Join Screaming Sports & Sports Grumblings Staff Writer Kevin Burgoyne, AKA Statistocrat Continues to review the team as it stands, what it's done in the offseason, and where they are going. Watch out for the Fantasy Corner at the end of the article.

Roster Decisions

Recently Departed

With 2007 and all it’s hopes of contending for an American League East gone, the Blue Jays and J.P. Ricciardi are in the process of preparing for another run against the two of the highest payrolls in baseball, the Yankees and the Red Sox.

There were several players that left the organization, most of which were signed by other teams, however, most of which are not considered to have any real impact on the team or fantasy-wise. UT Howie Clark was signed November 22, 2007 by the Minnesota Twins, getting the invite to spring training; 40-man roster OF John-Ford Griffin was signed and invited to the Los Angeles Dodgers spring training; and 3B Ryan Roberts was signed by Texas, also getting a spring training invitation.

The only real player of note comes via a recent trade. Troy Glaus came to the Blue Jays with hopes of reviving his career and establishing himself as an all-star caliber third baseman.

Unfortunately, as has been the case over the past three years, Glaus had a big pop at the plate, little to do in the batting average department, and invested a lengthy amount of time on the disabled list.

Sticking Around

The team made only two attempts to invest in departing players. The ageless Matt Stairs (OF) was re-signed to a two-year deal on November 2, 2007. Matt had a career year with similar statistical output as he did in 2003 when he was with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The only other player to receive an invite back the team, in the form of a spring trainee invitation, was C Sal Fasano on December 14, 2007. Most of the work to rebuild the team came via free agency.

New Additions

Knowing that they needed to add depth to the line-up, the Toronto Blue Jays have made several roster moves to try and solidify their offense, bringing more consistency. Although Aaron Hill did a great job filling in at both shortstop and second base, it was apparent that he was more comfortable playing second base. To demonstrate their desire for more consistency in the line-up, the team signed 2006 World Series MVP SS David Eckstein to a one-year deal.

They also added an excellent utility infielder Marco Scutaro. Marco spent the better part of four years in the Oakland organization. Although he does not bring tremendous speed or power, what he does is bring more versatility to the infield, allowing players to rest without losing anything too significant in the line-up.

The biggest splash they have made this off-season occurred when the team announced the 3B switch with the St. Louis Cardinals. The team, seeking more consistency at the plate, opted for limited bat strength for better average and on-base percentage, acquiring perennial gold glove 3B Scott Rolen. The Cardinals needed a big bat and the Blue Jays needed consistency. This deal appears as a “win-win” for both organizations. Each upgraded their line-up in a way that makes them more viable and each traded away an injury-prone third baseman.

Down on the Farm

The Blue Jays have several talented young prospects in their organization; however, the most prominent of them have all ready made the leap to the big leagues in 2007. In his first full season, Dustin McGowan accrued some impressive numbers, 12 wins, giving 169 innings and 144 strikeouts. Rookie SP Jesse Litsch also put together some very promising starts. If it had not been for the lack of run production out of their batting line-up, there would have been more opportunity to post wins, allowing this young staff to gain more confidence as the season went on.

Another fine addition to the major league team was 2B/SS Aaron Hill. Hill made a big splash in the fantasy world in 2007. Although technically in his third season, Aaron went the common practice of being called up and down throughout the 2005 and 2006 season. In ’07, however, he secured himself as a starter and responded by pushing out 17 homeruns, 87 runs and 78 runs batted in. Hill, batting an impressive .291 was one of the bright spots outside of the young pitchers that established themselves.

Many of the prospects are at least a year away. The organization’s top prospect is OF Travis Snider. Snider spent the majority of the year playing for the Lansing Lugnuts. Travis reeled off 16 homeruns, 93 runs batted in, and 72 runs all while batting .313. Although he stole only 3 bases, his 7 triples and 35 doubles surely lend itself to great power potential.

Beyond Travis, there are two stand out prospects that are on many teams radars, that being 3B Kevin Ahrens, selected 16th overall in 2007. The organization has prided itself on its ability to evaluate talent. This is never more evident than when we turn our thoughts on LHP Brett Cecil. This flame-throwing closer is surely making a name for him in the organization. This kid is all ready throwing a slider that is considered to be major league quality. With the pitching situation in desperate need of a face lift, Cecil is the most likely to make the roster.

