Toronto Blue Jays 2002 Season Preview
by Barry Swanton
The Blue Jays' new owners, Rogers Communications, brought in J.P. Ricciardi as their new general manager. Ricciardi comes from the Oakland A's organization. He is cut from the same cloth as many of the younger G.M's., who know the bottom line of a ledger sheet. In an effort to slash payroll, he quickly traded shortstop Alex Gonzales, Brad Fullmer and the Jays two best relievers, Billy Koch (2-5, 4.80 ERA) and Paul Quantrill (11-2, 3.04 ERA). Coming to the Blue Jays are a number of good prospects with low salaries.
Ricciardi would like to have traded Raul Mondesi and his salary, but could find no takers. A Mondesi trade could still take place at some point in the season. Vernon Wells, who batted .313 in thirty games, would then move to the outfield. Wells will play some outfield and be the designated hitter. The outfield is not a Blue Jay problem, with Shannon Stewart (.316) and Jose Cruz Jr. (34 home runs) and either Mondesi or Wells.
The Blue Jays problems lie in the infield and pitching. Other than Carlos Delgado (.279, 39 hr, 102 RBI) the infield is full of questions. The Jays will move Felipe Lopez from third base to shortstop, which is his natural position. Ricciardi traded for third baseman Eril Hinske and the position is his to lose. Ricciardi liked him from their days together in Oakland. If Homer Bush falters or is traded the Jays could try highly rated Orlando Hudson at second base.
The pitching staff also has many unanswered questions. Chris Carpenter (11-11, 4.08 ERA) and Roy Halladay (5-3, 3.16 ERA) are two solid starters. Brandon Lyon and Luke Prokopec could fill the number three and four spots in the rotation. Spring training will determine the number five spot. Kelvim Escobar (6-8, 3.50 ERA) could start, but with an inexperienced bullpen he will probably be the teams' closer. The rest of the bullpen spots are up for grabs.
The Blue Jays will have a tough time repeating their third place finish
of last season. Depending on how the team does, Buck Martinez could
be looking over his shoulder. He was hired under the Gord Ash regime
and G.M's like to hire their own managerial staff. Pitching and the
performance of the young players will determine Buck's fate and where
the Jays will finish.
Ten Years Ago...
Our Blue Jays Preview from April 1992, by Tina Kahee:
Strengths and Weaknesses: Strengths are Joe Carter, the most underrated slugger of today. Devon White, with wings on his feet and glue in his glove. Dave Winfield, the ultimate DH who can still play outfield. Roberto Alomar, the best all around second baseman in the AL. Kelly Gruber, my comeback of the year candidate, if his hand is healed (Gaston accused him of dogging it last year). John Olerud, 1B, now ready for the stardom he was hyped for in 1990.
Pitching-Jack Morris becomes the instant ace of an already strong staff, including Key, Todd Stottlemyre & Juan Guzman. If Dave Steib returns to form it will be a runaway. If not, whose staff is better anyway? Relief-Tom Henke, the Terminator. Duane Ward and David Wells, who was plopped into the rotation and may start again if one of the others comes up short.
Weaknesses: Catching platoon is only average. The bench isn't real strong. They need more runs; only 11th in runs scored in '91. A healthy Gruber, a seasoned Olerud and the effervescent Winfield should help.
Outlook:-Best ball club in the American League. Will hold their own against Dodgers, Pirates, Reds, Mets, or whoever wins NL. Yeteran winners Winfield and Morris will put them over the top.
Perspective: Over the past five years, only those Oakland
A's have a higher won-loss percentage. Nine straight winning
years, longest run in majors. 3 AL East titles ir years, 3
times finished 2 games out. First club to hit four million
in attendance, an average of about 50,000 per game to watch
the Jays at home.
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