.

A 4th round pick of the Cubs in the 1991 draft, Adams made the Show in 1995 and stuck in 1996. After stints as the Cubs closer in 1997 and 1999, he was traded to the Dodgers. He pitched 84 innings, all out of the bullpen, for L.A. in 2000, then in 2001, made 22 starts in addition to 21 relief appearances, for a career high 166.1 IP. Signed by the Phillies as a free agent, he was again used as a swing man, making 19 starts in 2002; he also won both ends of a doubleheader that year, which is a good day's work. Last year, exclusively in relief, Adams had a career-best 2.65 ERA in 68 IP.

The Jays signed him to a one-year deal for $1.7 million; the Box-proposed, Wilner-confirmed nickname "Patch" is supposed to refer to him getting the team from the starter to the closer, but it has a long-term connotation as well. Adams is another veteran pitching for his next contract — there's a very good chance his role will be filled by one of the young guns in 2005.

COACH 2004 Forecast: 70 IP, 6-3, 3.70 ERA

17 Jason Kershner LH Age: 27 v R .231/.306/.356 (160) v L .202/.278/.326 (129)

Kershner was a bargain pickup by the Jays in 2002 when he was put on waivers by the Padres. Now he's one of just four pitchers from the 2003 Jays to return this year, mostly because he limited lefthanded batters to a .178 average and a .493 OPS. Jason's a stringbean, listed at 6' 2" and just 165 pounds; as you might expect, he's not overpowering, but relies on an assortment of pitches, including a screwball, and precise control. He's pitched particularly well when rested, but is capable of working on consecutive days if needed.

Until the Jays' brain trust knows exactly what they have in de los Santos, it's too soon to know exactly how the southpaw relievers will be used. Kershner's importance to the Jays could actually increase if he doesn't end up as the so-called #1 southpaw in the bullpen. It's not that he can't get a lefty batter out under late-inning pressure, more that he was so effective in long stints, earlier in games.

After a couple of limo rides on the Syracuse shuttle, Jason stuck with the Jays for the final three months. He pitched 99.2 innings combined, and had a 9-4 record. He has a chance to pick up several more wins this year if he's used the same way — to keep his team in games when the starter's had a rough night, until the potent Blue Jays bats wake up. If he simply repeats what he did last year, he'll be back to do it again in 2005.

COACH 2004 Forecast: 90 IP, 7-4, 3.95 ERA

16 Kerry Ligtenberg RH Age: 33 v R .211/.248/.333 (421) v L .268/.391/.419 (272)

What in the world were the Orioles' GMs thinking when they declined Ligtenberg's $1.2 million option for 2004? The Jays, not known for overspending, thought he was worth twice as much, for twice as long. Kerry's signing in December inspired 160 comments in a Batter's Box thread; fans were starving for any improvement in the bullpen. Since then, there has been even more good news on that front.

A starter as a Minnesota Golden Gopher — he has a degree in chemical engineering — Ligtenberg was undrafted and pitched two seasons for the independent Minneapolis Loons before turning pro. He's been making up for lost time ever since, with an ERA+ between 129 and 156 in each of his six seasons.

Kerry neutralizes righthanded hitters (35 K, 3 BB in 2003) but was somewhat prone to the long ball last year, and hasn't fared well against lefties. On a two-year deal, for $4.5 million, he's paid more than the other relievers, yet isn't in the closer mix. He does have ninth-inning experience; back in 1998, took over for Mark Wohlers as the Braves' closer, and racked up 30 saves in 34 chances. The next spring, he needed elbow surgery.

Since returning in 2000, Ligtenberg has been a highly effective setup man in Atlanta and Baltimore, and should continue that role as a Fighting Jay this year and next. He'll face a lot of tough righthanded batters in key situations, losing a few battles but winning his fair share.

COACH 2004 Forecast: 65 IP, 2-4, 3.80 ERA

15 Frank Catalanotto LF Age: 30Bats: L v R .315/.376/.492 (1024) v L .236/.323/.343 (140)

Cat would be rated considerably higher on this list if there was a chance of him being around longer. On a one-year deal for $2.2 million, he will be testing the free agent waters again next winter. Frank, who turns 30 on April 27, will be a key component of the 2004 lineup, batting second most days ahead of the heavy lumber. It's possible that he'll be traded before the deadline, especially if Gross and/or Rios are tearing up AAA. If he's having a good year, he'll be an attractive second-half rental for most playoff contenders.

A tenth round pick of the Tigers in 1992, Cat was still in AA when he was selected by the Oakland A's in the 1996 Rule 5 draft, presumably on superscout J.P. Ricciardi's recommendation. Returned to Detroit for the '97 campaign, Frank hit .300 with 16 HR in Toledo and earned his first big-league callup. Even then, the former second baseman was something of a man without a position, and never seemed to get a sustained opportunity. Traded to Texas in 2000, Cat hit .330 and the following year, fifth best in the AL. Various aches and pains, including a pulled groin, sore lower back and broken hand, limited Cat to just 68 games in 2002, so the Rangers allowed him to leave as a free agent.

In his first campaign as a Blue Jay, Catalanotto equalled his career high with 133 games played, and set new personal bests in runs, doubles, homers and RBI. His vision problems took some of the luster off what could have been another sensational season; there's no way he should have finished with a .299 average. In April, he hit .345, and took a 10-game hit streak into mid-May. It became obvious to me that something was wrong in June (.275) and it got worse in July (.227) until he finally took time off to visit his optometrist. There have been incorrect reports that he was fitted for new contacts; it was actually prescription eye drops that did the trick. Cat admitted later that he had been having trouble picking up the spin on the ball, which explained why he'd been putting so many fastball swings over the top of breaking pitches. In August, he hit .412 and walked more often than he struck out, for a nifty .508 OBP.

One of my favourite hitters, Cat epitomizes the Mike Barnett principle of controlling the strike zone up and away and reacting from there. This has the happy consequence of "accelerating" the bat head when the pitch is off-speed, which is the only time you'll see Frank pull the ball, and resulted in almost all of his career-high 13 homers last season.

COACH 2004 Forecast: 350 AB, .325/.375/.460

14 Reed Johnson OF Age: 27 v R .279/.348/.383 (290) v L .328/.366/.533 (122)

Those splits are from 2003 only, and 122 AB is far too soon to call him a lefty masher, but Johnson has a lot of pop for a little guy. A relative unknown who had missed most of the 2002 season with injuries and had amassed just 159 undistinguished AB in AAA, Reed was called up from the minor-league camp with a week to go in spring training last March, when none of the more experienced non-roster invitees had staked a claim on the fourth outfielder's job. He made an immediate impression, as the kind of hustling "dirtbag" the blue-collar Jays appreciate.

Johnson walked just 20 times, but had a .353 OBP, reaching first another 20 times when hit by a pitch. How impressive is that willingness to take one for the team? Well, it led the club, it's a new Blue Jays rookie record, and Jason Giambi, in 233 more plate appearances, topped the AL with one more HBP. In August, just about the time some people thought he was wearing down, Sparky went on a 20-game hit streak. There's no way he'll get complacent or change his game; he only knows one speed — full throttle.

In only 114 games, Reed had 10 bunt singles last season, tied for third in the American League and seventh in the majors. It's another specialty, one Johnson practices constantly. Several times, he executed perfect push bunts, just hard enough to get past the pitcher, drawing both the first baseman and second baseman to the ball and leaving the bag completely unattended.

Reed's long-term value to the Jays is probably as a fourth outfielder or as part of a trade. His range is stretched a bit by CF, but he's above average in either corner, and throws well. Until dislodged by Gross or Rios, he's an everyday starter, making him very important to the club's 2004 hopes. If the Sparkplug continues to reach base and set the table for the big RBI men, the offensive machine will stay in high gear.