Where to Next?

This team is posed for a third place finish in the division as they will not be able to hang with the Red Sox and Yankees all season, however, they very well could land the second spot, with the either the Yankees or the Sox taking the other position. The Tigers, Angels, Indians, Yankees, and Red Sox are more than likely to be in the top five teams in the American League, however, the White Sox, Blue Jays, and Twins will all be competitive enough to make a “National League”-like run for the playoffs.

There are a lot of “ifs” associated with this thinking, starting with the health of Scott Rolens (Can he stay healthy?), the return of B.J. Ryan (absolute steal in the draft if he makes it to spring training), and whether Vernon Wells can bounce back to his previous three years worth of statistical output. The team’s weakest positions are the middle relief, with young setup man Jeremy Accardo, Casey Jannsen, and the veteran Scott Downs expected to shoulder the bulk of the load, as well as the catcher. Veteran Greg Zaun will likely see the majority of playing time with Sal Fasano will likely backing him up, receiving more time than most back-ups due to the age of Zaun.

The last “if” is a big one. Can A.J. Burnett stay healthy? When he is, he is one hard-throwing right hander…when he is not; he is one of the most expensive paperweights on the payroll. I expect Aaron Hill to continue to produce homeruns, increasing to the early to mid-twenties, along with at least 90 runs batted in, making him one of the best draft day sleepers at the second base position.

The infield is wrought with solid fielders. Eckstein and Rolens will yield high-percentage fielding average. Hill should see a decrease in errors as he grows accustomed to learning the fielding routines of one position and Overbay will continue to be better than average.

Will this team stay healthy and consistent enough to make a run for the playoffs? Only time will tell.

Fantasy Corner

3 Fantasy Keepers:

1. Alex Rios – Watch out, ladies and gentlemen! This five-tool athlete turns the magic “27” next month. Anyone who is involved with fantasy baseball is aware of what that means to a productive baseball player. Alex is primed for a 30-100-100-25 year. With Rolens, Wells, Stairs, and Overbay around him in the line-up, especially with Eckstein in front of him, this should be a career year for Rios. Draft him early and often, regardless of what the “experts” say.

2. Dustin McGowan – Towards the end of the season, Dustin actually got stronger, including a complete game, 9 strikeout effort against the eventual World Series Champion Boston Red Sox. McGowan had his magic “27” year last year but that should have no affect on where to project this kid over the coming years. He will be well worth the value as a keeper in any league.

3. Jeremy Accardo – Filling in for the injured B.J. Rayn, Jeremy amassed 30 saves, 4 wins, an ERA of 2.14, and struck out 127. Whether Ryan is ready to go or not, Jeremy will play a big part in the success of this ball club for years to come. His WHIP will improve as it did throughout the ’07 season, showing that he is a value at the relief pitcher position (once all the top closers are gone, of course.)

3 Fantasy Sleepers

1. Vernon Wells – Like Andruw Jones, Wells had career lows in almost every statistical category. With the “short term” memory of most fantasy GMs, it is imperative that you draft him where YOU think his value is, not where the books/magazines you poor over prior to your draft say his value is. I believe that he will post his typical 80+ runs, 30+ homeruns, and 100+ RBI. He will also nab you 15-20 steals, raising his batting average in line with his previous marks (.280+), making him an ideal sleeper in a 5X5 league.

2. Aaron Hill – Although he may not qualify for both SS & 2B as he did in ’07, the truth be told, with a .290 batting average, 18-20 homeruns, 80-80 or better potential at runs-runs batted in, and is fast enough to swipe 10-12 bases, he will be an absolute bargain towards the tail end of your draft.

3. Scott Rolen – Yes, he is likely to only play in 140 games…and Yes, he did have to significant injuries in the past five years. BUT… the injuries have never been back to back and, he still can knock out 25 homeruns, give you near 90-90 production at runs/runs batted in, and will give you a boost at the batting average, having a lifetime average of .280+.

Next: MLB Hot Stove: Baltimore Orioles, Sunday, January 20, 2007

Previous MLB Hot Stove Articles: New York Yankees Boston Red Sox

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