2013 Season Preview: A.L. East
TORONTO BLUE JAYS (2012 Finish, 73-89 .451, 4th Place)
Preview compiled between February 25th and March 3rd. See updates below.
Last year, the Jays posted their worst team ERA in seven years. Incidentally, last season’s eighty-nine losses were the team’s most in nine years. Within the division, the Jays 4.64 team ERA was second to last ahead of Boston, and ranked fourth worst in the American League. Their team 1.39 WHiP was worst in the division, and third worst in the circuit. The Jays also ranked last in the division in strikeouts, and most in walks and home runs allowed. And lastly, twenty-nine combined saves by the bullpen last year ranked dead last in the American League, and second to last in all of baseball.
Feb 28, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista (19) against the New York Yankees during a spring training game at George Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Departed from last year’s rotation are Aaron Laffey and Henderson Alvarez. Meanwhile, youngsters Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison required Tommy John surgery last year, and will be little help to the Jays for most of this season. In rebuilding this year’s rotation, Toronto acquired the 2012 National League Cy Young award winner, R.A. Dickey, 38, from the Mets. Toronto also acquired Mark Buehrle, 33, and Josh Johnson, 29, from the Miami Marlins. Back in the American League again, Mark Buehrle finished with a 13-13 record in Miami, while posting a 3.74 ERA in his first, and so far only, season in the National League. His fellow former Marlin, Josh Johnson, pitched a full season again after having his 2011 campaign cut short due to a shoulder injury. Johnson only posted an 8-14 record, accompanied by a somewhat high 3.81 ERA. In 2010, Josh won the National League ERA title with a 2.30 mark. The three major imports will be joined by Brandon Morrow, Toronto’s top winner last season. In twenty-one starts, Morrow posted a career (six years) best 2.96 ERA. Brandon won ten games versus seven losses. The Blue Jays have a bit of a dilemma with regards to their fifth starter. After last season’s step backward, moving forward it is hard to gauge how good Rickey Romero can be. He will be competing against J.A. Happ for the fifth spot.
Injury also took its toll on the bullpen last season. After saving thirty games for the ChiSox in 2011, the Jays acquired Sergio Santos to close for them. His 2012 season came to a quick end however when shoulder surgery was needed. Casey Janssen stepped in and saved twenty-two games. He also needed minor off-season surgery, but should be fine. Now both relievers are back in camp to battle for the role of closer again. Esmil Rogers was acquired from Cleveland, and should provide substantial help in the bullpen. Comparatively however, I believe the Blue Jays sport one of the weakest bullpens in the division.
Until Jose Bautista went down after ninety-two games requiring wrist surgery, he was on his way towards another forty home run season. For a time, he and Edwin Encarnacion formed one of the most formidable one-two punches in the league. Specifically, Edwin Encarnacion enjoyed a resounding breakout season. He belted forty-two home runs and drove in 110 runs. Edwin set career highs in runs, hits, home runs, rbi, batting average, slugging, and OPS. His previous high was twenty-six home runs, and never had he topped one hundred runs batted-in before. While it will be difficult to improve on last years numbers, the Jays need Edwin to come close if they plan on over-taking three division teams that finished ahead of them last season in most offensive categories. Considering Jose Bautista missed seventy games last season, the Jays finished 2012 fourth in the A.L. East in hits, home runs, runs batted in, batting average, slugging, OPS, and walks. In OBP, they finished last. But where Jose Bautista is a known commodity, Edwin Encarnacion must prove last season was no fluke.
Jose Reyes was acquired to help improve Toronto’s overall offensive numbers with his bat, and legs. Melkey Cabrera was also signed to help increase Toronto’s potency. With J.P. Arencibia, the Jays have a backstop that can hit with power. The Blue Jays refused to include Arencibia in the trade for R.A. Dickey, opting to trade catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud to the Mets instead. In return for the club’s faith, J.P. needs to raise his batting average and on-base percentage up to more respectable levels. The Jays can certainly use a bounce back season from 1B/DH Adam Lind at the plate as well. Adam has been unable to recapture the stroke that hit thirty-four home runs, and drove in 114 runs during the 2009 season. Lind has battled injury, and is now entering his contract year. At third base, Toronto is counting on Brett Lawrie, 23, to continue growing into a fine ball player. Lawrie is technically entering his third season. He made exactly 150 at-bats in 2011 to qualify as a rookie, and hit nine home runs. But in 494 at-bats last season, he only managed eleven. If Brett makes the next adjustment, and Colby Rasmus gets the job done batting (most likely) fifth in the order, the Blue Jays should easily be able to score with the rest of the A.L. East.
EXPECTATIONS FOR 2013:
The Blue Jays last major attempt to seize the A.L. East crown came under former GM J.P. Ricciardi, during the great push of 2006. The best they could do was eighty seven wins and a second place finish. By the end of the decade, the GM was fired. The 2006 campaign still stands as the Blue Jays best season over the last seven years. Under current general manager Alex Anthopoulos (who succeeded Ricciardi), the Blue Jays have embarked on a second, great off-season push, to overtake the division. In fact, some experts have already named the Toronto Blue Jays favorites to not only reach, but win the 2013 World Series. They definitely won the winter headlines with their acquisitions of Jose Reyes and R.A. Dickey, among others. And were certainly more than willing to pay a steep price in high end prospects to secure MLB talent now. Alas, I feel what the Blue Jays accomplished this past off-season will not be enough.
I predict the Blue Jays will win eighty-nine games this season, and finish in second place.
MAJOR OFF-SEASON ACQUISITIONS:
R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Esmil Rogers, Emilio Bonifacio, Jose Reyes, Josh Thole, Melkey Cabrera
MAJOR OFF-SEASON LOSSES:
John Buck, Brandon Lyon, Carlos Villanueva, Mike Aviles, Aaron Laffey, Yuniel Escobar, Henderson Alvarez, Kelly Johnson
* rhp – Aaron Sanchez – The Jays traded many prospects during the off-season. They are major league ready and built to win now. If Ricky Romero tanks again, or something should befall another member of the rotation, Sanchez stands to step in.
* rhp – Roberto Osuna
* lhp – Daniel Norris
Toronto – MLB.com Top-20
* 3/8/13 R.A. Dickey started Game One for USA in the World Baseball Classic. The Jays sent nine players to the Classic.
* Colby Rasmus played his first game of the spring this past Saturday.
* Third baseman Brett Lawrie has a strained rib cage. He is estimated to miss three weeks as of last Thursday. Should his injury last longer than expected, Mark DeRosa, Maicer Izturis, and Emilio Bonifacio will be considered at third base. Apparently, Jose Bautista might even be a consideration as well.
* Potential 2013 closer, Casey Jannsen, has been slow in recovering from shoulder surgery.