The 2007 season is moving forward without the Toronto Blue Jays. I’m looking forward to watching the Rockies attempt to complete the late-season push toward the playoffs tonight in the sudden-death tilt with the Padres. Given that this year will include a 163rd contest, I’m going to hold off on my year-end award picks until tomorrow.
For now, I’ll take a look back at Toronto’s season and dish out this season’s BA’s — the Bastian Awards.
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Alex Rios
You could make quite a case for second baseman Aaron Hill, but Rios enjoyed a breakout season with the Jays this year. The right fielder hit .297 with 24 homers, 43 doubles and 85 RBIs. Rios might’ve driven in more had he not spent so much time in the leadoff spot early in the year. Now, Toronto manager John Gibbons will wrestle with whether or not Rios or Vernon Wells should be the club’s No. 3 hitter in 2008.
PITCHER OF THE YEAR: Roy Halladay
Once upon a time, Babe Ruth swatted more homers on his own than some teams had as a whole. Well, nowadays, Halladay is logging more complete games as an individual than many teams have combined. Halladay’s Major League-leading seven complete games were more than 26 clubs had as a whole, and three teams didn’t notch a singled CG this season. Even after missing three weeks with an appendectomy, Halladay was near the league lead in innings and he was within striking distance of 20 wins.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Jesse Litsch
Apologies to Adam Lind (11 homers in 89 games) and Brian Wolfe (2.98 EA in 38 games). The 22-year-old Litsch made the jump from Double-A to Toronto’s rotation and he made it look easy at times. Relying on control and a nice changeup, Litsch finished 7-9 with a 3.81 ERA in 20 starts. Litsch had some of the worst run support on the staff, though, so he could’ve easily been a 10-game winner in his first tour of the bigs. Now, Litsch appears to be the leading candidate for Toronto’s fifth spot next year.
RELIEVER OF THE YEAR: Jeremy Accardo
Apologies to left-hander Scott Downs (2.17 ERA in 81 games) and right-hander Casey Janssen (2.35 ERA in 70 games). Accardo was on the bubble in Spring Training and he eventually became a solid replacement for injured closer B.J. Ryan. Accardo notched 30 saves and finished with a 2.14 ERA. Using a nasty splitter, Accardo locked down the ninth inning in Ryan’s absence, and the young righty will likely slip into the setup job when the Jays’ closer returns from the disabled list next year.
BIGGEST SURPRISE: Shaun Marcum
Apologies to Dustin McGowan and Matt Stairs. After posting a 6.06 ERA in 13 relief outings, who would’ve predicted that Marcum would emerge as one of Toronto’s top starters after being moved to the rotation this year? Marcum joined the starting staff and went 11-4 with a 3.91 ERA the rest of the way. McGowan (12-10) likely projects to be the Jays’ No. 3 starter for next season, but Marcum was a true blessing to the pitching staff this year. Those two, combined with Litsch, Halladay and A.J. Burnett give Toronto an intimidating rotation for 2008.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Vernon Wells
The Blue Jays expected more from their center fielder after he enjoyed a huge offensive year in 2006 and subesequently penned his name on a seven-year extension worth $126 million. In ’07, though, Wells hit .245 with 16 homers and 80 RBIs before being shut down with a left shoulder injury. If the Jays have any prayer of seeing their offense return to its 2006 form, the club needs a strong return from Wells, who was signed to be one of the focal points of the lineup.
PLAY OF THE YEAR: Aaron Hill steals home on May 29
Apologies to at least a dozen defensive gems turned in by shortstop John McDonald. On May 29, Hill bolted from third base against the Yankees and successfully recorded a straight steal on New York left-hander Andy Pettitte in a 3-2 Jays win. Prior to the game, third-base coach Brian Butterfield told Hill and the Jays that such a situation might arise against Pettitte. It’s little details like that that might have helped convince Toronto to promote Butterfield to the bench coach job next year.
On to other matters…
Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi — booed by the Rogers Centre faithful during the season finale — sat down with the press on Sunday night to discuss the state of the club.
Here are a few goals he indicated the club has for the offseason:
- Explore potential long-term deals for Rios and Hill
- Look to acquire a veteran backup catcher with a good arm
- Look to acquire a super utility man, possibly via trade
- Maybe add some pitching depth through "reclamation projects"
- Explore whether or not to stick with LF Reed Johnson
- Attempt to re-sign veteran Matt Stairs
- Hire a hitting coach to replace Mickey Brantley
- Work within a payroll of roughly $90 million
Here are some goals Ricciardi said the Blue Jays have for next season:
- Show improvement with patience and situational hitting on offense
- Utilize Wells’ and Rios’ speed more often
Ricciardi said that Adam Lind would likely be more of a "regular" player in 2009, which means he could be back at Triple-A to start next season. Toronto’s GM also added that catcher Curtis Thigpen would probably be back in Triple-A with C Robinzon Diaz, who is "really close" to making it to the bigs.
It doesn’t appear that INF Russ Adams has convinced the Jays that he can be their primary utility man. Ricciardi also said that he told right-hander Brandon League that, "’If you want to be on this team next year you have to make this team.’" Minor League pitcher Brett Cecil is one prospect who Ricciardi said is "on the fast track."
Janssen will be stretched out over the winter, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be converted to a starter. Toronto did the same thing with Janssen last year, just in case he’d emerge as a potential rotation guy. When League and Ryan went down, Janssen moved to the bullpen. It will likely be a similar scenario this coming spring. If Ryan isn’t ready by Opening Day, Janssen will more than likely be a reliever.
Welp, that’s it from me today. I have to gear up for my trip to Cleveland tomorrow. I’ll be blogging throughout the playoffs, so stay tuned. Anyone out there pulling for the Rox tonight?