-- Mike W., Oakville, Ontario
For starters, if the Blue Jays do surprise and finish higher than fourth in the division, then the season can definitely be deemed a success. You're right, though, expectations are not high this year and the team does not appear to be realistically close to making a run at a playoff spot. This season will be defined more by development than wins and losses.
With that in mind, it will be the progress of Toronto's young players that will determine whether this season is successful in the end. More than anywhere else, that will be true on the mound. After missing last season with a right elbow injury, can Shaun Marcum return as a solid starter? Will Ricky Romero, Marc Rzepczynski and Brett Cecil build off promising rookie seasons?
As the season progresses, it will also be interesting to see if some of the Jays' younger prospects force the club's hand. Two of the players acquired as part of the Roy Halladay trade -- right-hander Kyle Drabek and first baseman Brett Wallace -- are not far from the Majors. The same can be said for catching prospect J.P. Arencibia and righty Zach Stewart, who was acquired in a trade with the Reds last July.
In a season that will be a stepping stone for the next few years, success could mean seeing players such as Drabek, Wallace, Arencibia and Stewart convincing the club to promote them to the big leagues before the end of the year. After all, those are a few of the players who are considered to be important to the foundation of Toronto's future core group.
Beyond that, the Blue Jays are hoping to see players such as second baseman Aaron Hill, designated hitter Adam Lind and outfielder Travis Snider continue to emerge as leaders on offense. An improved showing and healthy season for center fielder Vernon Wells -- signed through 2014 -- would also be a great sign for the team as it maps out its future.
What is going on with the reported signing of Cuban shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria.
-- Carole M., Lewis, N.Y.
Considering the volume of reports, which have included details of the deal and even comments from Hechavarria, it is safe to assume that the Jays have indeed reached an agreement with the shortstop. The deal is believed to be worth $10 million over four years, but the Blue Jays have yet to make an official announcement.
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With any deal, there are logistical hurdles that need to be cleared before a team will officially announce it as complete. In the case of Hechavarria, there could be issues of a work visa and then the routine physical that is required to finish the deal. Expect Toronto to try to finalize the contract and announce the signing before the conclusion of Spring Training.
Can you give us your projections for the Opening Day lineup and starting rotation? Also, can you project the 2012 Opening Day lineup and rotation?
-- Jason F., Calgary, Alberta
The Opening Day lineup depends on the health of third baseman Edwin Encarnacion, who has spent most of the spring strengthening his surgically repaired left wrist. The Jays believe there is still enough time for Encarnacion to get his timing down before the season kicks off April 5 in Texas. With that in mind, let's assume Encarnacion does indeed break camp with Toronto.
In that scenario, I would offer this projected lineup: 1. Jose Bautista, RF, 2. Hill, 2B, 3. Lind, DH, 4. Wells, CF, 5. Lyle Overbay, 1B, 6. Encarnacion, 3B, 7. John Buck, C, 8. Travis Snider, LF, 9. Alex Gonzalez, SS. If Encarnacion opens on the disabled list, I would project this lineup: 1. Bautista, 3B, 2. Hill, 2B, 3. Lind, DH, 4. Wells, CF, 5. Overbay, 1B, 6. Randy Ruiz, DH, 7. Buck, C, 8. Snider, RF, 9. Gonzalez, SS.
As things currently stand, the Opening Day rotation will likely include Marcum, Romero, Brandon Morrow, Rzepczynski and Brian Tallet. If Morrow's sore right shoulder requires more time to recover than Toronto expects, that could open the door for lefty Dana Eveland or Cecil to begin the year in the rotation. Right now, the club believes Morrow will be ready in time for the start of the season.
As for the 2012 lineup? That is more difficult, considering the possibility of trades or free-agent signings. But based on the team's prospects, I'll offer up this educated guess: 1. Hechavarria, SS, 2. Hill, 2B, 3. Lind, DH, 4. Wells, CF, 5. Snider, LF, 6. Arencibia, C, 7. Wallace, 1B, 8. Moises Sierra, RF, 9. Brad Emaus, 3B. The 2012 rotation could include Marcum, Romero, Drabek, Rzepcyzski and Cecil.
With all this talk of the Blue Jays' rotation battle, what kind of progress is Jesse Litsch making? If he still is on track for a midseason return, do you think he will be considered to be part of the big league rotation?
-- Will S., Halifax, Nova Scotia
Litsch underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow midway through last season and the hope is that he will indeed be ready to return by June or July. The same goes for right-hander Shawn Hill, who was acquired over the winter. Toronto also has righty Scott Richmond making his way back from a right shoulder issue, though his expected return date has yet to be established.
In Litsch's case, he began the 2009 season as the Jays' No. 2 starter and the club is definitely going to keep him in mind. That said, Toronto is not going to rush Litsch back and the pitcher knows there are a lot of other young arms trying to grab big league rotation spots. If Litsch is ready in June or July, but the starters in the Majors are performing well, that could block an immediate return to the big league staff.
Right now, Litsch is working through a throwing program and he has already been throwing off a mound. There is always the possibility that Toronto takes a conservative approach -- consider that Marcum (right elbow) missed all of the 2009 season even though he might have been able to return in August or September -- and has Litsch aim for a '11 comeback.
With Eveland being out of options and doing well this spring, is it possible that he breaks camp with a spot in the Jays' rotation? Toronto could move Tallet to the bullpen and send David Purcey down to the Minors to work on becoming a reliever.
-- Kevin H., Pickering, Ontario
Like Eveland, Tallet is out of options. One way or another, Tallet is expected to open this season as part of Toronto's pitching staff and the Jays have said nothing to indicate that he is at risk of losing his spot in the starting rotation. That could mean Eveland winds up in the bullpen, though the club is definitely giving him a shot at a starting role this spring.
As for Purcey, if he does not make the Jays' bullpen, it is not clear whether he would continue working as a reliever in the Minors. Toronto still believes he has the ability to start, and having as much rotation depth as possible is never a bad thing. It does help that Purcey still has a player option and can be sent to the Minors without being exposed to waivers.
Will Ruiz be given the chance to serve as the full-time DH this year?
-- Matthew, Toronto
As noted earlier, if Encarnacion opens the year on the disabled list, Lind would likely shift to left field and Ruiz would then move into the lineup as the regular DH. With Encarnacion in the fold, though, manager Cito Gaston would have to be a bit more creative in order to give more at-bats to Ruiz. One way would be to start Ruiz at first base against left-handed pitching, creating a platoon with the left-handed-hitting Overbay.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.