As Jays fans we've already been doing this for a number of years, so it's not totally new ground. The difference this time is that limited hope for success has now been replaced with no hope. Like none, nada, zilch. We all know there is absolutely zero chance the 2010 Blue Jays will make the playoffs. With our division and our line-up, that's just the way it is.
Instead we need to find reasons that will intrigue us enough to follow this campaign rather than simply taking a pass and checking out until 2011 or 2012.
Here are the five best reasons to care about this Blue Jays season:
If the Jays are ever going to compete in the AL East they will need to follow the Tampa model, and (hallelujah!) it appears new GM Alex Anthopoulos is actually aware of this. What this means is that rather than throwing away money by adding free agents to a team that isn't anywhere close to being a playoff contender, the Jays will patiently develop their own prospects and then, when the time is appropriate, dip into free agency to compliment the roster and plug any holes.
As of right now, this roster has only three players that can truly be counted on to be a part of the future: Aaron Hill, Adam Lind and Vernon Wells. These three are all under contract for at least the next three years and have all proven they are capable major league players. Hill and Lind are both coming off impressive breakout offensive years and both will need to prove it wasn't a fluke by backing those numbers up again this year. Wells has regressed in each of the last three seasons and has a horrifically bad contract, but he is still a known commodity that can contribute. These three players are the foundation and core that the position players will be built around, and 2010 will be an important measuring stick to determine exactly how good this group can be, and what type of players they will need to be surrounded with when it comes time to actually compete.
3. The fake umps
2. Randy Ruiz
Since being signed by the Reds in 1999, Ruiz has been a part of eleven different franchises and has played a grand total of 55 games in the big leagues. Ten teams have given up on the 32 year-old and at times this spring it sounded a lot like the Jays were about to be the eleventh despite the fact that Ruiz hit 10 homeruns in only 115 AB's for Toronto last year. Ruiz has a career .378 OBP and .909 OPS in the minors and tore up the Puerto Rican Winter League this past offseason. The guy can flat out hit, and if the Jays give him a real opportunity, he will be the non-suprise surprise of the season.
Watching the two guys dressed in replica umpire gear, complete with face masks, mimicking the home plate ump from the first row behind the plate is like listening to someone do the Zohan voice or watching contestants on Wipeout destroy their bodies - it just never gets old.
4. Development of the young arms
Anthopoulos has a bevy of young and talented pitchers that are at various levels of their development and this year we'll find out if any of Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, Ricky Romero, Mark Rzepczynski, and perhaps Kyle Drabek will develop into dependable major league starters or possibly even something more than that. Morrow and Romero are currently in the rotation but all five are likely to get starts at some point and the pressure is on both the management and the players themselves to do more than just gain experience. They need to learn how to perform in front of the rabid crowds at Fenway Park and Yankee stadium.
4.5 The Replacements
Lyle Overbay, Edwin Encarnacion, Alex Gonzalez and John Buck are all on the last (or only) year of their contracts and are nothing more than stop-gap players. None have a long-term future with the organization which means four new fielding positions are likely to open up for the 2011 season. Brett Wallace, who was obtained as part of the Roy Halladay trade, will have the opportunity to play both first and third base in the second half of the season and another prospect acquired in the Halladay deal, catcher Travis d'Arnaud could also get a look. Assuming Travis Snider figures things out and gets on his way to becoming the player he is projected to be, all of a sudden the 2011 and beyond Jays have considerably more potential for friskiness. And if the rumoured signing of 19 year-old Cuban defector Adeiny Hechevarria ever becomes official (his $10 million contract is apparently being held up by Canadian customs), the Jays may have finally found their shortstop of the future.
5. Roy Halladay
Even though Doc is no longer a Jay, he was traded to the National League which means Toronto fans don't have to worry about cheering for him at the expense of our own club. If he had gone to the hated Red Sox or despicable Yankees, Jays fans would've been forced to cut ties forever with our long-time hero. But because he ended up in the 'other' league we can continue to follow him closely and root for him as if he were still one of our own. Watching Roy destroy the weaker line-ups that populate the Senior Circuit (we could be looking at a Koufax-like year from Halladay) will provide a certain amount of relief in what will otherwise be a very difficult year to be a Jays fan.