2013 Toronto Blue Jays Preview
After two decades of disappointment, the Blue Jays are back and they look like they mean business
1993 – That was the last time baseball north of the boarder was relevant. Twenty years is a long time to wait, yet the fans of the Toronto Blue Jays have been waiting quietly and patiently just like the good Canadians that they are. The ball club has showed signs of promise over the past few seasons, but they always seem to find a way to fall well short of their expectations and finish in the bottom of the pack in the power-heavy American League Eastern Division. This season though, Toronto looks like the team that the city has been waiting for since the days of Joe Carter.
The Blue Jays started this offseason not with a bang, but with a bombshell, making a mammoth trade with Miami that saw the Jays receive All-Star right hander Mark Buehrle, All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes, right-hander Josh Johnson and infielder Emilio Bonifacio. The Blue Jays then added NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey and catcher Josh Thole from the New York Mets, reliever Esmil Rogers from the Indians and free agents Melky Cabrera, Maicer Izturis, Henry Blanco and Jeremy Jeffress. In turn the Blue Jays lost very little in the way of Major-League talent this offseason with the lone exception of Omar Vizquel who retired following the 2012 campaign and shortstop Yunel Escobar who went to the Marlins in the mega trade that kicked off the offseason.
The acquisition of Buehrle, Johnson and Dickey gives the Blue Jays three top-caliber pitchers to add to their top two hold-overs Brandon Morrow (10-7, 2.96) and Ricky Romero (9-14, 5.77) from last season. Dickey will almost certainly get the ball on opening day after posting a 20-6 record last season and finishing with a 2.73 ERA for the Mets. Marrow is expected to follow him with Buehrle (13-13, 3.74), Johnson (8-14, 3.81) and Romero rounding out the starting five. Buehrle and Johnson both pitched for an abysmal Miami team last season so don’t read too much into those records. Toronto’s potent offense should allow both men to bounce back this season and win 12-14 games a-piece.
Speaking of that offense, the Blue Jays have added both speed and power by trading for Reyes this offseason. He will play shortstop and lead off for the ball club and gives them the stability that they lacked at the top of their batting order last season. Left fielder Cabrera, third baseman Brett Lawrie and infield candidate Bonifacio are likely to compete for the second spot in the line-up to set up right fielder Jose Bautista who will hit third. The Blue Jays have put themselves into a position where opposing pitchers will have to think twice about pitching around the heavy-hitting Bautista as behind him will be power-hitting first baseman Edwin Encarnacion who hit .276 with 42 homers last season. Center fielder Colby Rasmus, DH Adam Lind, catcher J.P. Arencibia and second baseman Izturis are expected to round out the Blue Jays’ line-up. Lind will be watched closely this season following a disappointing 2012 campaign. The club put him on waivers but decided to bring him back when nobody came calling for his services. If Lind does not come out of the gates strong, it seems likely that a trip to Buffalo is in his future as the Jays cannot afford to wait around from him to come around this season if they want to fulfill their expectations.
The Blue Jays return a very good bullpen from last season and that pen will be anchored by young closer Casey Janssen. Janssen posted 22 saves last year after taking over for the injured Sergio Santos and earned himself the spot on a permanent basis heading into this Spring. With Janssen set to close, Santos will move into the set-up role on Opening Day, but the situation could flip again if Janssen struggles and Santos gets moved back into the closer role. Brett Cecil, Brad Lincoln and J.A. Happ will all get a look this Spring for the long-reliever role, while the club expects Aaron Loup and Steve Delabar to become their middle-relievers. The addition of Rogers and Jeffress means that the club will have even more depth out of the pen as both men had decent showings last season for their respective ball clubs. David Oliver could also have a spot in the pen as well.
The Blue Jays have certainly made a statement this offseason and their General Manager Alex Anthopoulos made good on his word that he would be willing to spend the money to build a contender this season. And while the Blue Jays may have lost the services of their manager John Ferrell to Boston, they have brought back fiery skipper John Gibbons to guide the team into the promise land this season. Gibbons will drive a hard bargain in the club house, but he has the pieces at his disposal to make sure he is fielding the best team he can possibly field every night, something that cannot be said about his last go around with the ball club.
This is a ball club that is definitely built for the win-now mentality and the window for them to cash in on their offseason moves is going to be fairly small. The Blue Jays have built a club that is capable of winning 95 games and running away with a very powerful and talented AL East that includes powerhouses New York and Boston as well as very good Baltimore and Tampa Bay ball clubs to boot. If all the pieces lock into place, they will do just that and not only win the AL East, but give Detroit a run for their money in the race for the AL crown.
By Robert Gonzalez