Toronto Blue Jays Fantasy Report
After taking the final two games of their three-game set in Yankee Stadium, the Toronto Blue Jays have moved to 70-66, a pace that should allow them to match or pass their 83-win total in 2007.
Clearly, however, the team needs an upgrade offensively and probably more pitching (pending off-season developments) before it truly has hope of battling for one of the top two spots in the American League East.
The return of Manager Cito Gaston has definitely helped. Five games under .500 when they finally tied a can to John Gibbons on June 20, the Jays have gone 35-26 under Gaston, spurring them to commit to the two-time World Series Champion manager for 2009.
A.J. Burnett has been a much-improved pitcher in the second half, and while he avoided being dealt as had been expected, he’s clearly nearing the end of his tenure in Toronto. Although he hasn’t been as dominating as he was in 2007, Burnett has stayed healthy, shattering his career high in wins along the way. Replacing him in 2009 won’t be easy…or cheap.
Shaun Marcum looked like he was an integral part of the rotation in the first half, enjoying a major breakthrough until hurting his elbow and absolutely sucking since. A week and a half ago, the Jays decided they had seen enough and dispatched him to Triple-A to work on his delivery. Well, in his first start at Triple-A Syracuse last week, Marcum scattered five hits and three earned runs in seven innings, striking out nine and walking just two, so I’d suggest keeping an eye on him. If he turns in another outing like that for Syracuse, he’ll be back with the Jays as a September callup and since he’s been dropped in plenty of leagues, he’s definitely someone to consider. Remember, this dude was a top 75 pitcher heading into 2008.
Dustin McGowan started the season like gangbusters, but he deteriorated as the year progressed, finally succumbing to season-ending shoulder surgery in late July. He’s expected to be ready to begin 2009 on schedule, so will likely fly under the radar on draft day next season.
Despite some serious inconsistency, I still don’t get why Jesse Litsch is largely being shunned in most fantasy leagues. Sure, July was butt ugly, but look what he did in August – 1-1 with a 1.37 ERA. I know he doesn’t fan very many (even with an increase of half a strikeout per nine innings this season), but he can definitely be a help in 4×4 leagues.
Meanwhile, Roy Halladay just keeps doing his thing. He’s won his last four starts and even though he wasn’t dominating – by his standards – in the last three, Doc still put up a 4-1, 1.96 August. That’ll do. Clearly, he’s right in the mix for a second Cy Young award.
Assuming Jeremy Accardo can return healthy in 2009, the Jays look set in the bullpen, already a major strength (the team’s collective bullpen ERA of 2.92 is head and shoulders better than any other AL club).
Vernon Wells returned from his hamstring-induced DL stint like a man possessed, smashing five homers and batting .313 over the final three weeks of August. Staying healthy has proved to be a challenge for Wells this season, but his power and batting average have both made tremendous recoveries after he suffered through the worst season of his career in 2007.
Alex Rios looked like he was really hitting his stride last month before slumping somewhat over the past week. Still, since the All-Star break, he’s stepped up his game, batting .295 and finally rediscovering his power stroke. Rios has proved extremely durable the past couple of seasons, but far too many of his career-high 24 homers in 2007 have turned back into doubles this year, and that’s obviously hurt his overall productivity. From a fantasy perspective, this has been mitigated to a large extent by a breakthrough in the stolen base department, as he shattered his previous best in this category. My biggest disappointment as far as Rios goes is the regression in his on-base skills. Imagine how many steals he’d have if he were still getting on base over 35 per cent of the time. He needs to improve this area before I consider him an elite outfielder.
A recent skid by Adam Lind has caused quite a few fantasy owners to set him adrift, but he’s still been a very different player since the All-Star break, batting almost .300 with more power. I think Lind is going to surprise a hell of a lot of people in 2009, assuming he gets his 500 at bats. Think a .300 BA with upwards of 25 homers and around 85 to 90 RBI (depending on where he’s hitting in the batting order). I’m naming him an early sleeper for 2009.
One player Toronto management will be watching very closely down the stretch is young Travis Snider. Just 20 years old, Snider was brought up after Matt Stairs got dispatched to Philly last week, and he is an integral part of the Jays’ future. If he proves he can handle a big league job this month, look for this top prospect to be heavily in the LF/DH mix for 2009.
On Sunday, Scott Rolen showed some signs of life in his second game back from his latest DL stint, going yard for the first time since August 1, shortly before he got hurt. Obviously, his shoulder has been a serious issue in the second half, but September should tell us much about whether he’s capable of being a factor going forward. If you’re still holding on to him, wait and see before considering activating him; if he’s out there in your league (which is very likely), keep an eye on Rolen – he could be an asset in September if that shoulder is finally sound (which is doubtful).