The first thing that stands out when looking back at the Toronto Blue Jays teams of the mid-2000’s is the jersey choices.
Silver! Black! A logo that’s “modern!”
Love them or hate them, they’re a part of the team’s history. In this case, they’re a part of the 2009 team.
Similar to the team’s situation now, the Blue Jays had moved on from John Gibbons. In this case, however, it was Cito Gaston and not Charlie Montoyo in the dugout. Gaston was a surprise hire, but a warmly received one, especially after the 2008 Jays went 51-37 under his leadership. Now, though, would be his true test. The Red Sox were strong, and the Yankees had just signed CC Sabathia and former Jays pitcher AJ Burnett to strengthen their rotation.
So, who would be in the lineup to challenge the AL East powerhouses?
Behind the plate was Rod Barajas (125 games) and Raul Chavez (51 games). Barajas was a solid, if unspectacular everyday catcher with a bit of pop in the bat. It’s fair to speculate that he was a clubhouse leader, since he’s the current bench coach for the San Diego Padres. This was Chavez’s last Major League season, and in his career finale, he saw action in the most games since his 2004 season. Former Cubs backstop Michael Barrett was signed before the season to be the backup, but that didn’t end up as reality.
It was also the final season for Kevin Millar, who played as the right-handed batter in the Blue Jays platoon at first base. Lyle Overbay was the left-handed half, playing his fourth season in Toronto. In hindsight (looking at it with modern analytic stats), Overbay had a much stronger season.
In the middle infield, this was the year of Aaron Hill. The second baseman broke out with 36 home runs, a number he’d never come close to matching again. The underrated Marco Scutaro was the everyday shortstop. Backup infielder John McDonald, and utility players Joe Inglett and Jose Bautista all saw some time here as well, though Inglett failed to match his production from 2008 and Bautista wasn’t yet the player he’s known as today. 2009 also saw the final Major League at-bat from former first-round pick Russ Adams. (Adams was picked in the 2002 draft popularized by “Moneyball.” Scott Kazmir was the next pick. Cole Hamels was selected three picks later.)
Third base was Scott Rolen’s territory. At least, it was his territory for the first half of the season. After rumours that Rolen wanted to play closer to home, the Blue Jays shipped him to Cincinnati for pitchers Josh Roenicke and Zach Stewart, as well as Edwin Encarnacion. Before he was the player that Blue Jays fans cheered for, Encarnacion was simply a throw-in because the Reds wanted to clear him from the team. Even the Blue Jays would later waive him, (Oakland claimed him, and released him a month later) before eventually re-signing him.
In the outfield, Travis Snider was the most frequent left fielder, although Bautista, Inglett, Adam Lind, and a few others all saw some time there as well. Longtime centre fielder Vernon Wells was still in his familiar spot (where he would remain until the end of the 2010 season). This was the final chance for Alex Rios as a Blue Jay, though, as he was waived in August and claimed by the White Sox.
With the aforementioned departure of AJ Burnett, Roy Halladay was left as the only member of the rotation with a proven track record. (Here’s a cool fact, Burnett and Halladay faced off at Rogers Centre in the middle of the season in what was easily the most entertaining Jays game of the season)
It was the rest of the team’s job to make sure Halladay wasn’t the only starter making positive contributions.
There’s a strong argument to be made that the team failed at that assignment. Ricky Romero was promising in his rookie year, but the remainder of the rotation was very thin. Brian Tallet and Scott Richmond both finished with ERAs over 5. Brett Cecil and Marc Rzepczynski were given tryouts as left-handed starters, but both would eventually end up as specialist relievers.
Speaking of specialty relievers, that was a luxury the Blue Jays did not have, as the bullpen in 2009 was very thin. Simply put, Toronto had five relievers. No one outside of those five relievers pitched in more than 26 games. Casey Janssen, Jeremy Accardo, and BJ Ryan each pitched in more than 20, but of of the three, Accardo was the only consistent option. Other than that, the five names were Scott Downs, Jesse Carlson, Brandon League, Shawn Camp, and Jason Frasor.
Other than Downs, who missed some time with injury, each of those names pitched in more than 59 games. League pitched in 67. Carlson pitched in 73. Pitching depth, was, to say the very least, thin.
So, this team had some promising areas, but the pitching held them back. Where did they look for the future?
Perhaps it’s best to leave the 2009 Blue Jays season behind.