Friday, February 28, 2014

Cleveland Indians 2014 Team Breakdown

CLEVELAND INDIANS:  92-70 (Second Place in division, winner of 1st wildcard)

Projected Lineup/Batting Order:

CF        Michael Bourn
1B       Nick Swisher
2B       Jason Kipnis
DH       Carlos Santana
LF        Michael Brantley
SS        Asrubal Cabrera
RF        David Murphy
C          Yan Gomes
3B       Lonnie Chisenall

Projected Starting Rotation/Key Bullpen Arms:

SP        Justin Masterson
SP        Danny Salazar
SP        Corey Kluber
SP        Zach McAllister
SP        Trevor Bauer
RP       Josh Outman
RP       Brian Shaw
RP       John Axford

The Indians had a magical season last year.  Terry Francona led this franchise to an improbable run up the AL Central to finish in second place and take home the first wildcard slot.  They hosted a playoff game at home against the Rays, but took a tough loss.  Their storied run was incredible, but unlikely to be a repeat performance.  The offense looks solid, but pitching was the Achilles heel of this team last year, and got nothing but weaker in the offseason.  That may be their downfall.

The offense looks to be in good shape.  Their best player is second baseman Jason Kipnis, one of the best young players at his position.  He led the team with a 284 AVG and 84 RBI.  He also added 17 HR, 86 R and a team high 30 SB.  He got on base at a 366 clip and had an OPS over 800.  He’s a 5-tool player who is the heart of this team.  The offense runs through him and he will anchor the lineup, hitting third.  The Indians hope he can be one of their top run producers and drive in the men at the top of their lineup, Michael Bourn and perhaps Nick Swisher.  Bourn is the leadoff man, but only played in 130 games last year, due to injury.  That also may have contributed to his down numbers.  He hit 263 with only 23 SB and 75 R.  He has been known to strike out and his OBP plummeted to 316.  If healthy, expect to see him get back to 30+ SB and maybe 100 R.  But the days of 120 R and 40 SB are likely gone as he gets older and runs less.  I put Swisher in the number 2 hole, though they may drop him to 5th if his power is needed lower in the lineup.  He hit 246 in 145 games with 22 HR and 63 RBI.  He’s not an ideal middle of the lineup bat as he isn’t a superior run producer and his AVG isn’t what you’d want from a man hitting second.  But he can do both well, and perhaps staying in one spot or the other will enable him to focus on getting on base, or hitting the ball over the fence.  He’ll never hit 300 and he likely won’t get to 30 HR either.  But a 260 season with 20+ would be a great help for Cleveland as his veteran leadership in the clubhouse is one of the main things the Indians wanted him for.  The biggest bat in their lineup belongs to Carlos Santana (not the singer, but that’d be cool).  He had a bit of a down year in the power department with only 20 HR.  But he did raise the AVG to 268 with 74 RBI and 75 R.  He got off to a blistering start, but wasn’t as hot at the end of the year.  They need him to be a little more consistent, and wouldn’t mind an increase in the power department.  He also volunteered to move to third base if that would help the Indians out.  He started at third in the minors, but moved to catcher.  He’s still a catcher, but does less of that to stay healthy.  Many teams move their great hitting catchers to other positions so they can play more games (Bryce Harper, Joe Mauer, Mike Napoli).  We’ll see how it works.  He’s apparently getting better, but he likely won’t play there everyday.  He also plays some first, giving Swisher time in right or at DH.  If he can play the field occasionally or perhaps start games there before being replaced, that will keep him out from behind the plate, but not block the DH position.  But playing third is a risk, one that I don’t understand them taking.  They have 2 solid guys for third and obvious starting options at first and catcher.  He could be the full time DH, like David Ortiz or Billy Butler.  That’s what I would do, and I’m sure we’ll see a lot of that.  The Indians also have Ryan Raburn on their bench.  The super utility man played in 86 games last year hitting 272 with 16 HR and 55 RBI.  He can play second, third and the corner outfield positions.  He likely won’t spend time at DH, but he can spell Kipnis occasionally, play third when Santana or Chisenall need time off, and be back up for David Murphy, coming off a career worst season in Texas.  Murphy has played well in the past however, so the Indians signed him to a make good contract for an amount of money that doesn’t put the Indians too much on the hook, but also was enough to get him to sign with a young team.  Despite the 220 AVG, he did have 13 HR.  If he can raise that AVG a bit, perhaps get to 15 HR, then he will be a quality addition to the middle, back of the Indians lineup.  The rest of the lineup is made up of Asdrubal Cabrera, Yan Gomes, Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenall.  Chisenall has not lived up to expectations from his days as a prospect with a 225/11/30/30 line.  That’s not nearly good enough for a corner infielder.  I have him in the starting lineup, hitting 9th, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he loses lots of time to Carlos Santana, if the third base experiment works, and Ryan Raburn occasionally whether the Santana experiment works or not.  Yan Gomes is now the everyday catcher with the great season he had at 294/11/38/45.  And that was only in 88 games.  They don’t think he’s better than Santana, but they want him to start behind the plate, perhaps seeing Santana catch only once a week to keep him healthy.  Asdrubal Cabrera is the one most likely to end up on another team if Cleveland struggles.  He had a down season last year hitting 242 with 14 HR and 64 RBI.  The 2 previous years saw 25 and 16 HR, and he’s a 273-career hitter.  He can also swipe a bag with 9 the last 2 years and 17 the year before that.  His struggles dropped him to 6th in my lineup, but they’d love him to hit second, moving Swisher’s bat down to 5th and giving the heart of the lineup some serious depth.  The last member of the middle of the order is Michael Brantley who had a great year last season.  He hit 284 with 10 HR, 73 RBI, 66 R and 17 SB.  He may be a good option to hit second as well with his speed and ability to get on base.  Options abound for Cleveland, a team with depth and youth.  Mike Aviles is a great up the middle back-up option, if Cabrera does get traded or Francona wants give Cabrera or Kipnis a day at DH.  They also signed Jeff Francoeur to a minor league deal, to give more outfield depth, besides Raburn.  Overall this team is in good shape offensively, with lots of options and backup plans.

