Same ol’ manager… but the times are much different. Manager Cito Gaston was at the helm of the last two Jays teams to win the World Series way back in 1992 and 1993. At that time, the Toronto club was the big spender in baseball and was able to attract top free agent talent like Dave Winfield. General manager Pat Gillick was able to engineer some outstanding trades, such as the deal with San Diego that landed both Joe Carter and Roberto Alomar. The club was also well known as the leader in signing and developing international talent.
Over the years, though, all of those strengths slowly faded away as the club’s fan base, revenue and budget eroded. Gaston was re-signed as the club’s manager during the 2008 season and this year will mark his last as manager (He’s shifting to consultant beginning in 2011). The 2010 season marks a new direction for the club with a new sheriff in town: Alex Anthopoulos, a young inexperienced GM who has sharpened his skills through years of front office experience. He was able to receive good value for Halladay despite the fact that everyone knew the pitcher had to be traded. Anthopoulos has made changes on the farm and, most importantly, in the scouting departments. The organization went from having one of the smallest scouting departments to one of the biggest in the game.
Ownership has openly committed to spending money if the front office can justify the move, as seen by the recent (rumored, but officially unconfirmed) signing of unproven Cuban prospect Adeinis Hechavarria for about $10 million. The club also made a hard push for another Cuban, left-handed starter Aroldis Chapman, who ultimately signed with Cincinnati for mega-bucks.
Toronto will enter the 2010 amateur draft with the 11th overall pick and something to prove after blowing three of its four top picks in 2009, which may have been one of the last straws that broke the former GM’s back. The organization also has nine picks in the first three rounds of the 2010 draft, so it has a real chance to improve the talent and depth in the system. With that said, the club had a similar draft bonanza in ’07 and those prospects haven’t developed quite as well as the organization had hoped. The club also has its back up against the wall with a couple of the picks (those received for failing to sign ’09 draft picks James Paxton, Jake Eliopoulos, and Jake Barrett). The representatives for the players chosen in those slots will know that the club has to sign the picks this season or they will lose those compensation picks for 2011.
Although the ’10 club clearly cannot compete with the likes of Boston, New York, and Tampa Bay, there are building blocks in place that give Canadian fans a hope for the (near-ish) future. Outfielders Adam Lind (26) and Travis Snider (22) could form the middle of the order for years to come. Aaron Hill, soon-to-be-28, could have more valuable as a trading chip than as the club’s second baseman over the next five to seven years, especially if he proves his power outburst in ’09 was no fluke. In the high minors, the club also has some interesting names in first baseman Brett Wallace (acquired in the Roy Halladay fallout), catcher J.P. Arencibia, second baseman Brad Emaus, and outfielder Moises Sierra. A few disappointing drafts have left the low minors barren, save for a few names like catcher Carlos Perez and shortstop Tyler Pastornicky.
On the mound, the club has a lot of potential but few proven, young pitchers. Ricky Romero enters 2010 as the No. 1 guy in the rotation, but he’s only in his second season in the Majors. Other names to keep in mind are Brandon Morrow (obtained from Seattle this past off-season), Marc Rzepczynski, and Brett Cecil. The club could also see contributions from rookies Kyle Drabek (another part of the Halladay loot), Zach Stewart, and Brad Mills. Henderson Alvarez may have the highest ceiling, but he’ll spend a good portion of 2010 in high-A ball. The club also likes what its seen from ’09 No. 1 draft pick Chad Jenkins, who should join Alvarez in Dunedin. Right-hander Danny Farquhar could help out in the bullpen by mid-season.
The good news is that the club has a lot of flexibility when it comes time to work these young (inexpensive) players into the lineup. The only bad long-term contract on the team is for Vernon Wells. Hill has a very affordable contract that could make him extremely attractive on the trade market. It’s going to be a bumpy ride for the next new years, and a lot of patience will be needed, but the final destination looks promising.