COACH 2004 Forecast: 350 AB, .285/.355/.440

13 Kevin Cash CAge: 26 Bats: R 2003 AAA: .270/.331/.442 (326) AL: .142/.181/.192 (106)

It was no surprise that Kevin had trouble adjusting to American League pitching. In a Batter's Box interview, John Sickels agreed that it's been a pattern throughout his development.

Cash tends to struggle at first, then make some adjustments. In his case, I'm not sure he'll ever be more than an adequate offensive player. But given his glove, that's OK. At the least, he'll have a Kelly Stinnett-like tenure in the Show, and he might be able to get beyond that.

In his first try at AAA, Cash hit .220; a year later, after another very slow start, he improved that to .270. His .142 in the majors can only get better, and he's been working toward that goal all winter.

"That's all I did in the off-season — hit hit hit," he told Rosie DiManno of the Star. "Have to go more up the middle because I'm a little pull-happy."

Mike Barnett recently told Spencer Fordin of that Cash had "put on a clinic" off the breaking-ball machine.

"Everything's coming into place, and he feels real good about it," said the hitting coach. "It's a credit to him. After going out there and spending all that time, he wants to come back and hit for a half hour. To me, that's what's going to get him over the hump."

Defensively, Cash helps shut down the running game. He nailed the swift Carl Crawford in consecutive games last year, and Tosca has encouraged him to make snap throws to both first and third base to keep runners honest. The converted third baseman threw out 55% of runners in both the Sally League and the FSL; his career minor league number is over 50% — 159 out of 313 attempts.

Kevin's value to the 2004 Jays might be minimal — if he struggles too much with the bat, he could even be sent down, with Quiroz given a chance to replace him — but I believe he will eventually become an adequate hitter, and his superb defensive skills will be important as the #1 backstop this season, and as #2 for the next few years.

COACH 2004 Forecast: 330 AB, .215/.280/.375

12 Justin Speier RH Age: 30 v R .233/.302/.421 (489) v L .255/.310/.434 (318)

Another very nice offseason acquisition, as the Jays' brass flew below the "big name" radar. When Tim Worrell spurned Toronto for the Phillies, Ricciardi wasted no time trading Mark Hendrickson and Sandy Nin to get Speier from the Rockies, then agreed on a one-year deal for $1.6 million. Justin will be arbitration-eligible again next winter, so we don't know what will happen, but if both team and player are happy with the relationship, they should be able to work out something reasonable. If he does become a Proven Closer over the next two years and leaves as a Type A free agent, the deal will pay additional dividends.

Though Speier has finished games in Coors Field and his numbers in that hitter's paradise are quite respectable (.244 opponent's average in 108.2 IP) there's a cautionary note in his ESPN Scouting Report: "He has a tendency to get too excited when he is given the task of closing out a save."

If Carlos Tosca gets the same impression, with the memory of Politte emotional meltdowns still clear, Justin will probably be the eighth inning specialist. However, I can't let go of the notion that the Jays have nothing to lose by giving first crack at the ninth-inning job to the new guy, who after all, has been far more successful than Aquilino against lefty batters. Lopez can always take over if that doesn't work out. I don't think the Jays have made a final decision yet; if they have, it's a well-kept secret. My guess is that Speier gets the chance, and makes the most of it.

COACH 2004 Forecast: 70 IP, 3-4, 3.90 ERA, 32 SV

11 Aquilino Lopez RH Age: 29 v R .186/.273/.248 (161) v L .250/.353/.411 (112)

Whatever they're paying Keith Law, he's more than earned in the Rule 5 draft alone, where J.P. has given him a great deal of credit. Corey Thurman, though eventually released and now nursing a sore shoulder, was certainly worth the risk. Aquilino Lopez was an even better pick. Seattle, with the likes of Julio Mateo and Rafael Soriano in their system, soured on Lopez because of his age, which advanced by nearly five years one day. The Mariners' loss was the Blue Jays' gain.

In just his second season, Lopez may again be the team's ace reliever, even if he's not the primary closer. Carlos Tosca likes how he shakes off poor results, and has also praised his "feel" for pitching. Aquilino's split against lefty batters, which is a small sample size anyway, was skewed by one April game against the Yankees, when he walked Giambi and Williams, then gave up a three-run jack to Matsui. Lefties will always hit him better than righties, some of whom find him untouchable. In particular, he owned Nomar Garciaparra, who I can't remember even hitting a loud foul ball in half a dozen key plate appearances last year, and he held Manny Ramirez to a single in four trips.

Last year, Aquilino was just trying to make the team in spring training. Early in the season, his role wasn't clearly defined, and he still wasn't sure he was a big-leaguer. Along the way, he picked up a couple of two-inning saves, and more confidence. By August, he was the closer, racking up five saves with a 2.84 ERA, and in September, he added seven more saves — three of the two-inning variety — with a 1.32 ERA. Obviously, his "three year" splits above are for 2003 only, but it's worth noting his career minor league totals, even though he was old for his leagues: 461 K, 128 BB in 416 IP, for a 28-16 record, with 29 saves and a 2.70 ERA.

If the Jays are going to battle for a playoff spot this year, they need Lopez to repeat — or improve on — his terrific rookie season. It says here that Aquilino will continue to be an important part of the bullpen for the next few seasons. That gives him the slight edge in value over Speier, who may be here for just a year, two at the most.

COACH 2004 Forecast: 80 IP, 6-3, 3.65 ERA, 12 SV

10 Chris Woodward SSAge: 28 Bats: R v R .272/.317/.450 (536) v L .229/.300/.362 (188)

There aren't many 54th-round draft picks playing significant roles on a contending team. Woody is being asked — again — to be the everyday shortstop, which makes him a very important guy in 2004 for the Jays. The only alternative is journeyman Chris Gomez, with minor-leaguers Jorge Sequea and Russ Adams not quite ready to be big-league regulars. Many of us expect Woodward to take over for Dave Berg as a multi-position backup as early as next year — whenever the Adams era begins — but for now, he's #1.

In 2003, Woody was handed the same assignment, only to bobble it. His 17 errors included several misplays on easy chances. This spring, he's done an incredible amount of work with coach Brian Butterfield — taking more than 200 ground balls in some practice sessions — to become more consistent. With the encouragement of his wife Erin, Chris has also taken up yoga, which might help him relax and concentrate, and won't hurt his flexibility.

Woodward has had some unusual splits the last couple of seasons. In 2002, he had a .906 OPS and hit all 13 of his homers off righthanded pitching, but seemed hopeless (.450 OPS) vs. lefties. Last season, he handled southpaws just fine — .307/.360/.485 — yet had trouble against righties, fading to a .657 OPS. So I really don't know what to expect from him this year, but I suspect that if he is fielding his position well, that confidence will carry over to his at-bats.

There is some serious talent within the division at shortstop, not counting the Yankees' third baseman. Woody doesn't have to be Jeter, Garciaparra or Tejada in order for the Jays to keep pace. He just needs to be himself.

COACH 2004 Forecast: 420 AB, .270/.325/.430

9 Josh Phelps DH Age: 26Bats: R v R .272/.348/.518 (471) v L .297/.372/.450 (202)

If any Blue Jay had a right to complain about playing time last year, it was Phelps. He wouldn't, of course. The young man with the prodigious power — will you ever forget the two bombs he hit off Clemens in 2002? — is patiently biding his time, trying to make the most of his limited opportunities.