Defensively they look good everywhere.  Brantley, Bourn and Murphy range from good, to great, to solid (respectively) and if they add Francoeur then the defense gets even better (that may be the only part of his game that is still worth having).  Cabrera and Kipnis are both strong up the middle.  Not Gold Glove caliber, but very good.  Swisher plays a good first and Chisenall is fine at the hot corner.  Santana at third will likely include growing pains, and his defense at first is weaker than Swisher’s.  Swisher is fine in the outfield and Raburn is good everywhere.  Yan Gomes behind the plate completes the picture and gives the Indians no real weaknesses anywhere with the leather.

While the offense and defense look to be in good shape, it’s the pitching that many question in Cleveland.  2 of their best pitchers, Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jiminez had great seasons, resurrecting their careers.  However Kazmir is now with Oakland and Jiminez is with Baltimore.  Justin Masterson is their ace with a team leading 14 Wins, 195 Ks and 3.45 ERA (now that Ublado Jiminez and his 3.30 ERA are out of town).  He did all that in 193 IP, so they are set at the top of the rotation.  The rest of their guys are solid, but unproven.  Danny Salazar had the next best numbers (aside from those who are no longer on the team) but had that terrible outing against the Rays to end the season.  I’m sure he’ll bounce back, but he’s only got 10 starts under his belt.  He was good with a 3.12 ERA in those games, but they are not ready to call him the number 2 starter at this point.  Zach McAllister went 9-9 with a 3.75 in his 24 starts.  That’s pretty solid for a young pitcher in the AL.  Corey Kluber was even better with an 11-5 record and 3.85 ERA in 24 starts as well.  They are young and played well.  If they can do that again, things are looking good for Cleveland.  But that’s a lot to hope for with guys this young.  The last spot in the rotation is Trevor Bauer’s to lose, and if he plays like he did last year he may lose it.  Bauer only made 4 starts with Cleveland going 1-2 with a 5.29 ERA before being shipped off to Triple A Columbus to work on his mechanics.  If he has fixed things, then he’s got the stuff to be a big league pitcher.  But that’s a huge if.  The Indians have talented young pitchers on their team, but they are unproven to this point.  If they hit, then this team has a chance to return to October baseball.  But not expecting any of these young guys to experience growing pains as hitters get more film on these guys is unreasonable and extremely unlikely.  In the bullpen they have a ton of live arms.  Chris Perez was sent packing after a season with 25 Saves and a 4.33 ERA.  Vnnie Pestano was supposed to be their future closer, but didn’t get the job done with a 1.64 WHIP and 274 BAA.  That’s not good at all.  They will still utilize him, but he won’t be the closer at first.  The Indians signed John Axford after a disastrous season in Milwaukee to another low risk deal.  He didn’t register a single Save and had an ERA over 4 as a middle reliever.  If he can be their closer, it would be a coup, but he needs to find his old form again.  He says that he’s been tipping his pitches and the Cardinals pitching staff helped him with that.  If that’s the only problem, then maybe he can be an All Star again.  But that’s another major IF for the Indians.  They have other quality relievers in Bryan Shaw and Josh Outman in the bullpen that can help the team make another improbable run, or they can be flipped for prospects at the trade deadline.  That’s how re-building teams operate, and with those 2 players the Indians are in good shape.


