So despite my earlier long-winded pontification, the time arises for me to elaborate on my previously expressed optimism.
Somewhere out there on the internet tubes are a couple of posts in which I make statistical projections for our lineup. Usually they are derided as way too optimistic but I took pains to make them "average" performances with only very obvious adjustments for injury effect and age. I won't go over the details again but, in essence, Rios and Hill were given totals slightly over their averages over the last three years, Zaun and Stairs were given lines slightly worse...and Rolen, Thomas, Wells, and Overbay were given a line which reflects an average of their last 4 healthy seasons. Eckstien I gave exactly his last three year average.
That team, with that production, can be expected to perform, offensively, very much like the 2006 Jays. It has been observed often enough that if we can field a 2006 offense and a 2007 pitching staff, we will have a very good team - I think we have the potential on paper to do just that. Here's my take, position by position (for the sake of length and time, I'll do hitters today and pitchers tomorrow - along with a bottom line of how I expect the team to do this year - and minor leaguers on Tuesday):
Catcher - Greg Zaun is the most unpredictable hitter on this team, not because of any uncertainty in his past performance, but simply because of Greg Myers Syndrome". Once a catcher gets past 35, in any given season he might simply disappear offensively. I have seen no evidence of that, and short of any proof, it's not out of line to assume he'll post an OPS of .730 or a bit better. Along with that he'll do everything else you want from a catcher except throw out runners which is a wildly over-rated talent anyway. Rod Barajas is the reserve and I may be the only one who thinks that was money thrown away. Thigpen or Diaz may not be the answer (and I don't believe in Diaz at all) but we are not going to find out by bringing in someone like Barajas.
1B - Overbay had the second best spring of any Jays and there is not one single reason to think he can't do what he did in 2006. Stairs will get the ABs if he goes down to injury, although one might consider Adam Lind a very dark horse as a long term replacement.
2B - Hill is, in the opinion of all Jays fans and not a few others, apparently on the verge of becoming an elite 2B in the AL. The only difference in his rates last year and Cano's was a handful of singles (nine IIRC) and while Cano was better in 2006, there's every possibility Hill is his equal in 2008.
SS- I know the popular wisdom, from Jeff Blair on down, is to be cynical about the whole "scrappiness" cliche, but while I agree that the statistical results of that sort of hustle are marginal (which is to say, Scrappy Eckstien surely preforms better than Ordinary Eckstien but that doesn't make him notably better than - or even as good as - ordinary Orlando Cabrera for example) I DO believe in the power of "leading by example" and I do think any team profits from having an attitude like Eckstien's in the clubhouse.
One of the more bittersweet considerations about the future of the Jays roster is how one reconciles being enamoured with Eckstien as a person while, at the same time, recognizing that you really would like to see a better player at SS next year. And that's gonna be all the more tough to deal with if the man you bring in is a player with question marks of his own (think Felipe Lopez) rather than a guy who obviously deserves the job. I, for one, hope Eckstien finishes his career as a Blue Jay...but I would hope that after this year that's done off the bench.
3B - I have already waxed eloquent and at length about Scott Rolen. Again, here's a guy I want to see finish his career here and wear a Jays hat into the Hall of Fame some day. Obviously I am quite perturbed about the finger injury, and the loss of a month, but that does not change my enthusiasm for what he brings to the team. I still think that he's gonna be at or near a .900 OPS by the end of the season and win the comeback Player award.
RF - No point in me echoing the chorus of opinions about how this is likely to be the year Rios steps up to the next level, the only debate is what constitutes the next level for him? Is he the sort of guy who threatens to trip past 1.000 in OPS? As much as i would like to see that happen (and admit the possibility) my guess is something between .925 and .950 is his ceiling, though even in my "optimistic" predictions I did not go nearly that high. Here's another plug, though, for getting that deal done before the price goes way up.
CF - My projections for him were low-to-mid .800s, certainly he has shown himself capable of more, but he has also been maddening in his inconsistency. I will not predict 2006 over again, but he should make 2007 a fading memory.
LF - Rather than state the obvious about Stairs (that age can only hamper him and having an "arthritic" hip condition is scary stuff) and Stewart (that it's not 2004 anymore) what can I say about LF? If Stairs is healthy and plays 2/3 of the games out here we're gonna be fine at this position - probably easy to assume at least an .800 OPS from him. If Stewart is our near regular, well, that's different. I don't see any way he cracks .750 anymore and would be pretty shocked if he even threatened it. Plus, I think he's an injury risk if he plays a lot. On the other hand, I'm on the edge of my seat for Adam Lind to claim an everyday job with the Jays, so I'm not entirely disappointed with the notion that Stewart is a pulled Hammy waiting to happen. In my opinion, once Lind gets the job this time, there won't be any more doubt about who is the future in LF.
DH - I can't fathom why folks like Jeff Blair are so anxious to see Frank Thomas not vest his 2009 option. Last year, even in what was for him a somewhat off year, he was still one of the better DH's in the league and better than what one might expect to be able to pick up for that role in the next off-season. The only real candidate who might challenge him is Carlos Delgado and one of two things will happen with him...he will rake again and the Mets will exercise their option, or he will suck again and will not be an obvious choice over Thomas anyway. In fact, he'd be the obvious candidate for a one year value-rebuilding deal which still situates him as a potential Jay's DH in 2010. Eh? What's that? OH! 2008! Right! Well, my guess is that Thomas has a moderate April and begins to really rake towards the end of the month and those who wish he were not her next year now, will be swooning with praise in September.