AL East Mailbag: Toronto Blue Jays Fly South for the Winter

Kyle deManincorCorrespondent IFebruary 3, 2009

It seems the 2009 season will be even more competitive in the AL East than it was last year.

The Rays, Red Sox, and of course, the Yankees, all bolstered their rosters, making life very difficult for the "guys" with the Canadian money. The "guys" I am referring to are the Toronto Blue Jays.

After watching the Yanks steal A.J. Burnett from their grasp, the Jays had to bare witness to a more horrifying site as the Bronx Bombers added C.C. Sabathia and Mark Teixeira. The Red Sox signed about 100 guys to a one-year contract, including big names like John Smoltz, Brad Penny, and Rocco Baldelli.

Meanwhile, the Rays weren't content after winning the AL Championship, adding Pat Burrell to beef up the middle of their lineup. Even the lowly Orioles did more than the Jays, making numerous deals in an attempt to get somewhat better.

All of this leaves the Jays, the only AL team not to sign a major-league free agent this winter, with many questions as they head into the 2009 campaign.

1. Does Roy Halladay have enough support behind him in the starting rotation?

All signs point to no at this point.  Losing Burnett will surely hurt the Jays, and to make matters worse, Shaun Marcum will miss the entire season after having Tommy John Surgery, and Dustin McGowan will be out until at least May.

That leaves Halladay, the work horse, all alone. The Jays will need him to win 20 games in order to stay alive. The rest of the rotation includes Jesse Litsch, David Purcey, Casey Janssen, and their top free-agent pick-up this off-season, Matt Clement. A far cry from the league's number one pitching staff last season.

2. Can Vernon Wells provide enough power in the heart of the Jays' lineup?

Faced with numerous injuries in recent years, it doesn't seem likely that Wells can be the guy in Toronto. He just doesn't have enough around him, and his high propensity to swing at the first pitch doesn't help either. The guy is tough as nails though, and gives his all every game.

He seems to be on the decline from his monster season in 2006, and like his years with Carlos Delgado, Wells needs another power hitter in the lineup. The Jays just don't have that right now. Alex Rios seemed to have lost his power surge last year, and without another punch in the lineup, teams aren't afraid to attack Wells.

3. Will the Jays regret not upgrading at the SS position?

This is a no-brainer. As good of a player as John McDonald is, the Jays will most definitely regret not upgrading at that position. Johnny Mac, a fan-favorite and a tremendous defensive player, just doesn't provide enough offense.

He hit .210 last year with one home-run. For the Jays, that's not going to cut it by any means. They had a chance to get Rafael Furcal and missed out on him. Orlando Cabrera's name was floating around, but the Jays chose not to shop him. Another missed opportunity.

4. Is Travis Snider ready to make his mark on the league?

Not yet...But watch out for this kid in the near future. He's only 21, and made a big impact in the 24 games he played in last year. He certainly is a big part of the Jays' future, and there is no point in rushing him.

5. Can the Jays stay healthy?

This seems to be the question every year for the Jays. The answer...always the same. In fact, the Jays are already dealing with injuries to Marcum and McGowan, and another setback to the pitching staff could completely demoralize this team. 

Aaron Hill is coming back from a serious season-ending concussion, and could be a productive bat in the Jays' lineup. Wells is likely to miss some games here and there, and there is no guarantee B.J. Ryan's arm will hold up like it did last year. All in all, it would be a tremendous accomplishment if the Jays were to avoid a major injury.

So for all you Jays' fans out there, including myself, it may be best not to set the bar too high for the 2009 season, and hope that the young guys develop and the veterans stay healthy.