The Indians think they have the necessary pieces to return to the playoffs.  It’s a real possibility.  But a LOT has to go right for the Indians to get that done.  They have a bevvy of young pitchers, both in the starting rotation and in the bullpen.  That’s the good news for the long-term outlook, but not always the recipe for success in the short term.  The offense should be solid and the Indians have an ace atop their starting rotation.  But everyone coming back and not missing a beat as they get more experience is unlikely.  And if the Indians struggle, there are a number of players they can trade away (Josh Outman, Bryan Shaw, Asdrubal Cabrera, John Axford, Mike Aviles) to start a re-build.  No one looks forward to re-building, but with a strong young core in place that may be what the Indians need to do.  It’s rare that you talk about teams that just made the playoffs preparing to re-build, but this team over performed last year.  And believing they are better than they truly are is what buries teams in the basement for decades.  Hopefully the Indians correctly read their situation.

I really don’t think this is a playoff team.  They have plenty of talent, but everything magically aligned for them last year.  I don’t see that happening 2 straight years.  I think this team falls off significantly, perhaps 10 games or so, to finish around 80 games and in third place in the AL Central.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Chicago White Sox 2014 Team Breakdown

CHICAGO WHITE SOX:  63-99 (5th Place in the AL Central)

Projected Lineup/Batting Order:

CF        Adam Eaton
SS        Alexei Ramirez
1B        Paul Konerko
DH       Adam Dunn
RF        Avisail Garcia
LF        Dayan Viciedo
3B        Matt Davidson
C          Josh Phegley
2B        Gordon Beckham

Projected Starting Rotation/Key Bullpen Arms:

SP        Chris Sale
SP        John Danks
SP        Jose Quintana
SP        Andre Rienzo
SP        Felipe Paulino
RP       Nate Jones
RP       Scott Downs
RP       Matt Lindstrom
RP       Ronald Belisario

The White Sox are in re-building mode.  But they are limited in that re-build because they have a debilitating farm system.  In addition, they play in a major market with an angry fan base that didn’t expect the team to be playing like this and don’t want a re-build to happen.  So the White Sox have walked a very fine line, and done a good job in my opinion to set the re-build in motion while still taking some of the necessary risks needed to keep the fans interested.  That being said, neither their immediate future nor their more immediate present look to be in good shape.

The Sox started by signing Jose Abreu for $68 million.  That is for a player who has never seen a single pitch in the major leagues.  But he’s a monster power hitter from Cuba who has shown up soon after seeing other Cubans (Aroldis Chapman, Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig) step into the major leagues with great success.  So that helped him tremendously in getting this deal.  If the big man can translate his power to the MLB level, then this would be a coup for the White Sox.  But it is a risk.  Still it’s the kind of risk they had to take.  That being said, if it doesn’t work out for him the White Sox still have Paul Konerko to play first and Adam Dunn to DH.  If all three of them can mash, Dun may even re-appear in left field to spell Dayan Viciedo, who has great power but can’t take a walk and strikes out a ton.  And if all 4 of them hit, then that’s the kind of problem the White Sox would love to have.  The other major addition was center fielder Adam Eaton from the Diamondbacks.  They shipped off Hector Santiago to the desert for Eaton, and I think it’s a win for both teams, but especially for the White Sox.  Santiago was a back-end of the rotation fringe starter, but he should be better in the NL West.  Adam Eaton is a great on base guy who plays a nice defensive center field.  He was supposed to be the leadoff man in Arizona, but injuries slowed him down.  He’s healthy now, and I think this may be a huge gain for Chicago.  He’s young, but they are looking to get younger in a hurry.  They also sent closer Addison Reed to Arizona before arbitration ballooned his salary.  This was a cost cutting measure, but also returned a talented young third baseman in Matt Davidson.  He’s not going to be a star, but he’s a solid young player who will be a great glove on the left side of the White Sox infield.

