State of the Franchise

It’s only second year on the Toronto beat, but I’m already getting used to the signs of spring. The annual State of the Franchise event took place on Thursday night downtown. After the function concluded, the reality that Spring Training is practically here hit me. I get on a plane on Wednesday morning, land in Tampa that afternoon, and the marathon that is the 2007 season will begin.

First things first, though, I’ll fill you all in on some things that came up tonight. As usual, there were some minor tidbits that didn’t make it into the general story.

ZAMBRANO WATCH: Maybe the biggest "news" of the night, which wasn’t earth-shattering by any means, was that Victor Zambrano could be available sooner than expected. This doesn’t mean that he’ll be ready to jump into the mix for a rotation spot this spring, but Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi did indicate that the righty could potentially be ready by May.

"I think Zambrano’s a little further ahead than maybe even we thought," Ricciardi said. "I’m not saying he’s going to make the team in April, but he may be closer to pitching in May than we thought. He’s got great work ethic and he’s really pushing himself. We’re probably going to have to pull the reigns on him a little bit."

If healthy, Ricciardi said Zambrano could be the guy they’ve been looking for to replace the 180-odd innings that Ted Lilly provided out of the No. 3 spot of the rotation. Consider that Zambrano is 45-41 with a 4.45 ERA in his career, and won 12 games for the ’03 Devil Rays team that finished with 99 losses. Lilly is 59-58 with a 4.60 ERA in his career.

ROGER THAT: One season-ticket holder at tonight’s event asked Ricciardi if the Jays had any interest in Roger Clemens. Here’s what the GM had to say on the subject:

"He’s 44 years old. At some point, the train comes to a stop," Ricciardi said to a mixed reaction from the crowd. "He’s a great pitcher, and could he help us? Definitely. There’s no doubt about it. But I don’t think Toronto is on his map. I think he wants to go to either New York or stay in Houston, where he lives.

"The other thing is it’d be really hard for us, with the good young players that we have, to bring a player in and allow him to go home on weekends and not travel with the team. Not that he hasn’t earned that, but I think in our environment, it wouldn’t set the greatest example. And I dont think he’s as interested in us as maybe we would be in him."

2B OR NOT 2B: Just because Toronto found a temporary way to keep Aaron Hill at second base this season — signing shortstop Royce Clayton to a one-year deal — doesn’t mean playing short is out of the young infielder’s future. Ricciardi said that it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Russ Adams could become Toronto’s second baseman in 2008, moving Hill back over to shortstop.

Adams was Ricciardi’s first pick as Toronto’s GM during the First-Year Player Draft in 2002. So, when Adams became the Jays’ starting shortstop in 2005, he was in his fourth professional season. Ricciardi said on Thursday that, if they had been more conservative with Adams, this year might’ve been his first in the Majors. So while Toronto believes Hill is a better defender at second, he might have another position switch in store come next season.

MINOR MATTERS: Casey Janssen and Dustin McGowan have an outside shot at starting jobs with the Jays this spring, but Toronto’s plans are for both pitchers to be in the rotation at Triple-A. Joining them should be right-hander Ty Taubenheim, who Ricciardi said could be a long reliever/spot starter in the future.

The Jays also plan on having catching prospect Curtis Thigpen start at Triple-A, and Ricciardi noted that the club hopes to have him team with Zaun at some point in the Majors. Consider that Zaun is under contract for the next two seasons.

FEELING A DRAFT: Toronto has 10 of the first 150 picks in the 2007 First-Year Player Draft.

–The Globe and Mail’s Jeff Blair touches on Toronto manager John Gibbons’ current contract situation. Gibbons’ contract expires after this season.

That’s all for now. I’ll probably be wearing shorts and enjoying some Florida sunshine when I post next. I’ll catch you all down in Dunedin. Stay tuned for more…


Jordan, you mentioned that Toronto has 10 of the top 115 drafts. How many of these come in the first couple of rounds. Also, can you comment on the ability of a team like the yankees to draft some of the best pitching and position prospects in the game, despite drafting so high? Why has JP and others been able to spot these talented players?

Toronto has two picks in the first round of the First-Year Player Draft in June. Obviously, the Jays have their own pick, and they received another first-round pick from the Rangers when Texas signed Frank Catalanotto.

Toronto then has three sandwich picks in the first round — one each for losing Catalanotto, Justin Speier, and Ted Lilly to free agency.

In the second round, the Jays have their regular pick, plus they picked up an additional second-round selection from the Angels due to the Speier signing.

The 2007 draft is projected to be a very deep and talented pool of players. So it’s a great year for Toronto to have seven picks in the opening two rounds.

Also, I edited it in the post, I meant to type that Toronto has 10 of the top 150 picks. 7 in the first two rounds and one each in rounds three, four and five.

JP having lots of draft picks is good to restock the farm system. JP has said he can be more inclined to draft high school players (like Snider last year) with a higher potential ceiling.

Jays really need to some young stud prospects when the big backloaded contracts in the later years come into play for the core. This draft might be make or break in defining if JP is extended after 2010.

I do not like to play the ‘IF’ game but I must. If 2 out of 3 newly aquired pitchers hold up, can we discuss this being the year of the Bluejays? Going back to last year before injuries took Johnson and Rios, we had 4 players in the low .300 and all but the ss in the high .270’s. 4 players with 30+ home run ability hitting in a row. Seems the Yanks and the R-sox need to go across seas to slow us down. I think it is time for some respect.

I think the team has done a remarkable job in putting together a team that can contend without trading away any of our assets. Can we win 95 games? Time will tell, but if we don’t this year, we have a slew of young arms that will be ready next year, plus a lineup with the major pieces locked in. Panic in the streets of Boston? Bring it on!

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