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.