Our team-by-team preview of the 2012 MLB season from a fantasy perspective continues today with the Toronto Blue Jays. If you've just jumped on with our series or need a reminder, we are spending a day with each major league team, looking at 9 different fantasy angles for each franchise while also paying homage to the things we watch for as real life fans. The hope is that through this exercise we might all come to a greater understanding of the various environments that contain the players we spend so much time obsessing over. Fantasy baseball would be a lot easier if these guys played in a vacuum, but since they don't, it's a good idea to learn as much as we can about the circumstances that affect their play.
Make sure you check out Kenneth Arthur's spotlight on various Blue Jays players, scheduled to post later today. Our series will continue tomorrow with the Chicago White Sox.
2011 in Review & 2012 Outlook
The Toronto Blue Jays embodied mediocrity in 2011. They finished an even 81-81 and were never more than 4 games over .500, nor were they ever more than 5 games below. They scored almost as many runs as they gave up. They ranked close to the league average in virtually every hitting, pitching, and fielding category. They even made two trades on July 27 that can only be described as yawn-inducing. The Blue Jays are middle of the pack by almost every measure, and they play in a division that does not reward the ordinary, no matter how many wild card spots there might be.
Moving forward, Toronto seems to be trending up, but should we be expecting a complete renaissance in 2012? A full season of Brett Lawrie at the hot corner will certainly help, but the projected starting lineup and rotation is made up entirely of players who were on the roster last year. There are several players who could take a step forward, but at some point somebody besides Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie in his second year will have to shoulder the load. Otherwise, another 81-81 finish is a distinct possibility.
Rogers Centre is an almost dome with a symmetrical AstroTurf field that also happens to be a hitter's environment. RC was the fourth best park for scoring runs in 2011, and it will continue to be so until the Jays can move into a home that doesn't feature a floating pitcher's mound that can be removed whenever Disney on Ice comes to town.
Manager & Coaching Staff
The Blue Jays think highly enough of John Farrell (or at least his market value) that they asked for Clay Buchholz when the Red Sox wanted to interview him this offseason. He is a smart, non-traditional manager that takes calculated risks and shuffles his players in and out of games well. You can be confident that he's not going to cough up a win for Romero or Morrow by mismanaging the bullpen, and it's a good bet that his hitters are not going to give away outs on purpose. From the perspective of a fantasy manager, it's good to have Farrell in the league.
Expected Position Battles
Left field will be patrolled by either Eric Thames or Travis Snider in 2012. Thames has more success at the major league level, but Snider has the potential to be a solid fantasy contributor one day as well. Whoever wins could be a nice late round find, with Thames providing power potential and Snider some speed.
Omar Vizquel is trying to break into the team as a utility man, and since the position is so shallow league-wide, he'll provide fantasy value in deep AL-only leagues if he's successful just by virtue of being able to hit his weight.
Projected Lineup & Rotation
Yunel Escobar - SS
Kelly Johnson - 2B
Jose Bautista - RF
Adam Lind - 1B
Edwin Encarnacion - DH
Colby Rasmus - CF
Brett Lawrie - 3B
Thames/Snider - LF
Arencibia - C
If Kenny doesn't list Brett Lawrie as his potential disappointment later today, I'm going to be disappointed. If you're paying the going rate for Lawrie in a typical league, you're paying for his ceiling. Paying peak value is a risky strategy at best, especially when you're dealing with a young player heading into his first full major league season.
Ricky Romero | Brandon Morrow | Brett Cecil | Henderson Alvarez | Dustin McGowan
Brandon Morrow should induce more than one double play this year, especially if the infield stays healthy and Encarnacion stays at DH. One-time golden boy Kyle Drabek can step in as the sixth man if necessary.
Francisco Cordero was the big loser of this offseason's closer carousel, as he landed in Toronto without a closing job. He'll be the 8th inning guy for Sergio Santos, who came over from the White Sox in a trade. Santos is a high-strikeout, relatively high walk kind of pitcher, so snag him if you need strikeouts but avoid if rate stats are a concern.
Potential Fantasy Sleepers
My definition of sleeper and yours may vary. I use the term to refer to a player who may be undervalued, no matter his current or expected draft position.
As I mentioned above, Brandon Morrow was pretty darn unlucky when it came to the defense behind him making outs. His ERA-xFIP alone (1.19) should be enough to expect some regression, and I also like that he's developed a cutter. The extra outs he produces should allow him to post a higher innings total, meaning his strikeouts will go to work for you. I believe a true breakout season is in order.
Spring Storylines to Watch
Toronto has plenty of prospects and former prospects that merit a look. Are J.P. Arencibia's days in Canada already numbered? Can Kyle Drabek ever not walk people? Could Anthony Gose push for a September callup?
Follow the Team
MLB.com beat reporter: Gregor Chisolm (Blog | Twitter)
National Post beat reporter (Featuring some truly fantastic Twitpics): John Lott (Blog | Twitter)
Toronto Sun beat reporter: Bob Elliott (Blog | Twitter)
SBN: Bluebird Banter (Blog | Twitter)
Know of any other sites or Twitter accounts that deserve a mention? Let me know in the comments.