The native of Alaska, who grew up in Idaho, might have become an engineer if not for baseball. Though he isn't keen on studying video of himself, Josh applies a scholarly, analytical approach to hitting, often solving the problem of the opposing pitcher in his second or third at-bat.

Josh is following in the imposing footsteps of Carlos Delgado, another former catcher converted to first base to keep his bat in the lineup. Depending on what Delgado decides after the season, Phelps could inherit that job full time next year. Will he receive a contract extension, or are his days in Toronto numbered? If he cuts down his strikeouts this season, draws a few more walks, shows some dexterity around the bag and stays healthy, locking him up makes perfect sense. On the other hand, if he's viewed as a one-dimensional slugger, with so much talent rising through the system, Josh might eventually be considered trade bait, especially if Delgado returns.

Mr. Phelps (or as Jerry Howarth calls him, "Big Joshua") is another difficult guy to rank. I expect another year of occasional frustration, when Carlos Tosca sits him against some righties and uses Myers at DH. In fact, the emergence of Simon Pond may also cost Phelps some AB, which is a shame. The former BP cover boy should hit another 25 homers as a part-time player this year, and my tea leaves can't predict his future in Toronto with any certainty.

COACH 2004 Forecast: 360 AB, .275/.365/.520

8 Pat Hentgen SP Age: 35 RH v R .271/.324/.454 (421) v L .231/.306/.425/(510)

ZiPS says he'll make 18 starts, five relief appearances, for just 127 IP and a 5.39 ERA. I'm not picking on Dan Szymborski here; I simply don't think any projection method can do Hentgen justice. The guy missed most of 2001 and virtually all of 2002 with elbow surgery, and it wasn't until midway through last season that it became obvious he's back as a pitcher.

Hentgen was 1-5 with a 5.40 ERA and hadn't pitched in exactly two weeks when he took the mound against the A's July 12. There was no reason to expect such dramatic improvement, but he went seven innings, leaving in a 3-3 tie, and never missed a turn the rest of the way. Five days later, he beat Texas, then came into SkyDome as a curiosity, holding the Jays to just five hits and two runs in a strong six innings. He followed that with eight innings of four-hitter, allowing the Red Sox just one run at Fenway, and also beat the Yankees and Mariners down the stretch. Here's his "tale of two seasons":

Pre All-Star5.2515159073.2814343123143.280
Post All-Star3.10631313187693130132757.216

Though it's true that the popular Hentgen has some positive PR value, that's no more of a factor in Pat's return than it was for Greg Myers last year. He was one of the best free agent starters available, especially at the price. The fact that he's someone for Doc to relate to is one of those intangibles; you know it can't be a bad thing, but it's hard to measure exactly how good it is.

Hentgen is important to the 2004 club, and even though he's on a one year deal, don't count him out for 2005. He almost certainly could have been got more than $2.2 million, or another guaranteed year, from another team, but made concessions to be part of the renaissance in Toronto. See, it's not just fans, but veteran players, buying the Ricciardi sales pitch.

Sooner or later, the Jays won't need "hired gun" starters, because the cream of the crop will have emerged from the farm system. This year, we're lucky to have one of the good ones back in town.

COACH 2004 Forecast: 170 IP, 13-9, 4.25 ERA

7 Orlando Hudson 2B Age: 26 Bats: B v R .300/.357/.462 (517) v L .168/.210/.221 (149)

Those horrible numbers vs. lefthanded pitching suggest that O-Dog, like Jose Valentin, should give up switch-hitting. So far, all of Hudson's 13 big-league home runs have come off righties. The strange thing is, he's a natural righthanded batter, and that's the side where he's having so much difficulty. If he gets off to another slow start in that regard, he might be platooned with Dave Berg.

Orlando is beginning to get noticed around the league for his defensive prowess, which continues to improve. In addition to his range (he makes the sliding stop in shallow right field as well as anyone) I've seen him do some amazing acrobatics around the bag, including some very creative ad-lib tags. The dazzling plays used to be somewhat balanced by muffing some easy chances, but O-Dog became much more consistent as the 2003 season progressed.

At the dish, I suspect we haven't seen his best yet; every player takes a different amount of time to adjust to big-league pitching. Hudson was a .300 hitter in AA and AAA, and the ball jumps off his bat, often down the line or in a gap, where he is quite capable of legging out triples.

His value to the team in 2004 is considerable; the future is less clear. Hudson has yet to be offered a contract extension, and has been a popular subject of trade rumours. Because he plays with such obvious energy and flair, he's become a fan favourite, but don't get too attached — with Russ Adams and Aaron Hill on the way, it's unlikely that Orlando will be in Toronto his whole career. While there's certainly no hurry to move him, there will soon be more economical alternatives.

COACH 2004 Forecast: 475 AB, .285/.335/.450

6 Ted Lilly SP Age: 28 LH v R .259/.327/.462 (1203) v L .214/.272/.322 (345)

Theodore Roosevelt Lilly is now the best lefty starter in the AL East. The Yankees and Red Sox don't have one; Baltimore and Tampa have mediocre and/or unproven ones. Lilly, never John Gizzi's favourite, has yet to live up to expectations for an entire season — he has had his share of physical problems, perhaps due to "throwing across his body," and also has a reputation as an uncoachable head case. Gitz isn't alone in cautioning Jays fans about investing too much hope in Lilly, who has now been traded by the Dodgers, Expos, Yankees and A's; here's what the boys at the Elephants In Oakland blog thought:

Like we've said a billion times, we'd be big Ted Lilly fans if he listened to Rick Peterson and wasn't such a stubborn JACKASS. He's the classic million dollar talent with a five cent head. Which is a shame. That's what gets us in the end, the wasted talent.

The A's, frustrated by his inconsistency, resorted to the unusual step of not allowing Lilly to shake off the catcher. Whether or not that helped, he finished strong in 2003, going 4-1 in September with a 2.05 ERA, and was terrific in two postseason appearances against Boston.

The Jays are gambling $5 million over the next two years that Ted is a late bloomer, just coming into his prime, and that Gil Patterson will be able to get through to him. The odds are that one of the three new starters will disappoint this year, and if it's Lilly, there will be a long lineup to say "I told you so."

Lilly injured his left wrist in February, supposedly moving a television. He finally made his spring debut last night, pitching two innings; he settled down after giving up a single and a homer to his first two batters. While he may not be ready to throw a complete game in his first few starts, he's not expected to miss a turn when the regular season begins.

COACH 2004 Forecast: 165 IP, 12-10, 4.50 ERA

5 Eric Hinske 3B Age: 26 Bats: L v R .274/.365/.485 (758) v L .230/.301/.389 (257)

Am I saying Hinske is the fifth best player on the Blue Jays, or that he's irreplaceable? Not exactly. Eric is just one of several essential components if the 2004 Jays are going to seriously threaten for the postseason, but I'm also considering the future. We still don't know exactly what will happen with Phelps and Hudson, to name two other fine players, but Hinske's going to be a big part of the club for the next four years, which boosts this ranking.

The 2002 Rookie of the Year went through some professional growing pains as a sophomore, literally and figuratively. A broken hamate bone affected him at bat and in the field; he hit just .234 in April and .211 in May before having it surgically repaired and going on the DL for a month.

Much has been written in the Batter's Box about Eric's defence. It's true that he's not the most graceful third baseman, with some poor throwing habits, double-clutching on some and taking too much off others. He's a diligent worker, has a great instructor in Brian Butterfield, and while he'll never be Brooks Robinson, he will improve. Any shortcomings with the glove should not detract from what Hinske can do with the bat, and on the bases.

