Toronto Blue Jays 2004 Season PreviewBy Dean Swanton
JAYS' MOTTO FOR 2004, DON'T FORGET ABOUT US!"
While the eyes of the baseball world were glued to the Yankees and the Red Sox trying to one-up each other this winter, Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi was quietly improving the pitching staff of a team that won 86 games in 2003.
The starting rotation will be anchored by 26 year old ace Roy Halladay who posted a 22-7 record on his way to the AL Cy Young award. Ricciardi dipped into the free agent pool and signed right-hander Miguel Batista, previously with the Diamondbacks. He also benefited from a good working relationship with Oakland GM Billy Beane and acquired lefty Ted Lilly. Former Cy Young winner Pat Hengten has been brought back and should compliment a staff that should be better than the 2003 version.
The bullpen will feature many new faces including Justin Speir (Colorado) and Kerry Lightenberg (Baltimore). Both will compete for the closer's role along with Aquilino Lopez, who along with Halladay are the only two pitchers returning from last year's opening day roster. There is an assortment of names that will provide set-up relief that include Jason Kershner and, Valerio de los Santos and Terry Adams. Although the bullpen is a question mark, the Jays are hoping that spring training yields some pleasant surprises.
Toronto's high octane offense will once again be lead by first baseman Carlos Delgado and center fielder Vernon Wells. Both are coming off huge seasons which saw the pair combine for 262 RBI. Eric Hinske looks to rebound from a sophomore season which saw him miss time due to injury and one that produced only 12 HR and and 63 RBI.
Kevin Cash will see increased playing time behind the dish as he settles into his role as the Blue Jays everyday catcher. Veteran Greg Myers will be back again to ease Cash into that role.
The middle infield will once again feature second baseman Orlando Hudson and shortstop Chris Woodward. Both are defensively solid.
In the outfield, Wells will be centered between Reed Johnson and Frank Catalanotto. Throw in Josh Phelps in the DH spot and Toronto sports a high powered offense that ranked in the top three in the American League in most offensive categories in 2003.
Carlos Tosca returns for his second full season as Blue Jays' manager. Tosca is clearly on the same page as Ricciardi as the team prepares to do battle in the tough AL east. J.P Ricciardi has done a remarkable job in his two years in Toronto. The organization has improved both on and off the field under Ricciardi's guidance.They might not have the resources of the Yankees or the Red Sox but the Blue Jays will certainly make some noise on the field in 2004.
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