There have been a lot of nice posts written in the wake of Vernon Wells’ departure from the Jays. Many have been kind to the former CF, many have been damning. I have enjoyed them all.
But there was one thing written in particular that got my mind spinning. Navin from Sports and the City posed a question after Wells was dealt – do you remember who played CF for the Jays between the reigns of Devon White and Vernon Wells?
The answer is Otis Nixon (1996 – 1997) and Jose Cruz Jr (1998 – 2001). But that wasn’t really what got me thinking. What hit me was this – the 2011 Toronto Blue Jays are going to be a COMPLETELY different ball club.
The amount of change that fans will see on the field is profound.
Seriously. After reading the CF question I realized I didn’t know the answer. Why? Because the Toronto Blue Jays have had Vernon Wells patrolling the middle of the outfield for the past nine years. Anything before that is too far away.
Baseball-reference has a nifty little feature where you can look at the yearly starters for each major league franchise. Whoever started the most games per season in
each position is listed as the starter. It allows readers to get a sense of the stability of a franchise.
When I checked out the yearly starters for the Jays, the sheer magnitude of 2011’s transition is striking.
There is a possibility that Toronto will open the season with new faces in eight positions. This includes Yunel Escobar at SS, even though he technically was the starter at the end of last season.
Looking at the line-ups above you’ll notice that only Aaron Hill is constant – and even that may change. So, in fact, might many other pieces. For instance: does Jose Bautista play 3B or RF? Does Juan Rivera stay? Who plays 3B if not Bautista (Hill? Lawrie?)?
As Blue Jay fans, change shouldn’t bother us. In fact for some positions, change is par for the course. In the 34 year history of the club, Toronto has had 21 different starters at DH, with the record for longevity being three consecutive seasons (Paul Molitor from ’93 – ’95 and Josh Phelps from ’02 – ’04). Despite Ernie Whitt’s 10 straight seasons as the starting catcher, the Jays have employed 14 total catchers in history, including four different starters in the past five years (John Buck, Rod Barajas, Gregg Zaun, and Bengie Molina).
So the fact that J.P. Arencibia will replace Buck and likely Edwin Encarnacion will replace Lind as DH isn’t that alarming. We’re used to this.
What we’re not used to as Jays fans is change at 1B and CF. Those two positions have historically been the most stable in club history. The Blue Jays simply don’t mess around with those two spots.
Only nine men have held down the CF position: Gary Woods (1977), Rick Bosetti (1978 – 1979), Barry Bonnell (1980), Lloyd Moseby (1981 – 1989), Mookie Wilson (1990), Devon White (1991 – 1995), Otis Nixon (1996 – 1997), Jose Cruz Jr. (1998 – 2001), and Vernon Wells (2002 – 2010). It appears that Rajai Davis will take over this season.
Even fewer have donned a first base mitt – only eight: Doug Ault (1977), John Mayberry (1978 – 1981), Willie Upshaw (1982 – 1987), Fred McGriff (1988 – 1990), John Olerud (1991 – 1996), Carlos Delgado (1997 – 2004), Eric Hinske (2005), and Lyle Overbay (2006 – 2010). If all goes according to plan, Adam Lind will get his name on the list for 2011.
The Jays have been running out the same 1B / CF combo for five years. This summer, BOTH will be changing. The last time a new player started in both of those positions? Way back in 1978, the second year of the team’s existence.
Talk about a huge transition – and this is only taking into consideration the batters. Never mind that Drabek likely replaces Marcum in the rotation, the fact that we now have a completely different bullpen, and a brand new manager to boot. For a casual fan who completely tunes out of baseball from October to March, the 2011 Toronto Blue Jays will be unrecognizable.
The jury is still out on whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
On paper it looks great, but it’s on the field that matters most.