Here's a confident prediction: Eric won't hit a double every 10 at-bats this year. Not many players ever do; that's a doubles machine. His 45 two-base hits came in just 449 AB, compared to Vernon Wells (678 AB) and Garret Anderson (638 AB), who tied for the league lead with 49 doubles. At least a dozen of those 2003 two-baggers would probably have been homers if he had normal strength in his bottom hand; those same shots should clear the wall in 2004, which will put him back in the vicinity of the 24 taters he hit as a rookie.

Hinske, who checked into camp in terrific shape, is a very good baserunner and an excellent base-stealer. He's not the fastest man on the team over 30 yards, but has 25 SB to only 3 CS in his career so far. His wheels, his patience and a .349 career OBP make Eric a very good option to hit second behind Cat when Reed Johnson takes a day off. Most days, he'll bat sixth or seventh in the lineup. Any thought of him being a platoon player (or a first baseman) is premature; Hinske raised his SLG against southpaws from .339 to .436 last season, and that should continue to improve with experience.

COACH 2004 Forecast: 550 AB, .280/.360/.485

4Miguel Batista SPAge: 33RHv R .232/.301/.350/ (1051)v L .268/.338/.389 (887)

Thanks very much to the Diamondbacks for declining their $5 million option. Thanks to J.P. for convincing Batista that Toronto offered him the best opportunity. Thanks to El Artista for being a fascinating, likeable guy, in contrast to the departed Kelvim Escobar, who was probably my least-favourite Blue Jay. Both are excellent pitchers, and their results over the next three years will be compared often. Their stats may actually be similar, but intangibles could make a difference. Instead of being a party animal, Miguel is a mentor for the younger Latin players; he's given Francisco Rosario some advice about throwing a cutter, and Lopez will benefit from his presence all season.

Batista ranked 12th in the NL last season with a 3.54 ERA, pitched a career high 193.1 innings, struck out a career-best 142 batters, tied for the team lead with 10 wins and picked up five saves along the way. Originally signed by the Expos, he was briefly with the Pirates in 1992 as a Rule 5 selection, then returned. After missing most of 1994 with a right shoulder strain, Miguel was signed by the Marlins, where he alternated between AAA and the big club, both starting and relieving. His next stop was the Cubs, followed by a third stint with Montreal. In 2000, he was traded to the Royals, who eventually released him. His last three seasons in Arizona have been relatively stable, even though he's been switched several times between the rotation and the bullpen. Typically, El Artista is philosophical about his nomadic career. "Every man should keep walking until he finds his home," he says. "I keep on moving."

It may take a while for his new catcher to get on the same pitch-calling page. An overwhelmed Kevin Cash says Batista throws eight pitches — "two-seam and four-seam fastball, cutter, sinker, curveball, slider, split and change."

They are all pretty good, too.

"You can put his stuff up there with anybody. I caught, last year, the best pitcher in the game," Cash said. "Nothing taken away from Doc, but his stuff is very close."

In 2004, Batista is the fourth most important Blue Jay. If he stays in Toronto for the full three years of his $13.1 million contract, Miguel could end up being even more valuable than the next man on this list.

COACH 2004 Forecast: 210 IP, 17-12, 3.95 ERA

3 Carlos Delgado 1B Age: 31 Bats: L v R .300/.439/.625 (1123) v L .257/.354/.424 (526)

How can someone who narrowly misses the league MVP be third most valuable on his own team? This could be Delgado's farewell season in Toronto, which means the team's next championship bid might come without him. Even if he does return, it's hard to argue that a first baseman who turns 32 in June will have more value than a center fielder and an ace in their prime.

Carlos had an absolutely marvelous 2003 campaign. His 97 RBI at the All-Star break was the third-best first half in baseball history. He came back to earth a little in the second half, but still led the American League in OPS (1.019) and the majors with 145 ribbies. His four-homer game, just the fifth in league history, was like an exclamation point on the season.

Delgado, facing a defensive shift by many opponents, seemed to steer a lot more pitches from lefties last year for singles and doubles to the opposite field. For whatever reason, he was far more productive against southpaws in 2003 (.395 OBP and .475 SLG) than his three-year split suggests. That could be the Mike Barnett influence, but Carlos still gives a lot of credit for his success to Cito Gaston, his manager for six seasons.

"He helped me out with the mental approach of the game, figuring out what my strengths are," the slugger said. "How guys try to get me out, tipping pitches — he basically taught me how to pick it up. He was a big developer in my game, he helped me learn to develop my plan."

Delgado needs just 41 RBI to reach 1,000 in his career, and will pass Lloyd Moseby for second place on the all-time Jays list for games played in his 98th game this season. If he appears in 156, he'll take over top spot on that list from Tony Fernandez. He's already the Jays' all-time leader in runs, doubles, home runs, RBI, total bases, walks, HBP, and slugging percentage, among other categories.

Carlos isn't the type to be distracted by his impending free agency. He's already said he has all the money he needs, and he knows, by the way the club dealt with Roy Halladay, that J.P. Ricciardi is a man of his word. The team really does want him back, but the Jays probably won't be able to match offers from wealthier franchises like the Dodgers or Angels.

"A lot depends on what we do this year," explained the GM at the beginning of spring training. "If we push the envelope, like we hope to do, maybe we can get a little bump in the budget."

If 2004 does turn out to be Delgado's final season as a Blue Jay, we owe him a lot of standing ovations.

COACH 2004 Forecast: 500 AB, .310/.400/.630

2 Vernon Wells CF Age: 25 Bats: R v R .292/.327/.506 (1012) v L. .314/.356/.486 (370)

Wells, signed through 2007, is willing and able to put the team on his broad shoulders if Delgado leaves. Already respected for his character in the clubhouse and his talent on the field, Vernon has many great years ahead of him, at least four of them in Toronto. Please, don't jump on me for using RBI to make a point, but the only other center fielders in baseball history to drive in 100+ in their first two seasons were pretty good ones — Joe DiMaggio and Al Simmons.

Defensively, either there are a few statistical measures that don't give him enough credit, or I've been seeing an optical illusion. Vernon gets a superb jump, takes a short, direct route and turns quite a few doubles into outs. Not unlike Mike Cameron, he rarely dives or climbs the wall, playing with smooth efficiency. Almost never throws to the wrong base, doesn't miss many cut-off men. Range? Somebody queue up the replay of the play when Shannon Stewart got in his way, and notice where Wells is.

At the plate last year, often following the on-deck circle advice of Delgado, V-Dub set a new team record — and led the majors — with 215 hits. Some think he's impatient, and no other Jay is more likely to have a really good cut at the first pitch, but this doesn't mean Vernon goes up there "hacking." He's just ready to take advantage of any mistake, and pounded the get-ahead fastball at a .405 clip, with a .705 slugging percentage.

I don't want to give the impression that Vernon is "too good to be true," but sometimes I wonder. As a person, he doesn't even swear, often amusing his teammates with a passionate "gosh darn it" when he returns to the dugout after being robbed of a hit. As a player, he's still very young, and still learning. It's scary to think that there's room for improvement on the 2003 model, but there is.

Another stellar season from Wells is critical to the team's 2004 chances, and he's sure to take on even more responsibility with each passing year. On almost any other team, he'd be the most important player, but Toronto fans have another young superstar.

COACH 2004 Forecast: 600 AB, .320/.380/.570

1 Roy Halladay SP Age: 27 RH v R .232/.272/.342 (1053) v L .256/.294/.369 (1287)

Every baseball fan knows what Halladay did last year: 22-7, 3.25 and his first Cy Young award. Winless in April, then AL Pitcher of the Month in May, when he was 6-0, leading the Jays to a 21-8 month, the best in club history. While his teammates couldn't sustain that momentum, Doc just kept winning — eleven consecutive starts, fifteen consecutive decisions. Despite leading the majors in innings pitched, with a career high 266, he remained strong, with four consecutive complete games (he finished five of his six starts) in September. Opponents hit .175 off him in the final month, when he struck out 42 and walked just five. Sure, that included Tampa twice and Detroit twice, but he also dominated the Yankees in the Bronx, with a masterful 10-K 4-hitter.