So looking at the offensive lineup, there are risks.  Eaton is new to the leadoff position, as his MLB experience has been limited.  But all the scouts agree that he has the makeup.  So they will give him a shot at the top, and if it doesn’t work out they can maybe go back to Alejandro de Aza, who fell flat last year.  Alexi Ramirez is slotted to hit second on a make good deal that doesn’t cost a lot of money.  The ideal situation for Chicago would be for Ramirez to have a great season, so they could flip him to a contender at the deadline and get back some talented prospects.  They have a young shortstop prospect in Marcus Semien who is about ready to step into the major leagues.  This is the kind of thing the White Sox have to do to compete in a top-heavy division that they aren’t ready to be a part of yet.  I have Paul Konerko hitting third in his last season.  He gives the fans a reason to come out and will provide leadership in the clubhouse.  He may not be what he once was as he was limited to 126 games from injury.  But he should still add 15 HR and an AVG around 270 if healthy.  Throw in Adam Dunn at cleanup and you know what you are getting.  Low AVG, lots of Ks and BBs and HR.  He led the team with 34 HR and 80 RBI last year.  I’d expect more of the same.  Beyond the heart of the order, it’s all young guys trying to make good.  They can do the lineup any way they want, but I put Avisail Garcia next as the most is expected of him.  In 72 games for Chicago and Detroit last year he hit 283 with 7 HR, 31 RBI and 31 R.  That’s about 15 HR over a full season.  If the White Sox are going to grow, he’s got to be their star.  I put Dayan Viciedo 6th, with his 14 HR and 265 AVG.  His OBP is terrible, but at 6th it doesn’t matter as much.  After that I went with youngsters Matt Davidson, Josh Phegly and veteran Gordon Beckham.  The first 2 are question marks, but young ones who will hopefully improve.  There is little expected of them, so hopefully less pressure will enable them to grow into quality ball players.  With Beckham, he’s the better option at second, though Jeff Keppinger is around if he really struggles.  Keppinger also can back up Davidson at third.  That’s the lineup.  It’s not great, but there are pieces there.  Abreu and Avisail Garcia are the ones that will be the future of this team.  The White Sox hope they added talented ancillary pieces to their future in Eaton and Davidson.  They hope Viciedo is ready to be a major run producer for them.  Konerko is around for nostalgia and leadership.   Dunn is a HR hitter, if nothing else.  They have a young shortstop ready to play in the bigs, but right now have Alexei Ramirez up the middle with his team best 284 AVG.  And the rest of the lineup is fill-ins.  If Dunn or Ramirez over perform, don’t be surprised to see them moved to make space for Abreu or the young shortstop prospect Semien.  Not a lot to be excited about offensively, but a lot of options and hope for the future.

Defensively this team should be just fine.  Konerko is solid at first.  Jose Abreu isn’t known for his glove work.  Neither is Adam Dunn.  But if there is a reason they are putting all 3 of them in the lineup it’s because the offense from them is great, so they don’t mind a drop off defensively.  All three can play first and Dunn can play left, albeit poorly.  But that won’t be the norm.  Perhaps they can send Dunn to a contender at the deadline.  Gordon Beckham is great defensively at second, and Keppinger is solid there, but good at third.  Alexei Ramirez is fantastic at short and Davidson, like most young players, broke into the majors with his defense.  In the outfield nobody stands out, but I mean that in both ways.  No one is really bad or good.  Pretty solid across the board.

