I have been thinking lately about the Blue Jays' starting rotation for next year. When I start to think of Dustin McGowan, though, I don't know what to believe. What have the Jays said? Is he going to be ready for the spring?
-- Jaimy P., Vancouver
McGowan will provide one of the more intriguing storylines during this Spring Training. Really, he remains a big unknown as Toronto prepares for the upcoming season. The hope is that McGowan will be ready to join the rotation competition, but he is up against a lot of arms and has to really prove he is completely healthy.
McGowan has been sidelined with right shoulder troubles since midway through the 2008 season. It was an unfortunate blow to the pitching staff, especially since the hard-throwing right-hander showed potential for developing into a rotation leader. McGowan labored in his comeback attempt last year and a right knee injury didn't help matters.
Now, McGowan could be facing a career crossroads. He is currently out of player options, meaning he'd have to successfully pass through waivers if Toronto wants to send him to the Minor Leagues to open the 2010 season. If McGowan begins the season on the disabled list, that would eliminate that risk of possibly being claimed by another team, though.
If McGowan proves to be healthy, but the Blue Jays don't feel he is among the best candidates for a spot on the Opening Day roster, the pitcher would face being potentially picked up on waivers by a different club. With McGowan having no options left, the other scenario is that he shows he is healthy and breaks camp as a part of Toronto's active roster.
Does that mean he would make the rotation? Not necessarily. McGowan is fighting an uphill battle, considering the race for the five available starting spots includes a long list of young pitchers. It's possible that, given his recent history of injury, McGowan would open the season as a reliever if the Jays deem him worthy of a spot on the Opening Day staff. How McGowan looks throughout Spring Training will answer a lot of questions.
I know it's early, and there are still plenty of question marks, but what is the Blue Jays' projected lineup going into 2010 Opening Day?
-- Oscar C., Baton Rouge, La.
You're right, it is still really early to start projecting the Blue Jays' batting order, especially when the Toronto brass does not really know exactly how the lineup will look yet, either. Part of the problem in laying out a projected lineup is also the fact that the corner outfield spots are not entirely settled, and likely won't be until the end of spring.
Here is what we know, though. Right now, the most logical leadoff candidate is Jose Bautista, giving him a good chance of earning a starting role in the outfield -- most likely as the right fielder. Manager Cito Gaston planned on bumping second baseman Aaron Hill and designated hitter Adam Lind up to the third and fourth spots, respectively, but Lind isn't sure he wants to bat cleanup.
That could mean that the most likely scenario will have Hill batting third and Lind fifth. Knowing Gaston, the cleanup role might fall to center fielder Vernon Wells to begin the season, and the sixth spot will likely be handed to first baseman Lyle Overbay. In this hypothetical lineup, that would probably mean third baseman Edwin Encarnacion, catcher John Buck and shortstop Alex Gonzalez would fill out the Nos. 7-9 slots, respectively.
That would leave the No. 2 job for the left fielder, and youngster Travis Snider has a good chance of earning that role. I'm not sure Gaston would put Snider in the two-hole to open the year, though. Gonzalez has some experience in that spot, so Snider could be slotted in ninth, as he was to open last season. There's always the chance that Gaston leaves Hill and Lind in the second and third spots, where they had great success in 2009.
As you can tell by all of this, Gaston has a lot of lineup decisions to make this spring.
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Why wouldn't the Blue Jays consider starting John McDonald at shortstop this season? Everyone knows the Jays aren't going to be contending, so why not give him a full season to show us what he's got? Granted, he might not be a force with the bat. But, really, I feel like if Toronto gave him a full season, maybe Johnny Mac would even win a Gold Glove Award.
-- Matt V., London, Ontario
The Blue Jays may not be a serious contender this season, but they still want to maximize their lineup as much as possible. In that regard, Toronto feels Gonzalez has more upside offensively than McDonald. Gonzalez is only signed to a one-year deal, though. If he performs below expectations, McDonald could wind up the starter at short before the end of the year.
I read on MLB.com that free-agent pitcher Ben Sheets was working out recently for a number of the teams, including the Blue Jays. What are the chances of him ending up in Toronto? He has lots of experience and was a great pitcher when healthy.
-- Greg H., Sombra, Ontario
The Blue Jays did watch Sheets throw, but that does not necessarily mean the club has really high interest in the pitcher. If he is seeking a high salary for 2010, as has been reported, Toronto is unlikely to be a serious bidder. If there is a chance to scout someone, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos has been all over it this winter. It's his way of covering all his bases. Another example was the Jays watching Carlos Delgado play in Puerto Rico. Toronto did scout Delgado, but the free agent is not a fit for the club.
What's the deal with free-agent catcher Rod Barajas? Why was it a foregone conclusion that he was leaving Toronto? Why didn't the Jays value him as much as I thought they should have?
-- Steve J., Ajax, Ontario
As it turns out, it is looking more and more as if the Blue Jays valued Barajas accurately. Barajas wanted a multiyear contract and Toronto decided to move in a different direction, signing Buck to a one-year deal as a temporary solution behind the plate. With Spring Training now right around the corner, Barajas remains unsigned and may have to settle for a short-term contract after all.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.