What makes Roy great? A brutal training regimen keeps his 6' 6" body in peak condition, and he works just as hard on the mental aspects of the game. The story of his 2001 relegation to the low minors to completely re-learn his craft has been told many times; Doc emerged
2004 Toronto Blue Jays Preview - Part Two | 38 comments | Create New Account
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Named For Hank - Thursday, March 25 2004 @ 11:05 AM EST (#75132) #
I am so fired up for this coming season that I can't stand it. The season needs to start now, today, I need to see this team in action!

and season's tickets in those "action seats" at field level

They're fun, but I don't know if I'd want to sit there every game: while the vantage point is astounding for watching pitches move and how hitters hit, I found it impossible to follow the outfield or even to have a good idea of where the ball was heading after contact. Maybe I'd get used to it if I had season's, tho'. ;)

Plus you'd get to chat with Geddy Lee on a regular basis.

I'd be happiest with tickets above the Jays' dugout, not only because I find the seats nice and close while still with a good view of the overall game, but also because of the ruckus we caused last year in the Texas Rangers dugout while sitting in those seats -- whenever we held up the A-Rod Dollar Bill, they had to look at it, and I don't think they liked it.
Pistol - Thursday, March 25 2004 @ 11:34 AM EST (#75133) #
What do those projections look like in aggregate?
_Jonathan Reimer - Thursday, March 25 2004 @ 12:25 PM EST (#75134) #
Thanks for a fantastic analysis of the Jays. What's really valuable here is the long term forcast, recognizing the players' worth to the organization beyong the 2004 horizon. When I look at the value of players such as Cat, Reed and Werth, it's refreshing to see their strategic (rent-seeking, for economists out there?!) value...they holf the fort down as quality options but will probably move on to other organizations or into other roles as the long term prospects mature. i don't think Gord Ash ever had that kind of thinking going on... he wouldn't have made moves like B. Santiago, Erik Hanson and Randy Myers if he knew any better!

In Gorod's defence, many of the top line prospects are his genuis. In the old history of the Jays, he knew raw talent and that's what is popping up in the organization. now it's JP's turn to flesh them out into OPS machines.

I think predictions for Batista are a little too optimistic. Remember the home ballpark switch (along with Lilly). Both are moving to a hitters' advantage park from larger parks. This can be reversed for Hentgen and the forcasts are probably a little conservative for him. His second half last year surely gets me exicted. Seeing him excited on the mound again at Skydome will be a treat for sure.

What I kept thinking from this analysis was how strong the bullpen was. My goodness, what an improvement from last year. To say these are simply trustable arms is an understatement. There's really no reason to go with 12 pitchers come April other than to keep Miller on the team. It is a deep bullpen that will surely be a lot fresher than last year's given the faith I have in the new starting five.

This analysis really makes me excited for the season. They've surely got a fighting chance!
_Jonathan Reimer - Thursday, March 25 2004 @ 12:30 PM EST (#75135) #
One more thing: I think the predictions, particularly the IP and ABs seem low for just about everybody except the big three. Delgad with just 500 ABs? Only two pitchers over 200 IP? These are conservative...I hope!
_coliver - Thursday, March 25 2004 @ 12:48 PM EST (#75136) #
Named For Hank: I had the privlidge of sitting in the "In The Action" seats on two occasions last year and the seats are outstanding. And yes, I did get to chat with Geddy Lee. I had the good fortune of sitting right next to him! He keeps score in his Cooper scorebook--how Canadian cool is that.

Mr. Lee knows his baseball!
Pistol - Thursday, March 25 2004 @ 12:51 PM EST (#75137) #
I think predictions for Batista are a little too optimistic. Remember the home ballpark switch (along with Lilly). Both are moving to a hitters' advantage park from larger parks.

Without having the park effects in front of me, I remember Bank One being a rearlly good hitter's park, more so than SkyDome.
Leigh - Thursday, March 25 2004 @ 12:52 PM EST (#75138) #
Fantastic stuff, Coach.

I think predictions for Batista are a little too optimistic. Remember the home ballpark switch... moving to a hitters' advantage park from larger parks.

A common misconception, Jonathan. Bank One Ballpark in Arizona is a hitter`s park to a greater extent than is SkyDome.
Leigh - Thursday, March 25 2004 @ 12:53 PM EST (#75139) #
You beat me to it by mere seconds, Pistol.
Named For Hank - Thursday, March 25 2004 @ 01:02 PM EST (#75140) #
And yes, I did get to chat with Geddy Lee. I had the good fortune of sitting right next to him! He keeps score in his Cooper scorebook--how Canadian cool is that.

Man, that's awesome. We sat in those seats for Doc's 15th consecutive win last year (the tale is on, COMN), and I was a little disappointed that Mr. Lee was not there. I mean, we saw him on the JumboTron at like every third game!
_Dean - Thursday, March 25 2004 @ 01:11 PM EST (#75141) #
Matt Anderson was just outrighted by the Tigers. Does anyone have a read on him, health, velocity, etc.? He would be a good guy to have @ AAA, if we could get him there, to have as insurance. If he is healthy a fresh start may be what he needs to be productive.
Mike Green - Thursday, March 25 2004 @ 01:13 PM EST (#75142) #
That was fun, Coach. My instinctive guesses are very similar.

I will be very disappointed if Phelps only gets 360 ABs, with the kind of numbers that you and I expect. This bring us back to the Tosca discussion.
_Cristian - Thursday, March 25 2004 @ 02:00 PM EST (#75143) #
Geddy Lee may a terrific person and a knowledgable baseball fan but I've never understood the attraction to Rush. C'mon people, for a while they used double neck guitars and pretended it was cool! In my books, that's about the worst thing a musician can do. Personally, I rank it slightly below whatever Michael Jackson is eventually convicted of.

In conclusion,
Blue Jays YAY
Rush NAY
Coach - Thursday, March 25 2004 @ 02:03 PM EST (#75144) #
Thanks, all. I'm busy at work today then have a high school practice, so there's not much time to respond before this evening.

Jonathan, that's 500 AB for Delgado, not plate appearances. He'll walk at least 100 times.

Pistol, I didn't even compile an aggregate; the overview is in my head. I do have the middle relievers (Kershner and Adams) winning quite a few games; my theory is that Lilly, Hentgen and the #5 (Towers, Miller, Bush) will have some five- or six-inning starts and leave with the score tied or trailing by a run, but the offence will bail them out.

Mike, I had Phelps at 440 AB, then gave 40 to Myers, then 40 to Pond. It's not how I would use Josh, but that's what I fear.
_Roger Davis aka - Thursday, March 25 2004 @ 02:10 PM EST (#75145) #
Coach, if you wassant a guy and I wassant a guy, would you marry me? Coach, absolutely wonderful.

I love the ranking idea. I agree, mostly.

Jonathan said you are too optimistic about Batista, I strongly disagree. Batista will be dominant. You heard it here first, Mr B joins Mr H as 20 game winners.

I can't wait to see which AAA guys FORCE their way to the bigs this year. WOW, is this gonna be great fun, win lose or draw!
Dave Till - Thursday, March 25 2004 @ 02:12 PM EST (#75146) #
Great job, Coach.