The one area that looks pretty good is the pitching staff.  They are led by ace Chris Sale, a young lefty who is among the best pitchers in baseball.  He was 11-14 with a 3.07 ERA.  He was a monster with 226 Ks in 214 IP.  His WHIP was a mere 1.07 and batters hit 230 against him.  4 CG and 1 Shutout.  This guy is the epitome of an ace.  They are set at the top of the rotation.  The rest of their guys are better than people realize, despite the names not being well known.  Jose Quintana led the team with 33 starts.  He turned in a 9-7 record with a 3.51 ERA in 200 IP.  That’s great for a number 2 man.  John Danks is a veteran on this squad who had a terrible season in 22 starts.  He went 4-14 with a 4.75 ERA.  Both his WHIP and BAA were well above average.  He was coming off shoulder surgery and didn’t return until late May.  The hope is that he’ll pitch better now that he’s fully healthy, but that’s a lot to hope for.  The good news is that at best they need him to be their number 3 man.  If he can rack up innings, they won’t mind an ERA over 4, though hopefully it’ll be closer to 4 than 5.  They then have 2 youngsters for the last 2 spots.  Andre Rienzo went 2-3 in 10 starts with a 4.82 ERA.  He also has to work on cutting down the walks because his WHIP was way too high.  But they love his stuff, and if he can learn to harness it he could be a future All Star.  As it is, he’s buried at 4th in the rotation.  They also bought low on Felipe Paulino, coming off Tommy John surgery.  It’s a low risk deal for a guy that missed all of last year and only made 7 starts in 2012.  If he hits, then it’s a great deal as he had a 1.67 ERA in those starts.  And with so little pressure on him they hope he can find his way.  And the bullpen also looks pretty good, especially for a re-building team.  Scott Downs and Ronald Belisario were brought in on cheap deals and those are the kinds of guys who could easily be flipped for more prospects.  Every team needs pitching at the deadline, and if these guys pitch the way GM Rick Hahn expects them too, they should get a decent haul back for short term, cheap bullpen signings.  Matt Lindstrom will likely set up for Nate Jones.  He’s the favorite to win the closer’s role, and likely will get it even if he struggles.  The expectations are low for this team, and that’s almost a treat as it allows the great young pitchers to grow and improve to be better in the future.


Sorry White Sox fans, this is gonna sting.  The White Sox won’t be any good in 2014.  I think they could be good in the future however.  They are working on that future now with young guys at third and in the outfield.  They signed a new big bopper and have young guys in the back end of their rotation.  They have one of the best pitchers in baseball at the front of the rotation, which will keep them from being abysmal in the interim.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the team looks completely different on the last day, than it does on opening day.  But if that’s the case, then the season went well for Chicago.  This team has the unfortunate distinction of being in re-building mode, but having a bare cupboard of young talent in the minors.  So this season is about re-stocking and adding pieces to the young team they hope to build in future seasons.

The White Sox lost 99 games last year.  They may be able to improve some, but that’s just because of some talent at the top of the rotation.  The back end is weak and the offense is also fairly anemic.  I’m thinking perhaps 70 wins and maybe a 4th place finish in the AL Central.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Toronto Blue Jays 2014 Team Breakdown

Toronto Blue Jays:  74-88 (Last/5th place in the division)

Projected Lineup/Batting Order:

SS        Jose Reyes
LF        Melky Cabrera
1B       Edwin Encarnacion
RF        Jose Bautista
DH       Adam Lind
3B       Brett Lawrie
CF        Colby Rasmus
C          Dioner Navarro
2B       Maicer Izturis

Starting Rotation/Key Bullpen Arms:

SP        R.A. Dickey
SP        Mark Buehrle
SP        J.A. Happ
SP        Esmil Rogers
SP        Brandon Morrow
RP       Casey Janssen
RP       Steve Delabar
RP       Sergio Santos

The Blue Jays swung for the fences last year….and ended up popping up to second.  Injuries and surprising ineffectiveness derailed their season.  They put a mini-run together in June when everyone got healthy, but it was short lived, people got injured again, and the pitching never stepped up completely.  The Blue Jays know that they have little room for error in their division, and made the moves last offseason at the right time with the Yankees diminished (and looking they will be again this year) and the Red Sox coming off a last place finish.  They thought the time was right to try to jump the financially strapped Rays and the questionable (at the time) Orioles to win the division and make some noise in the playoffs.  I think it was the right time and I have no problem with any of the moves they made.  It’s just a shame they didn’t work out.  They used the DL 27 times and lost more starters to injury than any team in the majors.  That’s bad luck.  And now I fear that the Blue Jays may have buried themselves back in mediocrity, except now most of their top prospects are in Miami.

