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Around the AL East: Toronto Blue Jays

You know the funny thing about the Moneyball detractors is that they ignore the word "money." In all the talk of on-base percentage and at least partially abandoning the ideas that scouts and old baseball men hold dear, yet are proven to be overly risky, guys like Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star miss the point of the book: teams like Oakland (or Minnesota, San Diego, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Florida, Washington, Colorado, Toronto, etc.) either cannot or will not spend the money to compete on the level of teams like the Yankees, Red Sox and Mets. So you find inexpensive, undervalued players and try to build a team that doesn't overpay for the normal - doing that hurts its ability to make a deal when it might need to. I think Larry Mahnken wrote something about this last month or a couple months ago, annoyed by the same stupid Griffin column.

So the Blue Jays' "move" to "small ball" is not abandoning any system or showing us what's what, because the A's keep winning and so do the Twins. I'm not going to start comparing the A's and Twins because it's comparing a green apple to a red apple, and that's not the point anyway. The Blue Jays stunk last year because they didn't have the players in place. The defending Cy Young winner started 21 games and their two best hitters missed 62 games between them. Yes, Hinske stunk again and so did Josh Phelps, but Phelps is gone, Russ Adams is ready to step in at short, and Hinske is moving across the diamond to 1B with Corey Koskie and Shea Hillenbrand coming in to boost the lineup now that Delgado is in Florida. Vernon Wells is a 26-year old team leader. Maybe I'm nuts, but it seems to fit in with the Moneyball concept - don't spend a lot, have quality players regardless, and give interesting young players (Adams, Gabe Gross and Alexis Rios) their fair chance.

Oh, but they won't walk a lot, and that's all Moneyball is about. Walking and waiting for homers. OK.

Anyway, the Blue Jays should clearly be better, even losing Delgado, just by staying healthy this season, even though they are now apparently playing baseball on a basketball court at the Rogers Centre. Ted Lilly will start the season on the DL, but Halladay is back and the Jays also have promising young starters (David Bush, Gustavo Chacin). Their bullpen is going to be interesting with Miguel Batista closing, but they have quality relievers.

The lineup is anchored by Wells, Orlando Hudson, Koskie and Hillenbrand, who for all his faults is a career .288/.322/.448 hitter with some pop and the ability to replace Hinske if Hinske continues his Ben Grieve path. With a healthy Wells, they have a power hitting center fielder in the middle of the lineup. Gross and Rios are the guys that could make or break this team's chances at 82-85 wins - if those two hit, the Jays have the pitching to take third place back. If they don't, Baltimore is likely to just slug their way to another consolation finish.

I don't see this as a team that is going to bunt and steal a bunch of bases and execute the hit-and-run all the way to the World Series, finally abandoning their wretched Moneyball philosophies. But this is also a team that could do just about everything right and the best they're going to finish is third. That's the AL East, and that's the way Toronto is built right now. Unlike the A's, they don't have the players, and unlike the Twins, they don't have the players and the division.

My Pick: 4th
Street & Smith's: 3rd
Sporting News: 4th
Sports Illustrated: 4th