I don't think the Jays are good enough to win anything just yet - the Yanks and Sox are just too good - but this should be a fun team to watch, and a team fully deserving of our support. And the Fighting Jays will be under much less pressure than their divisional rivals, as no one expects anything from them. They'll have more fun, and might well sneak in if one of the big boys slips up.

(Mind you, I think at least one of the starters is going to implode bigtime, and the offense will be off a bit from last year...)
_S.K. - Thursday, March 25 2004 @ 02:14 PM EST (#75147) #
I've been mulling over something the last few days - wouldn't it make sense for the Jays to keep Lopez out of the closer's spot to keep his eventual arbitration value down? It's one thing if he's by far the best pitcher, but I think Speier or Ligtenberg could do just fine in that role, and 30 saves a season for Lopez will make him a lot harder to keep around in a few seasons when arbitration time comes up.
Mike Green - Thursday, March 25 2004 @ 02:31 PM EST (#75148) #
S.K., one of the oddities of this off-season was the amount paid to free agent middle relievers- Tom Martin, Paul Quantrill, Kerry Ligtenberg...These free-agency signings will impact on the arbitration awards for middle relievers next year. But, you're right that "number of saves" will be a significant factor in Lopez' salary 3-5 years from now.

If Lopez has indeed mastered left-handed hitters with the new pitch, I'd use him as the ace, and bring him in the high leverage situations (tie game eighth inning), rather than routinely in the save situation (three run lead ninth inning). The way Tosca has been talking this spring, he prefers the set-up man/closer division of roles.
_Ryan GC - Thursday, March 25 2004 @ 02:49 PM EST (#75149) #
Wow that is an absolutely top drawer analysis. I don't post here often, mostly because my overall baseball knowledge isn't that great and Im just too intimidated by you guys, but I just have to say that I enjoyed every word of this. I've just made it one of my bookmarks and for me that is high praise indeed. Excellent job.

Ryan GC
_A - Thursday, March 25 2004 @ 03:45 PM EST (#75150) #
if you wassant a guy and I wassant a guy, would you marry me?
So if you were a woman and he was a
_Craig S. - Thursday, March 25 2004 @ 07:12 PM EST (#75151) #
To judge by your predicted pitcher records, it sounds like you expect the Jays to win 95 games this season. My fingers are crossed for that - and for Batista to do as well as you believe he will - because it could mean a realistic wildcard shot.

You've got me so fired up, I'm considering making the drive up for that opening series!
Gitz - Thursday, March 25 2004 @ 09:19 PM EST (#75152) #
If the Jays win 95 games, they could still finish more than five games out of a playoff spot. Damned Flanders, I mean, Red Sox and Yankees.

Come to think of it, the Jays and Angels -- who may also win 90+ games and still get shafted -- could have their own consolation playoffs as the two best teams not to make it despite being better than the AL Central and NL West division winners.
_Ryan01 - Thursday, March 25 2004 @ 10:54 PM EST (#75153) #
Coach, I'm very impressed with the prediction about Miller. I just read the Shi Davidi article in the National Post where he suggests that Miller would start the season on the DL to buy a little more time and wondered if maybe he got the idea from here. But then Fordin posted a similar article at (COMN)
_BirdWatcher - Friday, March 26 2004 @ 12:49 AM EST (#75154) #
Great review, Coach - you admitted you were going to be "looking on the bright side" and your review certainly passes that test !! The problem is the Jays will undoubtedly run into some unexpected surprises during the season and the question is how will they deal with that adversity ?

My biggest concern is the starting pitching which include 4 of your 8 top Jays. I'm guessing the hitting holds up like last season, and the overhauled bullpen comes through, but the starting rotation springs a couple of leaks early in the season which, unless quickly remedied, will spell a quick end to any hopes of staying in contention through the summer.

What are the probabilities of trouble ? Halladay will undoubtedly perform well but will he stay healthy and match/surpass last year's numbers - probably 80% chance the answer is yes. How will Batista, an NL exile and extreme ground ball pitcher, peform in the SkyDome. Probably OK (65% chance?). Will the enigmatic, extreme flyballer Lilly stay healthy and perform well -probably no more than a 50% chance of answering yes to both questions. I really don't understand the infatuation with Hentgen. His apparently great second half in 2003 consisted of a barely adequate command ratio (KK/BB) equal to two, along with a scary HR/9IP ratio of 1.34. The good news is Hentgen gave up only 56 non HR hits in 87 IPs; the bad news is Mariano Rivera and Pedro Martinez have never recorded such low hit rates (5.8H/9IP) !! Point is this performance is not repeatable and Hentgen is likely to revert to the MLB norm, and probably something worse given he's now on artificial turf with a less than average defence behind him. Finally, Josh Towers - when you are old and wiley like Jamie Moyer, and have the best defense in MLB behind you, you can get away throwing softballs at the major league level, but Josh's chances of lasting until June, maybe 30 % (your 100 IP forecast seems to be anticipating a similar fate) ??

I'm a Jays fan, and I hope it all works out for these 5 guys. But, from a management point of view, it seems almost a dead certainty there will be one gaping hole in the starting rotation by May/June, and the chances are pretty good there could be one or even two other holes in the dike involving less-than-stellar performances which may require remedial action. So what's the back-up plan ? Miller ? Arnold ? Maybe even Terry Adams ? Does anybody know - does JP spend time on back-up plans or is this just too hard to think about ?
Coach - Friday, March 26 2004 @ 01:44 PM EST (#75155) #
What are the probabilities of trouble?

BirdWatcher, you've done a nice job of answering your own question.

I prefer to think that there's a 100% chance that Doc will be one of the very best pitchers in baseball, unless and until something unexpected happens. It's like going on a car trip; I assume it's going to get me where I'm going, and instead of making contigency plans in advance for every possible problem, deal with unpleasant surprises when they occur. Just as I might revise my ETA in that case, my predictions would have to be be adjusted on the fly.

If Hentgen's second half had come against a steady diet of Tigers, I'd have the same concerns as you. He faced nothing but contenders and potent lineups down the stretch, which accounts for the walks and homers. Anyway, I don't understand why he would automatically revert to "MLB norm" -- wouldn't he revert to "Pat Hentgen norm," which when he isn't recovering from elbow surgery, is quite a bit better than average?

Once I decided on the 25-man format, instead of guesstimating the contributions of 30 or 35 guys, I had to make some compromises. So I did hedge on my prediction for Towers, who will make the team, but isn't guaranteed to be the fifth starter all year. There are about 100 IP and several hundred AB "unaccounted for" -- either I'm light on Cat, Sparky and Werth, or I'm expecting Gross and Rios to contribute. Likewise, the catching numbers don't "add up" if Crash is a part-time DH; fill in the blanks on what I'm anticipating from Quiroz.

Of course the Jays "spend time on backup plans" -- if you're asking me what they are, I can only give you an opinion; they don't invite me to those daily meetings. Miller, Chulk and Arnold look like the primary options today if another pitcher is needed, but Bush and McGowan could soon warrant consideration. At this time last year, Dontrelle Willis was farther away than they are. So was Miguel Cabrera, and we know what happened there. But anyone doing a Marlins preview last spring would have been ridiculed for predicting those two would be important parts of a championship team.
_Simon - Friday, March 26 2004 @ 02:01 PM EST (#75156) #
BirdWatcher, much as I hate to admit it, I have to agree with you in a way. While I don't pretend to have any idea of who will be a bust and who will succeed, I definitely expect this team will have some of both, and while I'm not preparing for a losing season, I think aiming for 95 wins is a bit optimistic at best.

Let me put it this way. Last year was pretty much an unqualified success. Of course you could point to Eric Hinske, Tanyon Sturtze, Cory Lidle, et al, and claim otherwise, but the fact is the team won 86 games. Going into the season, an optimistic prediction was 85 wins, so it can be safely said that the team exceeded expectations - not by a large amount, but they did.

