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Jays' rotation has taken some hits

11/10/2008 - Toronto Blue Jays

For what seemed like the umpteenth season in a row, the Blue Jays underachieved in 2008, even though their win total (86) was their second best this decade.


The Jays changed managers, and by the end of the season, had changed their CEO, too. Now, it's time for the roster to undergo some changes for a franchise that hasn't qualified for October since, incredibly, 1993.

Primary needs

It seems strange to think that a team with the best ERA in the American League needs pitching help, but that's where the Jays find themselves. A.J. Burnett has taken advantage of an opt-out clause in his contract and Shaun Marcum will miss all of 2009 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Further, Dustin McGowan underwent a shoulder procedure and can't be assured of being ready to start the season.

That said, the Blue Jays' main focus will be on improving a lineup that finished last in the division and 11th in the American League with 4.4 runs scored per game. There's been talk that the Jays might pursue Manny Ramirez, but that seems unlikely. Still, they'll need to find offense somewhere.

Free agents

C Rod Barajas (option), C Gregg Zaun, RHP A.J. Burnett (opt-out clause), OF Kevin Mench

The Jays want Barajas back, but will probably let Zaun leave. Burnett holds the key to what the Jays do this offseason. If they can re-sign him, their rotation will again be solid. If he opts out, they have a major hole to fill.

Trade bait

The Jays could have some middle-infield depth, especially if second baseman Aaron Hill returns from a concussion. John McDonald, a defensive whiz, and second baseman Joe Inglett could draw interest.

Farm aid

Outfielder Travis Snider, who played well after a September callup, is likely to be the everyday left fielder. With some open spots in the starting rotation, lefty Brett Cecil may be ready to challenge for a role.

Outlook

It was bad enough that the Blue Jays had to battle with the Red Sox and Yankees, two more well-heeled powers in their division. Now, they've got to worry about Tampa Bay, which is poised to be a factor in the East for years to come.

The Jays believed their offense, given more time under manager Cito Gaston, will improve. The trick will be to pitch as well -- or nearly as well -- as they did in 2008. If they don't, it's hard to see them as factors in baseball's toughest division.

Sean McAdam of the Boston Herald covers baseball for ESPN.com.