For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, the Blue Jays made a huge offseason trade last year with the Marlins to bring in Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio and Josh Johnson.  They signed Melky Cabrera.  They also added R.A. Dickey from the Mets and thought they now had the team necessary to win the AL East.  I did too.  If only the players cooperated.  Reyes played in only 93 games and Cabrera in only 88.  Josh Johnson made only 16 starts.  Brandon Morrow made only 10 starts.  And the rest of the team struggled.  Jose Reyes hit 296, but only in 93 games.  But that wasn’t enough to qualify for the batting title, so the top AVG on the team went to Adam Lind at 288 (he also had 23 HR).  Edwin Encarnacion had another great season hitting 36 HR and driving in 104.  Those guys were solid.  But they were also their best players and some of their only healthy players.  No other starter made it to 140 games.  Arencibia played in 138, a fair amount for a catcher, but after a 194 AVG the Jays let him and his 21 HR depart for Texas.  Jose Bautista and Colby Rasmus only got into 118 games.  Brett Lawrie only played in 107.  That means your starting shortstop, third baseman, left fielder, center fielder and right all missed significant time.  Hard to win when that’s the case.  But I think with health, this team has a chance to bounce back.  Bautista still had 28 HR in only 118 games.  His 259 mark was right on par for him as he’s a traditional cleanup slugger.  Colby Rasmus found some of his old form hitting 276 with 22 HR.  Jose Reyes hit 296 with 15 SB in his limited time.  There is plenty of offensive talent on this team.  And it’s important to remember that most of it wasn’t around for the majority of last year.  The Jays got 108 games from Rajai Davis, a speedy fourth outfielder who gets on base at about a 300 clip.  He stole 45 bags last year, but couldn’t steal first.  Emilio Bonifacio played in 94 games, more than they ever wanted him to play and he spent way too much time in their infield.  He hit 218 and is no longer in Canada.  There is a reason this team struggled, and assuming there is more health in Toronto this year, there is a lot of reason for optimism, especially on the offensive side of things.  The Jays have former All Stars at first, short, left and right with great potential at third and in center.  The only holes are at second base (where there will be a battle between Maicer Izturis, young defensive whiz Ryan Goins and Chris Getz) and potentially behind the plate.  Dioner Navarro will be better than Arencibia, but they need him to stay healthy.  If he gets hurt, you will see more of Eric Kratz or Josh Thole, perhaps both.  But the Blue Jays offense has the potential to be a serious force.  The only question will be health.

Defensively this team should be fine.  Nowhere near great, but solid.  Whoever wins the starting second base job between Ryan Goins, Maicer Izturis or Chris Gets will be solid, unless it’s Goins.  In that case defense at second will be exceptional.  Jose Reyes is great at short and Brett Lawrie is well above average at third.  In left, Melky Cabrera is fantastic.  Just keep him out of center and he’ll be fine.  Jose Bautista has a cannon in right and Colby Rasmus is no slouch in center.  Dioner Navarro is a glove first man behind the plate at this point in his career.  We likely won’t see any Gold Gloves, and you worry about a Encarnacion playing a full season at first, but he’s a former third baseman and has the skills.  This defense will make some mistakes and have a lack of hardware to show off at parties.  But they will get the job done, and on the left side of the field they will be quite stout.