The Blue Jays' offence last year was a pleasant surprise, finishing second in the AL in hitting, a feat that not many people predicted. They do have a solid lineup, and Eric Hinske's health will help, but there's still a good chance the offence will fall off a little in '03. The core is intact, and shouldn't be necessarily bad, but I highly doubt it will overachieve again to the point of repeating last year's performance. A quick breakdown by position, using common sense rather than stats:
C - There will be a fairly significant dropoff in production from the catchers. Kevin Cash/Greg Myers circa 2004 more than likely will come nowhere close to Tom Wilson/Greg Myers circa 2003.
1B - It is Delgado's contract year, but he has only had two huge years in his career, so we can hardly expect another MVP-type year. That said, I wouldn't be shocked if it happened. There should be a dropoff here - still a strong suit for the Jays, but less so than '03.
2B - I like Hudson, and he should probably be able to exceed his production last year. We'll mark this one as an improvement.
3B - Here the Jays should improve. The expectation here is that Hinske probably will post something similar to his 2002 numbers, but I wouldn't be surprised if he exceeded them.
SS - I don't trust this position. It is possibly Woodward could have a very good year, but more likely he'll be relatively similar to last year (at least offensively) and Gomez will be nowhere near as good as Bordick. Probably a dropoff.
LF - Stewart/Cat circa 2003 to Cat circa 2004. Cat should be better this year, but Stewart was a pretty good player. We'll call this one even, somewhat optimistically perhaps.
CF - I love Vernon Wells. But last year was a very, very, good season. I think he could easily repeat it, and there's a small chance he could get even better. However, it's a bit much to assume he'll have another near MVP year. A dropoff is likely.
RF - Cat/Reed Johnson to Reed Johnson. I like Reed Johnson, but his season shouldn't be better than the right fielders' season last year. Probably a bit of a dropoff here, but I'd love to see it about as good as last year if Reed has a good year.
DH - Optimistically, if Phelps has a good year, it could improve, but without the luxury of having Greg Myers circa 2003 to ink into this spot some, all that can be expected is a dropoff from last season.

I'm not blasting the Jays here by any means. I'm just saying that last year's offence overacheived, and assuming a repeat performance this year is awfully optimistic. We'll still be a decent hitting team, but over the offseason the focus on pitching hurt the hitting not because of large losses, but because of the lack of large gains. Think about what happened to the Angels in '03. If you leave an overachieving lineup for too long, it will start to play down to its more reasonable standards, and fans will be disappointed. On top of this is the fact that the rest of the American League hitting improved by quite a good deal. The chances of the team being second in the league again in hitting are similar to the Padres chances of reaching the playoffs this year - could happen, but i doubt it.

There is no doubt that the Jays' pitching has improved. There are still a lot of question marks though, and some players that could drop off.
Roy Halladay is a great pitcher and could easily duplicate what he did last year - but let's acknowledge that all predictions for the Jays thus far have pretty much taken that for granted. I think he will win close to as many games this year, and could even have a better year, and is definitely a dominant ace in the American League, but with any pitcher coming off of a Cy Young season there is reason to worry about a bit of a dropoff for similar reasons that I ranked Delgado and Wells' 2004 editions lower than their 2003 edition. You just can't know for sure that he'll win another 20 games, though he probably will.
Of the three new starters as well as Josh Towers, I agree that at least one will disappoint. They should present a cumulative upgrade over the 2003 edition, but the difference at best probably will only make up for the fall-off of the 2004 offence.

The bullpen is a rather substantial upgrade, but questions exist here as well. Specifically, Aguilino Lopez's 2003 was unbelievable. I pray and hope he can continue to have similar success this year, but there's a chance hitters could learn how to hit his slider and he could become a more mediocre pitcher. The rest of the bullpen was improved, but question marks still exist about some of the players. Justin Speier isn't really a proven big-leaguer, though he's had success, and it's very possible that Adams or Ligtenberg will struggle. Last year the Jays pen didn't seem like it would be that bad heading into the season. This year's pen is undoubtably better, but perhaps some of the unbridled optimism is a bit misplaced.

Overall, the Jays are a slightly better team than last year. The upgrades to the starting rotation should just about make up for the less productive offense. The bullpen will be the difference between this year's and last year's team. However, with the upgrades in the rest of the AL, with every big name free agent signing in either the AL East or with the Angels, I'd say a reasonable win total to predict for the Jays is 86, with an absolute ceiling of maybe 95, and a minimum of 81 wins if everything goes wrong (probably lower in the case of a catastrophe - i.e. Wells/Halladay/Delgado go down for the season).
_Jonny German - Friday, March 26 2004 @ 03:01 PM EST (#75157) #
Simon, I think you've caught some Richard Griffin Disease, mistakenly equating being negative to being astute. Last year was not an unqualified success. Lidle and Sturtze and Politte and Tam blew up, Creek pitched only 14 innings. Hendrickson made 30 starts and put up a 5.51 ERA. Hinske got hurt. Escobar pitched well as a starter, but also stunk out the joint for 2 months as a reliever. Catalanotto struggled with vision problems. Bobby Kielty was a passenger. Kevin Cash was incredibly bad. None of the mid-season pickups did well -Reichert, Service, Acevedo, Wasdin. You can say that's expected, but previous years brought useful parts like Walker and Kershner.

I would go through the various positions and explain why I disagree with many of your "dropoff" projections on offense, but unfortunately they expect me to do some work when I'm here at work.
_Simon - Friday, March 26 2004 @ 04:07 PM EST (#75158) #
I know it probably sounds extremely negative, but I'm just trying to stall the flow of unbridled optimism in here....the Jays got a little better, but so did everyone else, thus I think they'll roughly repeat their performance of a year ago. Another 86 win season is what I see on the horizon. I just think that 95 wins is a pretty overly optimistic prediction - it seems unlikely that the Jays will be able to gain ten games in a division that was stocked with ARod, Schilling, Sheffield, Tejada, Brown, Vazquez, Foulke, and so on this past offseason. Some talent did leave in trades, but a lot more came back.
_Baseball Fan - Friday, March 26 2004 @ 04:16 PM EST (#75159) #
I don't think nearly as much of Ligtenberg as you do. Don't you think the Blue Jays paid more than they had to? He really wasn't that good last year.

And you are way off on Hentgen. You predicted an ERA of 4.25 (I believe), I'd say 5.25 is more like it. Someone mentioned something along the lines that he'd be helped by the change from Camden Yards to Skydome. How do you figure? According to Baseball Info Solutions, the PF for runs in CY the last two seasons was 93 - compared to 107 for SD. The PF for HRs was the same for both parks - 113. Those number and his return to a normal H% definitely point to an ERA over 5.00
Craig B - Friday, March 26 2004 @ 05:22 PM EST (#75160) #
Kerry Ligtenberg ERA+ by year


Last year wasn't as good as his past career, but it was good. Anyway, the Jays didn't sign based on last year's numbers.
Mike Green - Friday, March 26 2004 @ 05:31 PM EST (#75161) #
Coach has Ligtenberg at 65 IP, 3.80. Looks like a completely reasonable projection to be.

As for the question of whether 65 IP, 3.80 of middle relief is worth Ligtenberg's contract, both Craig B (in memorable quasi-poetic fashion) and I have expressed our doubts.
_Jonny German - Friday, March 26 2004 @ 06:27 PM EST (#75162) #
I'm just trying to stall the flow of unbridled optimism in here....the Jays got a little better, but so did everyone else

I don't dispute that everyone else got better, but I also don't think the optimism about the Jays is wholly unfounded. I definitely think that claims that the offence will regress overall are of the "well of course it will, it was just too good last year" variety, as opposed to the analytical variety.

