Rugby World Cup
This Week's Issue
Life of Reilly
SI for Women
CNN/SI - TV
Golf Pro Shop
MLB Gear Store
NFL Gear Store
SI FOR KIDS
CNN/SI Preview: Toronto Blue Jays
Posted: Friday March 05, 1999 02:41 PM
By James Quintong, CNN/SI
Player to Watch: Shannon Stewart, LF
The Blue Jays have developed a strong nucleus of young players that should carry them into contention for the playoffs in the next few years. Stewart is the leadoff speed demon, much like Rickey Henderson and Kenny Lofton, that will serve as the catalyst for the Toronto offense.
In his first full season, Stewart stole 51 bases, finishing third in the AL behind Henderson and Lofton. While he started the season relatively slow, he perked up after the All-Star break, hitting .329 in July and .308 in September, along with seven of his 12 homers. Stewart, along with Green, shortstop Alex Gonzalez and newly acquired Homer Bush, give the Blue Jays one of the best collection of speed demons out there. They also provide Toronto with solid foundation up the middle.
Stewart should give the Blue Jays some fleet feet at the top of the lineup to set up plenty of RBI opportunities for Carlos Delgado, Shawn Green and Jose Cruz Jr. In fact, the current outfield of Stewart, Green and Cruz has the potential to be like Toronto's very productive outfield of the 1980s -- Lloyd Moseby, Jesse Barfield and George Bell.
With the Yankees wreaking havoc in the AL East, the best Toronto could do was compete for the wild card spot. However, by the trade deadline, the Blue Jays appeared to have given up and decided to deal away a number of veterans. It might have been a bad idea in hindsight.
In late August-early September, the Jays fired off an 11-game winning streak. They closed the season winning six out of their last seven games, including a near no-hitter by top prospect Roy Halladay to close the season.
However, it was the Roger Clemens story that dominated again. After a slow start, he won his last 14 decisions to capture his fifth career Cy Young Award. Unfortunately, that was also the highlight of the Jays' pitching staff.
The offense, on the other hand, clicked. Jose Canseco showed flashes of past superstar form, slugging 46 homers. Rising stars Carlos Delgado and Shawn Green both smacked more than 35 homers each to add even more pop to the lineup. Two other youngsters, Shannon Stewart and Jose Cruz Jr. rebounded from slow starts to become solid producers in the second half of the season, setting the stage for a promising '99 season.
For most of the offseason, the Jays had to deal with Clemens' demands to be traded to a contender or a team in Texas. After months of talk, they pulled the trigger on the deal in February, sending him to the Yankees for David Wells, Graeme Lloyd and Homer Bush.
While losing the five-time Cy Young winner was huge, the Jays actually did very well with the deal. Coupling Wells with Joey Hamilton, acquired from San Diego, provides Toronto with some great pitching depth to go with former Cy Young winner Pat Hentgen and youngsters Roy Halladay, Kelvim Escobar and Chris Carpenter. Toronto might have the second best rotation in the AL East behind the Yankees.
Bush will finally have his chance to compete for a full-time second base job, going against an aging Joey Cora and journeyman Craig Grebeck. If he gets the job, he and shortstop Alex Gonzalez could be a formidable double-play combination heading into the next century. Plus, third base prospect Tom Evans could get the starting job in '99 to form a promising young infield, along with slugger Carlos Delgado at first.
The Jays suffered a huge offensive blow when they lost leading home run hitter Jose Canseco to Tampa Bay. However, they have plenty of young talent ready to take over the offense in Delgado, Shawn Green and Jose Cruz Jr. Add the speed of Stewart and Gonzalez and the team won't have to rely as much on power to carry the team. To replace Canseco, the Jays will try another career reclamation project by bringing in Willie Greene, Geronimo Berroa and Cecil Fielder to compete for the DH job.
The closer job is still up in the air since Randy Myers' departure at the trade deadline last year. Robert Person currently poised to take the job but veteran lefty Dan Plesac could get his save chances as well.
The Jays are suffering from leadership problems as well. Manager Tim Johnson admitted to lying about his past, including his alleged stint in Vietnam. Considering he used these war stories as a motivating tool, Johnson could lose respect and his leadership edge by admitting these lies. Plus, the team is still reeling from a weird ownership dispute during the winter that briefly had the Jays moving back to Exhibition Stadium.
Despite finally defusing the Clemens fiasco, the Jays actually have built up a quality team that could challenge for at least the wild card. There is plenty of great young talent in the outfield and the rotation and some decent veterans to plug holes elsewhere. They still could use a little more help off the bench to go along with a nice core lineup.
Copyright © 1999 CNN/SI. A Time Warner Company.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.