Apparently the Toronto Blue Jays front office was sick of trying to win on a budget, because they threw money around like they were the Los Angeles Dodgers this offseason. They not only pulled off "the trade" with the Miami Marlins, but they also sent away top prospects Travis d'Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard, along with a couple other players, to the New York Mets for reigning Cy Young award winner R.A. Dickey. Now, the Blue Jays have a giant target on their back as the prohibitive favorites in the AL East heading into 2013.
Manager: John Gibbons (1st year)
2012 record: 73-89, 4th in AL East
SB Nation blog: Bluebird Banter
Other Blue Jays coverage: Drunk Jays Fans
First series vs. Tigers: April 9-11 @ Comerica Park
Jose Reyes will bring his considerable talents from South Beach to the Great White North in hopes that he can continue to be one of the best all-around shortstops in baseball. He regressed somewhat from his excellent 2011 numbers last year, but Reyes' 2012 numbers were almost identical to his career averages. Playing alongside Reyes in the middle infield will either be fellow former Marlin Emilio Bonifacio or former Angel Maicer Izturis. Bonifacio has had the better spring thus far, but is extremely versatile and may see playing time in the center field.
The corner outfield positions are set, provided their constituents can stay on the field. Melky Cabrera, who signed with the Jays in November, was linked with Tony Bosch and Biogenesis PED scandal. If the MLB can find any hard evidence into the matter, Cabrera could miss even more time this season. Right fielder Jose Bautista missed a decent portion of the 2012 season with a nagging wrist injury and was eventually shut down in late August to have surgery. When healthy, he is a gamechanger at the plate.
Anthony Gose has played quite a bit of baseball this spring in center field, but it looks like Colby Rasmus will get yet another opportunity to live up to his considerable potential in 2013. Rasmus, a former top-5 prospect, has hit just .243/.313/.422 in four big league seasons. Gose will likely begin the season in the minor leagues, but should see plenty of big league action this season. Rajai Davis will be back up all three outfield positions in the meantime.
Brett Lawrie had a very entertaining 2012 season, but for all the wrong reasons. He was suspended for throwing his batting helmet at an umpire and fell over a railing at Yankee Stadium, resulting in a trip to the disabled list. Statistically, he wasn't as exciting, hitting .273/.324/.405 with 11 home runs in 125 games.
First baseman Edwin Encarnacion had a breakout season at the plate, hitting .280/.384/.557 with 42 home runs and 110 RBI. He isn't particularly great in the field, but nobody cares when you're hitting like that. Adam Lind played 61 games at first base last season as well, but he failed to hit at least 20 home runs for the first time since 2008.
J.P. Arencibia will see the majority of playing time behind the plate, but the 27 year old's bat is the reason why he is in the lineup. He has hit 43 home runs in 242 career games and could feasibly be a 25-30 home run player if he were able to play everyday. I was wondering if the Blue Jays were going to convert him into a first baseman or DH prior to trading Travis d'Arnaud to the Mets, but the trade solidified the idea that the Jays are comfortable with Arencibia as their starting catcher. Backup Henry Blanco will be R.A. Dickey's personal catcher, with Josh Thole, Dickey's catcher in New York, being sent to the minors.
The Blue Jays reportedly were interested in receiving either R.A. Dickey or left-hander Jon Niese from the New York Mets, but the Mets made the wise decision and sent the 38 year old Dickey north of the border. Dickey had an excellent 2012 season, but is far from being a one-year wonder. In three years with the New York Mets after re-inventing himself as a knuckleballer, he was 39-28 with a 2.95 ERA in over 600 innings.
Fellow newcomer Mark Buehrle makes the move back to the American League after a successful season in Miami. Buehrle won 13 games with a 3.74 ERA in 2012, his 12th consecutive season with at least 200 innings pitched. At 34 years old, Buehrle still has a few more good years left in him and should continue to be the solid if unspectacular pitcher that he has been for the last dozen years.
Josh Johnson's transition to the American League will be the biggest factor in determining how good this rotation is in 2013. If Johnson is the pitcher that won 26 games with a 2.80 ERA in 2009 and 2010, the Jays will probably run away with the division. If his strikeout rate continues to fall while his walk rate climbs, then everyone else might have a chance.
Left-handers Ricky Romero and J.A. Happ are competing for the fifth spot in the rotation. The fact that Romero is even involved in a competition at this point shows you how far his stock has fallen with the Toronto organization in one year. Going into last season, Romero was the de facto ace of the Blue Jays' rotation after winning 15 games with a 2.92 ERA in 2011. Romero couldn't find the strike zone in 2012 and seems to have brought similar command to Spring Training, walking 7 hitters in 8 2/3 innings. Happ, on the other hand, has done everything he can to win the job this spring, allowing just four runs in 19 innings of work.
Right-hander Brandon Morrow might be the only holdover from the 2012 rotation when all is said and done. He was excellent in 2012, winning 10 games with a 2.96 ERA, but a 3.65 FIP and 4.03 xFIP may point towards potential regression in 2013 for the 28 year old. Morrow's strikeout rate dipped quite drastically last year, but a similar dive in walk rate and BABIP with a mild increase in ground ball rate suggests that he could have been pitching to more contact. It will be interesting to see which direction his numbers go in 2013.
Spring Training storylines
After being the talk of baseball throughout most of the offseason, the Jays have had a relatively peaceful Spring Training. Ricky Romero's struggles have dominated the few headlines devoted to the Jays once hockey returned to action. Romero tweaked his mechanics, then went out and pitched terribly. He is scheduled to make another start this week, so it will be interesting to see if he fares any better with the changes in his delivery. If he still can't find the plate, we need to appreciate Jeff Jones that much more.
Players to watch: Jose Bautista and Brandon Morrow
The new toys are nice, but the Blue Jays will need big contributions from their two best players from the 2012 club in order to win the division. Bautista struggled through 2012 with a nagging wrist injury, playing in just 92 games. His final numbers were decent, but nowhere near the gargantuan totals he had in 2011. Morrow had a breakout season, winning 10 games and finishing with a 2.96 ERA, but only pitched 124 2/3 innings. Both players will need to stay healthy and productive for the Jays to be a title contender.
There is simply too much talent on this roster to pick them apart and give reasons why they won't win the AL East in 2013. They have their flaws, but so do their competitors. The pitching may fall flat and they may fall just short of the division, but I don't see any scenario in which they aren't right in the middle of the playoff hunt come September... unless they run away with the division by late August.