What can we tell you about the 2005 Blue Jays squad that you, loyal Box reader, don't already know?
Well, you've already read what we thought of Jays pitchers, hitters, and management in 2004. We discussed all the offseason transactions at length, from SkyDome to Schoeneweis, from Koskie to Hillenbrand, and yes, the departure of Delgado. Never mind the big moves - Cash for Gaudin, Mastny for McDonald, even Godwin for Wideman were worthy of discussion here at the Box. You heard from the man himself, J.P. Ricciardi, from minor league gurus John Sickels and Jim Callis, and from the new TV play-by-play man, Jamie Campbell. The Roster got together to give thoughts on how to disperse the new & improved 3-year payroll. Dave Till put on his Guy Smiley and Gary Gloomy masks to present detailed 2005 projections for the team from each perspective.
So, rather than serve up a whole lotta re-hash, we decided to focus this preview on 1) Storylines for 2005 that we'll be interested in watching unfold and 2) Predictions of the Jays' final record.
Here's what will keep us interested:
Magpie: Dave Bush. I know, I know. Everybody looks at his stuff and says he's a 3-4 starter. But all that means is that there's a lot of guys out there who can throw more impressively than Dave Bush. That doesn't make them great pitchers. Every time I saw this young man work, I thought I was looking at someone who was born knowing how to pitch. The last Toronto pitcher who impressed me in a similar way was Jimmy Key. I think Bush has a chance to be... oh, I don't know? Bret Saberhagen?
Jonny German: Hitting coach Mike Barnett was lauded in 2003 as the Jays bashed their way to the second-best offensive output in the American League. Vernon Wells broke out, Greg Myers had a career year at age 37, and Carlos Delgado turned in the second best campaign of his excellent career. 2004 was quite the opposite; only two clubs scored fewer runs than the floundering Jays, and some wondered why Barney was not dismissed at the end of the season. Eric Hinske went from bad to awful, the wheels fell right off of Josh Phelps, and Alex Rios hit an empty .286. There were a few bright spots: Orlando Hudson turned in his best campaign as he made huge strides batting right-handed, and bargin bin finds Gregg Zaun and Frank Menechino put up great numbers.
So, is Barnett a good hitting coach or no? In 2005 we’ll look to see if Eric Hinske can re-gain his stroke; if Shea Hillenbrand can be convinced that it’s OK to take a walk; if Rios, Russ Adams, and the other young players who figure to get substantial playing time blossom or bomb.
I’m optimistic. I think Barnett is the man for the job, and I think the Jays offense will be better than generally expected.
Dave Till: First, the gloomy bits:
Because of all of this, I am feeling a bit pessimistic about the Jays' chances.
But enough doom and gloom. Here's the good stuff:
Jordan: Optimistic: John Gibbons will win, place or show in the Manager of the Year race. He's a smart baseball man with an even temper and a confidence born of self-knowledge. He'll get the attention of the young guys and earn the respect of the veterans. He'll be a tough disciplinarian as required, but normally will be a facilitator, teacher and mentor. He has a chance to end up one of the better managers in franchise history.
Concerned: The offence just won't be there. Wells will rebound, but he can't do it alone and he's not disciplined enough to be patient when they pitch around him. Hinske and Hillenbrand could be sinkholes at 1B and DH, two of the most important offensive positions. A punchless offence would put pressure on the young pitchers to do too much and force the bullpen to try to be perfect while protecting 2-1 leads. A contagious hitting slump would be disastrous for this team's confidence.
Optimistic: The Jays will acquire a big DH bat at the trading deadline, someone with a lot of money and a year or two left on his contract. The deal would cost the team one of its promising young pitchers, but would also allow the Jays to dump a superfluous multi-year contract like Catalanotto or Hinske. The Jays would sign the hitter to an intelligent extension at season's end, based on the team's strong finish.
Mike Green: I'm really looking forward to the bullpen in the 2nd half of the year, with League and Vermilyea and hopefully Marcum in September. The kids are better than alright. I truly believe that the bullpen will be great in 06.
