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Published:December 13th, 2006 10:30 EST
Blue Jays Gains in 2006 in Jeopardy

Blue Jays Gains in 2006 in Jeopardy

By Tyler Collins

With baseball’s winter meetings over, Canada’s team, the Toronto Blue Jays find themselves in a considerable bind. Free agency has depleted their bullpen and starting rotation, and questionable signings by their General Manager has led many to believe Toronto may find itself nestled into its familiar spot of third place next fall.

The Toronto Blue Jays are among a small minority of teams (along with Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Milwaukee) who have yet to make the playoffs in the era of the 8-team format. Last season it appeared the New York-Boston stronghold on the American League East was about to crumble. For the first time since their second World Series title in 1993, the Jays finished higher than third place. Strong seasons from Roy Halladay, B.J. Ryan, Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay brought excitement back to Hogtown. The consensus among fans at the season’s end was that 2007 would see the Jays return to the playoffs; after all, the only holes to be filled were a solid starter and a shortstop. Unfortunately, due to the bizarre off-season strategy employed thus far by Toronto’s front office, the buzz the team created last year is all but gone.

Toronto’s off-season targets were largely believed to be shortstop Julio Lugo, and right-hander Gil Meche. Therefore, when General Manager J.P. Ricciardi signed Oakland’s DH, Frank Thomas, to a two-year, $18 million contract, many wheelers and dealers in the Major Leagues were found scratching their heads. After all, Toronto’s offence was among the best in the Majors last year, led by slugger Troy Glaus, contact-hitter Reed Johnson, and franchise cornerstone Vernon Wells. The $9 million allotted to Thomas reduced Toronto’s off-season spending capability considerably. As a result, Julio Lugo became too pricey, and signed with Boston. Ricciardi filled his shortstop hole by signing 37-year old Royce Clayton, who will team with incumbent shortstop John MacDonald. The pair combined for five homeruns and a collective .235 batting average last year.

The pitching situation is equally unsettled. As of December 12, Toronto has three reliable starters in Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, and Gustavo Chacin. Ricciardi lost out on free agents Ted Lilly and Gil Meche, and as a result may consider trading franchise player Vernon Wells to shore up his rotation. In-house solutions include Shaun Marcum and Casey Janssen, who were largely inconsistent in 2006, and former starter Josh Towers, who was demoted to Triple-A Syracuse last season after going 1-9 with a horrendous 8.42 ERA. 

If one thing is clear for Toronto, it is that a great deal of creativity will be needed for the remainder of the off-season if they are to compete with the Yankees and Red sox in 2007. Both clubs have already re-loaded their already impressive teams. As for General Manager J.P. Ricciardi, 2007 may be his final kick at the cat. Another non-playoff year may see J.P. and his ‘Moneyball’ philosophy take the long road out of T.O.