I'll try to remain objective.
It's coming. It's not there yet, but it's coming. At the absolute worst, this team will not be bad for several years, but there are a lot of question marks. I think next season is the real goal for contention, and whatever happens this year is gravy. There are certainly some star players on this club, and a lot of other established, above-average guys, to the point where this team would probably win or contend in all 5 of the divisions that they aren't in. I certainly think that they'd win the NL Central and West, and could contend for Wild Card or better in the other three divisions as is. The obvious problem is that they are in the AL East, and are the 4th best team in the division.
Among those aforementioned question marks are:
- CF Colby Rasmus, who is coming off a terrible year, in which he went from an up-and-coming potential all-star to being traded for 2 months of a league-average starter and 2 relievers.
- LF Travis Snider/Eric Thames, one of whom hasn't found a way to harness all the potential, the other of whom is probably right around his ceiling at the age of 25.
- A starting rotation that consists of a guy who severely outperformed his peripheral stats (Romero), another who has never performed to match his peripheral stats (Morrow), a 22 year old (Alvarez), a guy coming off a terrible season, in which he was demoted after diminished velocity and control (Cecil), and a blank space for the #5.
- A 1B/DH platoon made up of a guy who was DFA'ed last offseason (EE) and a guy who has put up OBP's less than .300 in two straight seasons.
Obviously, we can look at guys like Bautista, Escobar and Lawrie, and just say that everything is fine, but in reality, this team isn't good enough to win in this division. The good news is that there is a creative GM running the show, who just seems to pull rabbit after rabbit out of his hat when you least expect it. There is still room in the offseason to go find an impact starting pitcher (or at the trade deadline), and there are encouraging signs in each of the question marks listed above.
What haven't I said about this minor league system? It's awesome. But here's something I was thinking about the other day: When is the last time the Jays drafted and developed a prospect of their own in to a superstar? Roy Halladay is pretty much the only one I can think of. This organization has had way more busts than bursts in the last 15 years: Thigpen, Phelps, Adams, Roberts, Cooper, Ahrens, Jackson... most of the really, really good prospects that this organization gets come through trade (and even then, look at Drabek since he came to the Jays' system).
I begin to wonder if there is something wrong with the development staff in this organization (I should note that I have no idea what kind of turnover there has been in the last few years), because even guys that we have now haven't turned in to superstars; Lind had one good season, Hill had two, Wells fell off a cliff, Rios fell off a cliff, Jayson Werth and Chris Carpenter only had good careers after leaving Toronto.
I realize that prospects fizzle all the time, and that some players decline faster than others, or just need a change of scenery, or whatever. And I'm sure that I'm forgetting someone somewhere, but the point remains. Obviously there's more to it than just not developing properly (scouting, drafting, etc.), which may have been addressed in the Ricciardi->Anthopoulos regime change in the form of increased international spending/draft budget/scouting hires, so maybe I'm complaining about nothing here.
Anyway, yeah, really good farm system. It should be easy enough to find regulars out of a pool of 30 grade B-or-better prospects.
Not this year. This is more of a growth year, in my opinion. Figure out what Rasmus really is, figure out if Drabek can come back, get a year of experience to all the young guys, and so on. That wealth of prospects that AA has built up can be turned in to more elite talent through trades if need be. The party is sure to be over for the Yankees and Red Sox sooner or later, with all of those big contracts moving in to their later years (Age 38-42 ARod, for example), and this time they can only kind of spend their way out of the hole, thanks to the new CBA. Full seasons of Rasmus, Johnson, Alvarez and Lawrie are massive upgrades over what was there before (Patterson, Hill, Jojo Reyes, and whatever you want to call the hybrid of April-to-June Edwin/Jayson Nix/John Mcdonald/Mike Mccoy).
Projection*- 83-79, 4th in the AL East.