Check out the jerseys hanging up for the Toronto
Marlins Blue Jays. Reyes, Johnson, Bonafacio, Buehrle. Just a part of the new players Toronto got to play north of the border this year. The Blue Jays have long seemed a team ready to take the next step, but they never have. They tried a few different methods. Former GM JP Ricciardi, tried to do it with big signings such as AJ Burnett and, ahem, BJ Ryan? New GM Alex Anthopoulos spent several years building the farm system starting with trading ace Roy Halladay. Well, after acquiring a nice core of young players including Brett Lawrie, and Brandon Morrow, Anthopoulos made some deals to swing for the fences this year. He picked a good year to do it too. The Red Sox are down for sure, the Yankees have serious injury concerns. Is this the year that Toronto gets back to the playoffs after a 20 year absence? If it is, it will be greatly dependent on how this next group of players perform this year and adapt to playing in the great white north.
Let’s see who they acquired to make that playoff (and maybe more) berth a reality. This could be long.
Major Off-Season Moves:
Toronto acquired 5 of the 6 players acquired in the off season are former or current All-Stars. This is a serious influx of talent for a team that already had a pretty good major league roster. Now they had to pretty much deplete their prospects still in the minor leagues, but sometimes that’s what you need to do. In a prefect world, a team can have a stocked minor league while still being a top major league team. I can guarantee that most fans would trade one World Series title if it means there will be a rebuilding phase a few years later. All these players are going to fill starting roles (Bonafacio being the shakiest) and will be significant upgrades over their predecessors.
We’ll get down to the nitty gritty after the jump. Onto the lineup.
Likely Starting Lineup:
Jose Reyes has been one of the premier lead off guys in baseball over the past 5 years. He won the batting title in 2011 and has a career .342 OBP and has average 55 steals a year. Before last season he had a short run of injury plagued seasons so staying healthy, especially on the turf, will be a major goal. Melky Cabrera will not get a lot of favor from baseball fans, but I just don’t buy that the last year and a half was completely due to some PED use. I don’t think PEDs significantly help BA and getting on base and that’s where Melky will help this team. I really wanted the Reds to sign him and the Blue Jays got a great deal here. Joey Bats is coming back from a wrist injury and he has expressed confidence that he will return to 2011 form. He was fine last year until he got hurt, but the Jays will need him to take a step forward from last year. Edwin Encarnacion took a while to develop. He struggled to stay on the field with the Reds, but the AL is the place for him where he can DH and put the nasty little glove on the shelf for a long while. I don’t think he’ll get to 40 HR again but 35 is a safe number to project. Add a .270 BA and the Jays will be very happy with his production. Brett Lawrie is one of the young guys Toronto got to keep while acquiring all this talent. He is only 23, but you can see all the tools. He needs to stay one the field the whole season and if he does, I see 20/20 for him easily with a shot for 30/30. Last year Colby Rasmus, Adam Lind, and JP Arencibia don’t have to carry a significant load in this offense anymore. If they replicate last season, Toronto will be fine. Emilio Bonafacio is the interesting piece here. He stole 30 bases in only 64 games last year so the speed potential with he and Reyes could be incredible.
Likely Starting Rotation:
If the Blue Jays had made no off season moves, Brandon Morrow would have been starting opening day. He slides much better into the 3rd slot. RA Dcikey had a stupid ridiculous season last, especially for a knuckle baller. We haven’t seen a knuckler dominate like that in a very long time. He won the Cy Young while posting a 2.73 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. Toronto gave up a very promising catching prospect in Travis d’Arnaud for him, but a similar year from Dickey will more than make up for that. A few years ago Josh Johnson was closing in on becoming a top 5 starter, but he couldn’t stay healthy. He had a great 2010 and followed that up with a blistering 9 game stretch in 2011 before an injury put him out for the year. He may never get back there but a return to the average will be a big step for Johnson and help justify trading for him. He is also pitching for a new contract. Brandon Morrow has potential to have the best year of anyone on this staff. He has posted 10+ K/9 rates in his career, but has given up a few too many walks. Last year, his K rate came down, but so did his ERA. I think he found a happy median to work from. Buehrle is a workhorse and will soak up 200 IP easy for the Jays. Ricky Romero needs to take back towards 2011. He had an awful year last year and the Blue Jays may not let him flounder as long this year and they may give Kyle Drabek another shot to be the 5th starter. I know Casey Janssen is going into the season as the closer, but I have a feeling Sergio Santos regains his closer role. If there is a weak spot here it’s the bullpen. Don’t be surprised to see the Jays try to acquire more bullpen arms along the way.
90-72, 1st place in AL East
This is the year Toronto busts through the glass ceiling in the AL East. This team is the most talented in the AL East and maybe in the AL, although the Angels and Tigers might beg to differ. They don’t need tons of breaks or luck. They just need to play to the expected level. Many times this is easier said than done. The AL East still is no slouch this year, but the States are going to have to cede one of the playoff slots to America Jr. up north. I still haven’t decided how far I think Toronto can go…we’ll get to that sometime soon. But this team is going to be fun to watch – they’ll score tons of runs in the Rogers Centre – and the pitching will more than get them by. My prediction: There will be plenty of closet Canadians coming out and proudly sporting the Toronto blue this year. Beware.