Division Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

Jose_Bautista_of_the_Toronto_Blue_Jays,_June_30,_2012
Bautista looks ready to be back in full force for 2013.

Toronto’s wild offseason made everyone quickly forget the club’s 73 win, 4th place finish in 2012. It was a pretty disappointing year for Jays, with Ricky Romero falling off a cliff and Jose Bautista missing much of the season with the same wrist injury that Mark Teixeira currently has. They weren’t expected to contend for a playoff spot, but they certainly weren’t expected to face the attrition that they did. Now, it appears the club is locked and loaded to be a serious threat in the American League.

With a couple of major trades and some free agent acquisitions, GM Alex Anthopolous propelled his team to the division favorite. He certainly picked a good time to strike, with the Yankees cutting costs, Tampa Bay’s limited financial resources, the helium watch on Baltimore, and the fallback from Boston. Now, Toronto is poised to return to postseason play for the first time since 1993, when they won the franchise’s second World Series in a row.

Notable New Faces

  • R.A. Dickey: Fresh off a Cy Young Award with the Mets, Toronto completed a blockbuster deal for the knuckleballer to headline the revamped rotation. Just about all projection systems see a fallback from his 4.6 WAR, 2.73 ERA performance in 2012, probably due to his age (38) and transition to a tougher division. Nonetheless, he should still be a very effective pitcher this year.
  • Jose Reyes: Marlins’ owner Jeffrey Loria decided to ship out Reyes just one year after signing him, in which Jose offered a solid .287/.347/.433 (109 wRC+), 40 steal, 4.2 win season. He should offer pretty similar production in 2013.
  • Josh Johnson: Prize 1A of the deal with Miami has an injury history, but has proven to be extremely effective when healthy. He’ll headline the rotation with Dickey.
  • Mark Buehrle: Yet another cog of the trade with the Marlins; Buehrle will slot into the middle of Toronto’s rotation. There are questions whether he can handle a move back to the American League at this stage in his career, but he should still be a serviceable pitcher.
  • Mark DeRosa: It was kind of perplexing that he received guaranteed money, but he’s always been a relatively popular name in the rumor mill.
  • Melky Cabrera: Despite concerns about his post-PED performance, signing Melky seems to be the move that has flown under the radar this offseason. He could do a lot of damage if he slides in between Reyes and Bautista at the two spot of the lineup.
  • Maicer Izturis: He won’t offer much with the bat, but he offers plenty of versatility around the infield. Will get a lot of playing time to open the year with Brett Lawrie hurt.
  • Emilio Bonifacio: Another piece to the Marlins deal; offers speed and versatility, should see majority of the time at second base.

Key Losses

  • John Buck: He was the major league piece to go to the Mets in exchange for Dickey. Perhaps his veteran presence will be missed, but J.P. Arencibia should be a fine replacement.
  • Yunel Escobar: No need for him with Reyes added. Maturity issues to boot.
  • Kelly Johnson: Even if he thrives with Tampa Bay, it won’t really be a terrible loss. After his struggles the past two seasons, he might just require change of scenery.

Obviously, prospects like Travis d’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, Jake Marisnick, etc. may be missed in the long run from the two big blockbuster trades, but they aren’t necessarily key losses for 2013.

Health

Once again, Brett Lawrie can’t stay healthy. He’ll open the year on the disabled list, after spending 34 days on the shelf last season. The talent is there – it’s just a matter of whether or not he can play a full year. No timetable has been given for his return, but a rib cage injury is particularly concerning given its tendency to linger.

Closer Casey Janssen is dealing with some shoulder issues, but is still expected to be ready to start the season.

There are a few pitchers out long-term (Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison, Dustin McGowan, and Luis Perez), but none of them would have had much of an impact this season.

Most importantly for Toronto, there hasn’t been any negative news about Jose Bautista‘s wrist. Take Spring Training stats with a grain of salt, but I think it’s a positive for his recovery that he’s hit 5 homers this month. Along with Bautista, it will be imperative to keep power pitchers Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow healthy. Morrow has hit the DL in 3 of the past 4 seasons, while Johnson made it through his first DL-free year in 2012 since 2009. Before that, Johnson also spent significant time shelved in 2007 and 2008.

Strengths

The lineup; Jose ReyesMelky CabreraJose BautistaEdwin Encarnacion is one of the best in the business. J.P. Arencibia and Colby Rasmus add some power into the mix. Plus, the return of Lawrie will only make the team’s 1-9 deeper.

The rotation has potential to be great, too. Dickey, Johnson, and Morrow is a formidable front 3, followed by decent lefties in Buerhle and J.A. Happ. It would be even better if Ricky Romero could ever get it back together. He’ll try to sort out his issues in the minors to begin the season.

Weaknesses

I don’t think there are really many holes to poke in this club. If any, perhaps it is fair to be worried about the club’s health holding up. Guys like Johnson, Morrow, and Lawrie have yet to prove they can stay healthy on a consistent basis. While it appears Bautista is fine coming off surgery, wrist injuries are known to be tricky for hitters. Some even wonder if Reyes’ legs can handle a full season on artificial turf.

Synopsis

While questioning the Blue Jays’ ability to remain healthy could be reasonable, the fact of the matter is that they are in pretty good shape to open up the 2013 campaign. Even with all the new additions, they’re not quite the cream of the crop in the American League just yet. They’re still behind Detroit and Los Angeles, and possibly even Texas. Still, I like them better than the Yankees at this point and concur with the notion that they’re the division favorites.

Photo by Interestica [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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