Rob: Like Mike, I'm going to be interested in following the bullpen. For all my complaining over the Batista move, if he works out, there's one hell of a good staff out there. Naturally, I like Brandon League, so I can't wait to see him pitch a full season. Justin Speier is probably the best reliever on the team, and Jason Frasor deserves mention. As for Scott Schoeneweis, it's a good sign that I now know exactly how to spell his name. Kerry Ligtenberg, Vinny Chulk, even Pete Walker can make the back of the 'pen good if not great. Not to mention Jamie Vermilyea, who loves being a relief pitcher, waiting in the wings in the 'Cuse. So there -- I will pay a lot of attention to the games once the starter is done.
Gerry: I also am excited about the bullpen in 2005. With Batista, Frasor and League the Jays have some strong arms that can bring it in the mid-nineties. Speier, Ligtenberg and Schoeneweis are the more experienced pitchers with more crafty stuff. It is an interesting balance.
I am concerned about the offense, will it score enough? I am not so worried abaout Rios, more about Hinske, Hillenbrand and Koskie. Will they be more than average hitters?
Pistol: How the Jays leverage their money and their prospects to improve the major league club will be interesting to watch.
A lot of the success of the Cardinals recently has been because they've had the money to trade for top players - McGwire, Renteria, Edmonds, Rolen. Will this be something the Jays can copy? We shall see.
On the field I'm most interested in seeing what Rios is able to do. Of all the Jays he probably is the most unpredictable. He could hit .250/.300/.350 or he could turn into Vernon Wells. But even if he doesn't hit it'll be fun to watch him run down balls in the outfield and throw runners out on the bases.
Leigh: It is important, every Spring, to be able to convince one's self that it is possible for the Jays to be playing meaningful games in September. It need not be probable or likely, but merely possible, and I think that it is this year. C'mon, stop looking at me like that - it is possible; a few career years and a surprise or two from Syracuse would get it done.
What excites me the most about the upcoming season is the opportunity to watch a healthy and productive Roy Halladay. The events of last season have made it easy to forget that Halladay is one of the best three pitchers in the American League, but he should return to form this season and we should, in turn, appreciate the opportunity to watch him pitch.
Joe: Whether 2005 will be a good season lies in the hands of two men: Roy Halladay and Vernon Wells. While Leigh takes the optimistic view, "bird droppings," the Cheer Club drummer, put the fear of God into me when he said that he thought Halladay's era of dominance is done. He thinks Halladay will, going forward, be a good pitcher, but not a great one, and I fear - maybe even think - that he's right.
If Halladay isn't dominant and/or Wells doesn't return to 2003 form, we're in for some pretty sad days at the Rogers Centre.
Named For Hank: I went into last season on a real high -- the team looked better than in '03 without Jeff Tam and Scott Service and John Wasdin, so they'd improve on their '03 winning record, right?
Things didn't go the way I hoped or expected. This off-season I watched the additions and subtractions and didn't see the same kind of big improvement that I thought I saw in '04, and going into Spring Training I was dreading the kind of implosion that greeted us at the start of last year.
Then something funny happened: the Blue Jays won a whole bunch of ballgames. Yeah, it was "just Spring Training", but the Jays had a terrible Spring Training last year and had a terrible regular season, too.
Against my better judgment, I am fired up about the team's chances. Maybe I'll end up like Charlie Brown, flat on my back while Lucy clutches the football and spouts some tired retread of the same joke. Or maybe I'll have a great time this season while the Jays kick some American League ass.
That's my pick for the most compelling storyline this year: the Jays continue to win baseball games while smart people explain to them that they shouldn't be.
Final record predictions:
Magpie: 79-83. Sorry, they just won't score quite enough runs. At least not in their current configuration.
Jonny German: The Jays break .500 by a rainout, finishing up at 81-80.
Dave Till: I predict a 75-87 season (disclaimer: I am a lousy predictor; a swing of 10 or more wins either way wouldn't surprise me).
Jordan: 80-82. The second half will be better than the first.
Mike Green: With my head 76 wins, with my heart 82 wins. We'll split the difference and say 79.
Rob: Well, I'll go for it. 86-76, exactly the same as 2003.
Gerry: My prediction....78-84
Pistol: The Jays will end 2005 at the same place they start it: .500
Leigh: 2005 Jays' Record: 88-74.
Named For Hank: 90-72, in a fight for the Wild Card.
Well Bauxites, it looks like we're a lot more optimistic than most of the sources Pepper Moffatt has been surveying. What do you think? Can the Jays pull off the big bounce back season many of us are calling for? Regardless of where they wind up in the standings, what makes this team worth following?