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Jays’ Season Finishes at Par

Posted By Ben Fisher On Sep 29 2011 @ 1:04 pm In Toronto Blue Jays | 1 Comment

What Happened

For a club that saw so much change over the course of their 162-game season, it’s oddly ironic that the Blue Jays’ (81-81) 2011 record finishes at .500. In their final series of the year, the under-manned Jays were flummoxed by Chicago pitching (Toronto managed just seven runs and 17 hits over the three games) and came within a ninth inning collapse by Chris Sale in Wednesday’s finale of being swept (a much less significant ninth inning comeback than some other results last night, mind you).

A Closer Look

The Year-End Awards: Seeing as how we’re in the business of the Blue Jays here, these awards are my recognition of the organization’s best and worst rather than the league, which you’ll find no shortage of people weighing in on (although, for the record, Cabrera and Fielder for MVP, Verlander and Kershaw for Cy Young, Hellickson and Kimbrel for Rookie of the Year). Bringing it back to Toronto, the early favourites (Jose Bautista and Ricky Romero) stayed the course as the hitting and pitching leaders, but were joined by some surprises. Bautista did everything he could to fulfill his five-year, $65 million contract and followed up a breakout 2010 campaign with an arguably better-rounded one. Yes, he won the home run race for the second straight year (at a 43-dinger clip that paled in comparison to his 2010 mark of 54), but he also improved his batting average by 44 points, his OBP by 71 points and his OPS by 65 points. No other Jays hitter came close to matching those numbers, although Yunel Escobar excelled, Edwin Encarnacion found some surprising consistency and J.P. Arencibia, Brett Lawrie and Eric Thames added some pop in their rookie seasons. Romero cemented his ace status with a 2.92 ERA (even if a lack of run support left him with just a 15-11 record) and served as the bright light in an otherwise disappointing rotation. His chief competition for the team’s best pitcher of 2011 came from Casey Janssen, who was a rock in the bullpen with a 6-0 record and a 2.30 ERA on the year. The three-man rookie race was a surprise given that two candidates (Lawrie and Thames) weren’t expected to factor into 2011 and the pre-season favourite (Kyle Drabek) floundered and wasn’t even part of the discussion. Still, Arencibia gets the nod for 23 home runs (one off Eric Hinske’s team rookie record) while learning the ropes at baseball’s toughest position, which helps me overlook his atrocious .219 average and .282 OBP.

The Morrow Enigma: So it goes with Brandon Morrow that he closed out the season with three stellar starts in which he held the Yankees, Rays and White Sox to a combined two runs over 21 innings of work. The 27-year old also pushed his K total for the season to 203, becoming the fourth Blue Jay pitcher to reach the 200-strikeout plateau (Roy Halladay did it three times, Roger Clemens did it twice and A.J. Burnett reached the mark in 2008). Of course, none of that takes away from the fact that an 11-11 record with a 4.72 ERA simply doesn’t cut it as a No. 2 starter on a team hoping to rise into playoff contention. Such is the frustrating paradox of Morrow: the talent’s there, but can he ever fully harness it? We’ve all heard the rumours about his potential conversion to closer for next season, but the former Mariner is simply too valuable as a starter to take such an abrupt shift in his development this early. I see him staying in the 2012 rotation, but then the question becomes what can be expected of him and, accordingly, what changes need to be made around him. The free agent market is fairly barren beyond C.J. Wilson and Mark Buehrle (who shut down the Jays over seven innings on Tuesday) and any potential trade for a frontline starter would cost multiple prospects and maybe even some major league-ready talent. Conversely, no in-house solutions seem to be forcing their way into full-time duty, with Kyle Drabek taking a step back in 2011 and none of Deck McGuire, Chad Jenkins, Aaron Sanchez et al are ready for the bigs. No one knows what the off-season will bring, but Toronto can’t sell themselves as a serious 2012 contender with a front three of Romero-Morrow-Brett Cecil again.

Rating the Call-ups: It’s always tough being a September call-up, being given a month of uncertain playing time to prove your value at the major league level. Still, the reality of the situation is that major league roster spots are at a premium and seeing those rosters expand on September 1 represents a rare opening for MLB hopefuls. As always, the 2011 group was a mixed bag of talent with a couple impressing, several disappointing and plenty more not making much of a dent either way. Technically, the Jays had seven September call-ups (Kyle Drabek, Dustin McGowan, Adam Loewen, David Cooper, Chad Beck, Brad Mills and Danny Farquhar), but we’ll toss August recalls Henderson Alvarez and Joel Carreno into the mix as well. Of that group, Alvarez and Carreno made the biggest impacts and probably secured themselves 2012 jobs as a starter and reliever, respectively. McGowan’s comeback from three years of injury frustration offered a heart-warming late-season story, but the cruel reality remains that he didn’t comport himself well enough (0-2, 6.43) to earn any 2012 guarantees. Drabek wasn’t any better in September than he was earlier in the year and will start a suddenly-critical 2012 season in the minors. Meanwhile, Beck, Farquhar and Mills combined for just 4.1 innings of work, with Beck looking promising the other two disappointing. Among the two slugger call-ups, Cooper put up some solid numbers but still faces a major road block in Adam Lind in his bid for full-time duty and Loewen tailed off dramatically at the end of the season (one for his last 18) and may have to find work elsewhere this winter.

The Other Guys: White Sox GM and former Jay Kenny Williams has an interesting off-season ahead of him. First step is finding a replacement for new Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen (Williams has said he hopes to have someone in place by the World Series). Then, he’ll have to figure out what to do with a group of pending free agents that includes Buehrle, Carlos Quentin, Juan Pierre and Omar Vizquel. He will also be looking for ways to continue supplementing a youth movement that has guys like Gordon Beckham, Chris Sale, Tyler Flowers, Zach Stewart, Dylan Axelrod and Alejandro De Aza taking on bigger roles, all the while figuring out what to do with the aging A.J. Pierzynski and expensive busts Alex Rios and Adam Dunn.

Up Next

Look for plenty of off-season coverage from me on the team that SI’s Jon Heyman recently reported “will be big players this winter”, including some off-season questions pieces coming down the pipe shortly.

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