Spring training questions: Toronto Blue Jays

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Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be looking at a few of the questions facing each team this spring.
1. Just how many starting pitchers will the Jays go through with Roy Halladay gone?
Even with Halladay throwing 239 innings at the top of the rotation last year, the Blue Jays had 12 different pitchers make multiple starts. This year, they have Ricky Romero, Shaun Marcum and Brandon Morrow likely assured rotation spots, with Mark Rzepczynski, Brett Cecil, Brian Tallet, David Purcey, Dustin McGowan and Dana Eveland also in the mix. In-season alternatives could include Jesse Litsch, Shawn Hill, Kyle Drabek, Scott Richmond, Robert Ray, Brad Mills, Zach Stewart and Reider Gonzalez. It’s a rotation that could be in constant flux unless the Jays catch some breaks.
2. Is Jose Bautista really going to open the season as the regular right fielder and leadoff hitter?
With plenty of outfielders available at bargain rates, it’s hard to believe the Jays haven’t added a potential regular to challenge Bautista and Travis Snider in the corners. They do have the option of going with Adam Lind in left and Snider in right, with Randy Ruiz occupying the DH role, but that’d leave them with maybe baseball worst defensive outfield and nothing close to resembling a leadoff man.
Of course, Bautista is far from an ideal option there. He posted a respectable .235/.349/.408 line in 336 at-bats last season, but that was all because he tore up lefties. He’s a career .227/.316/.366 hitter against righties, and he came in at .202/.331/.333 last year. As a platoon outfielder, Bautista is fine. But he’s someone who should be in the lineup 30-40 percent of the time.
3. Who will win the closer battle between Kevin Gregg, Jason Frasor and Scott Downs?
In the grand scheme of things, it hardly figures to matter; the Jays are a fourth- of fifth-place team and it’s quite possible that none of the three will still be around in 2011. Fantasy leaguers, though, may feel differently.
Manager Cito Gaston had made it pretty clear that he wasn’t very comfortable with either Frasor or Downs in the closer’s role, necessitating an offseason addition. Gregg was viewed as a proven alternative, even though he blew seven saves last season and nine in 2008. Frasor and Downs are superior pitchers, but both have more experience setting up than they do closing. Odds are that Gregg will be handed most of the save chances initially. Of course, that was also the case the last two years and he went on to lose the job both times.

Braves trade David Hernandez to the Angels

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The Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Angels have completed a minor trade: Atlanta is sending righty reliever David Hernandez to the Angels in exchange for a player to be named later or cash considerations.

Hernandez hasn’t pitched in the big leagues this year. He’s pitched in seven games at Triple-A, allowing one earned run in eight innings of work. In seven years of big league work he’s got an ERA of 4.10 in 379 games. Last year he put up a 3.84 ERA in 70 games for the Phillies.

I’m assuming the PTBNL is not Mike Trout.

The Nats are sniffing around for relief pitching help

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The Nationals began the year with Blake Treinen as their closer. That didn’t last long, and now Koda Glover seems to be Dusty Baker’s man in the ninth inning. He earned a save for the second consecutive game yesterday. Glover has been pretty darn good in the early going, posting a 2.35 ERA and striking out six batters and walking only one in seven and two-thirds. That obviously a small sample size, and anything can happen. If it does, Baker has Shawn Kelley as an option.

Not many household names there, which is probably why the Nationals are reported to be interested in the White Sox’ David Robertson and Alex Colome of the Rays. That report comes from Jim Bowden of ESPN, who also notes that the A’s have a number of guys with closing experience on staff and are likely to be sellers too. The David Robertson thing may have more legs, though, given that Mike Rizzo and Rick Hahn pulled off a pretty major trade in the offseason. If you know a guy well, you call that guy first, right?

As far as problems go this isn’t a huge one. The Nats sit at 13-5 and, as expected by most prognosticators, are in first place in the National League East. The Cubs had some questions in the pen this time last year too. They had the luxury of trying to figure it out before making a massive trade for a closer. The Nats do too, and likely will. But expect them to be a part of any trade rumor conversation for the next couple of months.