Tuesday, March 26, 2013

2013 Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

Toronto Blue Jays
2012: 73-89 (4th place, AL East)
Full Count Prediction: 1st Place AL East

Who's on the bandwagon?  WE ARE! After spending he better part of the last decade being a perennial doormat for the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees, the Jays decided to make some changes. 

After a 2012 with dreams of a postseason run was quickly squashed by injuries and underperforming stars, GM Alex Anthopoulos decide to go all in. The future was mortgaged as a top three farm system was dismantled and traded for Jose Reyes, RA Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Melky Cabrera and more to adding quality pitching with speed and pop in the lineup.  

Obviously, these additions came at a cost -- five of the prospects traded were MLB.com top 100 prospects .  But the rewards of such deals are potentially higher than the risks.  The 2013 version of Canada's team looks like a squad that could be poised to take over the top of the AL East and make a deep October run...at least on paper.  

So after an offseason with more moves than a Michael Jackson tribute dance-off, which will it be? Will the Jays be last's year version of a failed Miami Marlins experiment or will it lead to Toronto's first trip to the postseason in 20 years?  Let's see what going all in does for the Blue Jays.  


PITCHING

For now, the top guys seem to be set after the series of offseason trades.  Knuckleballer and reigning NL Cy Young winner, R.A. Dickey will anchor a staff that could be one of the AL's best after being traded from the Mets.  Perennial All-Star Josh Johnson looks to recover from an inconsistent 2012 with Miami, but he's got #1 caliber stuff.  Southpaw Mark Buehrle may not have the stuff that threw two no-no's earlier in his career, but he's still a good bet to pitch 200+ innings.  

Much of the Blue Jays success on the mound will be returning starters Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero.  Morrow can be great when healthy but injuries marred his 2012 campaign.  Romero was healthy, but lost all control, allowing the second most runs in baseball -- a year after posting a sub-three ERA.  He's on the hot seat as we speak in spring training.  

Out of the bullpen, Casey Janssen looks to replicate his success as the closer after shutting the door on 22 ballgames last season after Sergio Santos went down with an injury.  Santos will return as the setup man while veteran names like Darren Oliver and Steve Delabar to hold down the 7th and earlier.  If all goes well, with not one but two proven closers, Toronto's pen could be a big strength after a disastrous 2012.  


LINEUP

This should be fun.  Expect the 2013 Blue Jays to score more often than KISS at the Playboy Mansion.  Health will be a factor, but really, is health not a factor with any other team?  From top to bottom, this lineup on paper looks as balanced and explosive as any in baseball.  Speed demons Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio will rob plenty of bags for the new look Jays while Jose Bautista will drive them home.  Edwin Encarnacion had a breakout season in 2012, mashing 42 taters and gives Joey Bats some needed protection.  It's as scary as any top of the order in baseball.

At the bottom, Colby Rasmus can give them a 20/20 season, albeit, little in terms of average.  Adam Lind can mash with the best of them from the DH spot and catcher J.P. Arencibia is an underrated hitting catcher who's been tearing it up this spring.  Tattooed third-sacker Brett Lawrie will start the season on the DL, but look for the Canadian to continue breaking out when he gets back.  When Melky Cabrera comes back from a suspension, this Blue Jays lineup will score runs in bunches as one of the best, top-to-bottom lineups in baseball...at least on paper.  


BEST CASE SCENARIO

If all the stars align for the Blue Jays, in 2013 baseball in Canada will be alive and exciting!  RA Dickey's knuckler flutters its way past a tough AL East while Josh Johnson and Co. mops up behind him.  Romero will remember what made him a Cy Young contender only two years ago and Brandon Morrow and Mark Buehrle round it out to give the Jays the best starting rotation in the AL East.  

All the wheeling and dealing over the offseason pays off when Reyes, Bonifacio and Rasmus steal a thousand bases while the middle of the order mashes a thousand home runs while the offense scores a million runs.  Big innings are the norm.  The team collectively hits .290.  Joey Bats and Encarnacion combine for close to 100 homers together while any given guy in the order can go deep at any time.  A 100 win season and AL East crown is not out of the possibility with the Yankees fading, the Red Sox rebuilding and the Rays and Orioles figuring stuff out (like how to score).  If there was a year to wager the house and go all in, the Blue Jays picked the right one.  

Meanwhile the Steinbrenner family gets pissed and schemes with NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg who runs for president of Canada and puts a ban on baseball, guns, fast food, soda, cigarettes and anything else that's fun.  But screw New York, the sky is the limit for this club and they could make fans in Canada forget about hockey all summer. 


WORST CASE SCENARIO 

If it all falls apart, it could fall apart fast.  Almost everyone in the lineup has had an injury history so you can see how that could be a problem.  Manager John Gibbons has a season long nightmare where half the rotation and lineup all hit the DL at some point and decides to fight every single player after they make an out, walking back to the dugout.  

RA Dickey can't control his knuckleball in the AL.  Romero still can't find the strike zone.  Buehrle starts to show his age.  Melky shrinks into David Eckstein without PEDs and is booted from the team.  There's a situation with Josh Johnson that rhymes with "rahmmy rohn."  Neither closer can close.  After a tough first half, the Rays and Yankees laugh in the Jays face while they slowly pass them in the standings, while Anthopoulos' grand experiment is left fighting for scraps with the Sox and Orioles.  Any of these things would be bad, umm kay.  

It would basically be the Canadian version of last year's Miami Marlins.  It's going all in and getting beat on the river.  It's not likely that all those scenarios will happen but they are all very possible.  The Blue Jays had better pray none of them happen all at the same time.   


LIKELY SCENARIO/PROGNOSIS 

Regardless of the overall record at the end of the season, this will be a fun Jays team to watch with lots of colorful personalities.  Maybe we're distracted by flashy things, but we really do think that this is the most talented team in the AL East and will wind up on top when the dust settles on the 2013 regular season.  Recent history hasn't been kind to teams with big roster shakeups but screw it.  We call it here.  The Toronto Blue Jays are your 2013 American League East Champions.  

This team has talent.  They are solid from the top to bottom of the lineup.  Their pitching rotation is worst case decent, best case electric.  The bullpen is experienced, the bench (led by veteran chemistry-maker, Mark DeRosa) is chalked with leaders.  What can we say?  It's a group of really good players, and great guys.  It will be fun to watch.  And we like cheering for the good guys.  

A 90+ win season and an AL East Championship?  We'll take it Canada!  



NON-ROSTER INVITEE TO WATCH:


He's not a non-roster invitee, but at this point in spring training, what's the point?  Veteran lefty J.A. Happ was probably not very happy when the Blue Jays promptly went out and traded for Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and R.A. Dickey in moves that appeared to make him the odd man out of the Jays rotation.  

But with Ricky Romero still struggling with his control (and by "struggling" we mean "simply can't hit the strike zone") and Happ lighting it up this Grapefruit Season with a 1.89 ERA, he will probably make the Blue Jays opening roster in long relief and just may nap that 5th starting job if/when Romero struggles.  If not, he's still making $3.25 million dollars in Buffalo Triple A.  That's what I call a win-win.  



TWITTER ACCOUNT TO FOLLOW


If there's a player who does Twitter right, it's RF Jose Bautista.  A big bat and a big personality, "Joey Bats" is one of the most recognizable Blue Jays both on the field and online.  Anyone who tweets photos during the home run derby is worth a follow, so follow @JoeyBats19 and his 2013 journey online.