The other major issue with the Blue Jays last season, and the one that had no easy remedy, was with the pitching staff.  Offensively, this team just needs to be healthy.  On the mound, this team needs to get good.  That’s not easy to do.  Mark Buehrle had the best ERA in Toronto last year….at 4.15.  Ouch.  That came with a 1.35 WHIP, 276 BAA and 12-10 record.  None of those numbers are good.  The guy who was supposed to be the ace was R.A. Dickey, and he went 14-13 with a 4.21 ERA.  His WHIP and BAA were a tick below the league average, but just barely.  And that’s not nearly good enough for your ace, the guy who you got by trading away the jewel of your farm system (catcher Travis d’Arnaud).  This is the biggest issue in Toronto, and it’s not easy to fix.  Dickey is right around 40, and Buehrle is north of 35.  It’s nice to think they can turn it around, but these are not spring chickens that just need to learn how to pitch.  At this point in their careers, they are what they are.  Buehrle is still an innings eater who can win double-digit games.  That’s what he has to do for the Blue Jays.  But he can’t be their ace.  He’s a middle of the rotation guy.  Dickey has to step up too and find a way to pitch a little better.  He’s their ace, whether he should be or not.  That means he needs to find his stuff from 2 years ago when he won the Cy Young.  He’s not that pitcher anymore, and perhaps got some help from Citi Field in keeping his numbers artificially low.  The Rogers Centre is more hitter friendly, as is the entire American League.  Dickey doesn’t have to win another Cy Young.  But they need 200 IP, 15 Wins and an ERA under 3.50 if he’s going to be their ace and lead them to the playoffs.  And that’s a tall order, that I don’t think he’s capable of filling.  Esmil Rogers was third on the team with 20 games started.  He was never supposed to start that many games, but Josh Johnson only started 16.  Rogers was okay, but is still young.  He struggled, as you’d expect from a young pitcher in the AL East, with a 4.77 ERA, 1.42 WHIP and 279 BAA.  If he can grow, he can lower those numbers and improve on a 5-9 record.  He has to this year, especially if he’s going to be one of the starting 5.  He’ll fight with Drew Hutchinson and Kyle Drabeck for that last spot.  J.A. Happ was supposed to be their 5th starter.  This guy has all the talent in the world, but has been unable to put it all together.  He went 5-7 last year with a 4.56.  That’s actually an improvement from the last 3 years, and hopefully he can continue to grow and become a middle of the rotation guy.  If he doesn’t, then the Blue Jays will continue to languish below 500.  And last we have Brandon Morrow who pitched to an ERA of 5.63 over 10 starts.  We can blame the injury for some of that, but truly nobody knows what to do with Morrow.   In 2012 he stopped trying to go for the strikeout and pitched to a 2.96 ERA in 21 starts.  Then last year he was a mess, though his K rate went up.  I don’t know if that’s the reason for his struggles, but I do know that with the more Ks we see, the more he seems to be ineffective.  Morrow is an enigma, but he’s got the best stuff on the team and has the potential to be their ace.  If they go anywhere as a team, he’s GOT to step up.  Notice a theme here?  There is no help coming.  There is no other plan.  All the Blue Jays can hope for is their pitchers to just be better.  That’s not a recipe for success.  Teams need a plan, and the Blue Jays don’t have one in place for their starting rotation.  I’ll acknowledge that they will likely be better with some health, but I don’t think they turn into a new group overnight.  I love GM Alex Anthopolous, but without a clear plan to address their pitching woes, I don’t think this team will advance very far.  Maybe their financial constraints were partly to blame.  I’m not sure what kind of constraints they have, but clearly they looked to unload some salary in the offseason and even at the trade deadline, saying goodbye to Emilio Bonifacio, J.P Arencibia, Rajai Davis and Josh Johnson.  The signed some low risk guys like Dioner Navarro to fill out the roster and are essentially letting the same team try to work out the kinks from last season.  They were said to be in the Ubaldo Jiminez sweepstakes, but lost out to the Orioles, a division rival.  So this pitching staff will remain largely unchanged and the Blue Jays just hope last year was an anomaly.  In the bullpen they are actually pretty solid with Casey Jansenn as the closer coming off a 34 Save season with a 2.56 ERA.  His WHIP was under 1 and his BAA was right around 200.  He’s a winner.  Steve Delabar was an All Star setup man with a 3.22 ERA.  Sergio Santos had 28 Ks in 29 IP with a 1.75 ERA.  And Aaron Loup produced a 2.47 ERA in 64 games.  They are a good group of arms.  They weren’t the paragon of health either last season, but if they can stay healthy this year, they should play pretty well.  And they will need them too, especially if the starters struggle, which is a real possibility. 


The Blue Jays are a curious team.  They are the hardest group to predict the outlook for in their division.  They have a group of core guys who have been there for a while and are still pretty young (Morrow, Rogers, Jansenn, Loup, Lawrie) to go with some former All Star veterans (Dickey, Buehrle, Bautista, Reyes, Encarnacion).  But this team almost seems to be in the dreaded middle area.  Not a young re-building team preparing for the future, and not a veteran team preparing for their World Series run.  They are in-between, where no one wants to be.  I think they have the talent on the offense to make a run for it, but I think their pitching will let them down.  The only good news about being in this position is that they can choose to re-build or go big.  If they get off to a great start, they can add some pitchers at the trade deadline by swapping some offensive talent or prospects, which they still have enough of.  Or, if they are slow out of the box, they can shop some really talented guys who people will pay a lot for.  Reyes, Buehrle, Cabrera could be shipped off midseason, or even Bautista or Jansenn if teams have a need for them and the Blue Jays have no prospects for winning. 

My prediction for this team isn’t good.  I think they will be better than they were last year.  I think the hitters will be very good and I think the pitchers will be better.  They should win more games, but have to face the talented young Rays, the defending champion Red Sox and a very good team in Baltimore.  I think this is an 80 to 85-win team that finishes the season in fourth place.  If they struggle early though, I can see them punting on this year, winning about 70 games and finishing in last.  I know that was two picks, so I’ll say my official pick is about 80 wins and 4th place.