The consensus seems to be that the biggest regression will come at Catcher. I think what often gets neglected here, though, is that as good as Myers was, Cash was equally horrible, and Wilson was average when it was all said and done. Here's what it came out to, stats as catchers only:

Greg Myers 242 .335 .399 .554
Tom Wilson 222 .248 .321 .374
Kevin Cash 106 .142 .179 .198
Total 570 .265 .328 .418

The American League average for catchers was .255/.308/.395, so Jay catchers were better than average, but not by a huge amount. Consider the defensive upgrade from Wilson to Cash, and I think the position will be equally strong in 2004 as it was in 2003. You're thinking "But what if Cash keeps on being a useless hitter?", and to that I say "No worries, he'll be replaced by Quiroz if that's the case".

For the record, if I were to hazard a guess it would be 89 wins, plus or minus 5.
_BirdWatcher - Friday, March 26 2004 @ 07:17 PM EST (#75163) #
Coach - a quick follow-up on your Hentgen comments. Three years after TJ surgery, I don't think Hentgen's historical norm carries much significance in assessing his prospects going forward. What we have is someone who has probably lost quite a bit of velocity, who can't over power (i.e strikeout) as many batters and who now appears prone to the HR ball even when pitching well.

Also, I think all of the recent sabermetric work leads to only one conclusion about Hentgens's 2nd half hit rate last year - it was a flat out fluke. Please understand, I don't come here to damn Caesar. Hentgen performed splendidly last year but his hit rate was just totally off the charts. It almost certainly is not repeatable but, more important, probably (in the true statistical sense of the word !) not indicative of any special ability to get batters out.

Let's assume 3BB per 9IP, 5.5K per 9IP and 1.35 HR per 9IP (close to his 2H/03 performance). The "average" MLB pitcher gives up about 8.2 nonHR hits per 9IP - and the Jay defense and SkyDome will tend to inflate that number a bit (let's say 8.5 H/9IP). That works out to a 1.43 WHIP. Lot of ways to slice and dice these numbers but those figures probably translate into an ERA around 5.00 and 10-12 wins.

Bottom line - Hentgen turns out to be a slight upgrade over Lidle. So, I guess that's 200 IP we can't get terribly excited about but don't have to worry about either.
_steve - Saturday, March 27 2004 @ 04:27 AM EST (#75164) #
you have to remember that although hentgen's second half was a fluke or that his st stats suck, hentgen is a veteran. he knows the hitters and he has a new pitch. he now has a fastball that moves left, a fastball that he can control, a curveball that dips down and a changeup i think that is totally different than the fastballs. granted if you guess right, you will hit a fair share of hr balls off hentgen, but his stuff is pretty good so i think a 4.5 era is a good prediction.

although he may not have gas in the fastball anymore, he still had the outside/inside control of it and that is more important than the gas on the ball. hentgen has the ability to pitch like maddux did last season
_jason - Saturday, March 27 2004 @ 04:02 PM EST (#75165) #
"Please understand, I don't come here to damn Caesar."

I come not to damn Caesar, but to bury him.

Great job Coach. IMHO the Jays have definitely have improved. I think any drop off in offensive production - and it could be argued that the drop will be negligible at worst, and an improvement is not beyond the realm of possibility - will be compensated by the improvment in pitching and defence.

Speaking of Cash, while he may be a drag to the offence, his defence may be the difference in beating the D Rays.

Loking forward to it all: the ups and downs, the disapointments and triumphs; in short, the wonder of it all.
_Jonathan - Saturday, March 27 2004 @ 07:22 PM EST (#75166) #
Thinking about the possibilities of drop-offs in offensive production, it seems to be agreed that the prospects of decreased performance comes from: Myers (old, lucky season is past), Delgado (only two huge seasons in reality), Wells (hard to top what he just did, especially considering his consistency) and Johnson (doesn't have past numbers to show last year is real). However, it's easy to see why a few of these guys COULD improve. Yes, Myers is surely in for a fall, but my god, Cash can only get better at the plate to cover his performance past and some of Myers. Delgado could continue given it being a contract year and consistent protection behind him in the order, Johnson had a fantastic September (yes, i know bad pitching) and Wells is to young to do anything but learn more.
On top of all this, is the fact that everyone roundly expects improvements from a number of offensive Jays. Hudson will surely improve with more experience. Everyone's favourite sophomore slumper (Hinske) will surely be healthy, lighter in weight and not having such hand injuries, Cash (as stated above), Phelps, so long as Tosca commits to more ABs for the young slugger, and Woodward. I'm not convinced about Woodie, but everyone else should surely improve. A continuation of last year on offense or even better is surely within reach.
_Simon - Saturday, March 27 2004 @ 08:25 PM EST (#75167) #
Yeah, Jonathan, it's all speculation, and I don't deny that. I was just saying let's not jump the gun and assume that Delgado and Wells are both going to repeat their near-MVP-type seasons. I think it's well within the range of possibility that they'll repeat or improve, but keep in mind .302/42/145 is one hell of a year, and it's not easy to generate tht type of production in the major leagues. Wells is a young player and could easily improve, but it won't be a cinch to hit .300+ with that kind of power again.
_John Neary - Saturday, March 27 2004 @ 09:42 PM EST (#75168) #
I think Jonny has already effectively argued that production from the catchers shouldn't really fall off a great deal. What about Delgado and Wells?

Here are some projected stat lines for Delgado, Wells, Phelps, and Hinske. I made them up off the top of my head (using a variant of the COACH system.)
Player    AB    H  2B 3B  HR  BB    BA   OBP   SLG
Delgado 500 145 35 1 34 90 .290 .398 .568
Wells 600 180 40 5 28 45 .300 .349 .523
Phelps 450 124 25 1 25 44 .276 .340 .502
Hinske 543 153 35 3 25 70 .282 .364 .495

Do those lines look reasonable to you? If so, then you've just predicted those four guys to perform at exactly the same level in exactly the same number of plate appearances as they did in 2003. (That's 2093 at-bats, .288/.363/.522) PECOTA projects 1990 at-bats with a .283/.360/.518 line. Coach's projections are somewhat more optimistic: 2010 at-bats, .299/.377/.553. In any case, the expected increases in production from Hinske and Phelps should counterbalance any decline by Wells and Delgado.

If the Jays can expect no change in offensive performance from C, 1B, 3B, CF, and DH, then what's left? PECOTA is bullish on Hudson and Woodward and expects little change from Cat and Sparky. Incidentally, Johnson's minor league track record suggests that his 2003 performance was no fluke. In 2000 and 2001, he hit over .300 with power, speed, and good on-base ability in the SAL, FSL, and SL. His 2002 season was ruined by wrist injuries.

It surprises me to say this, as I had thought the opposite for most of the offseason, but I don't expect the Jays' offense to be any worse in 2004 than it was in 2003.
_Brande - Saturday, March 27 2004 @ 10:13 PM EST (#75169) #
I think Simon’s cautious note is warranted. BP’s third-order wins for 2003 put the Jays 17 games behind Boston and 14 games back of the Yankees. The Jays add Batista and Speier; Boston adds Schilling and Foulke. Just think how excited folks here would be if it was the other way around. And there are some new players in pinstripes who are pretty good too. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a big Jays fan and I love what Ricciardi is doing with the team. But I think the entusiasm here for the Jays sometimes feeds on itself. It is not being negative to say we should count it a successful 2004 if the Jays simply stay within 15 games of the two nuclear powers.
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