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Toronto Blue Jays preview: All-in for AL East crown in 2013

Toronto Blue Jays preview: All-in for AL East crown in 2013

by Phil Watson | Posted on Thursday, March 21st, 2013
| 1014 baseball fanatics read this article
Toronto Blue Jays star Jose Bautista carries his bat and glove during spring training.

The return of Joey Bats is the cherry on top of a spectacular offseason for the Toronto Blue Jays and their fans. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

The Toronto Blue Jays last sampled the postseason in 1993 when they won the second of their back-to-back World Series championships, the only two titles in franchise history.

Since then, the Toronto Blue Jays haven’t been bad, other than a 94-loss campaign in 2004, but they haven’t been good, either.

The high-water mark since the glory years was in 1998, when the Blue Jays won 88 games. They have just eight winning seasons since 1993.

The closest the Toronto Blue Jays have come to a playoff berth in the intervening two decades was 1998, when they finished four  games behind the wild card Boston Red Sox. Their closest run at an American League East title was 2000, when they finished third, 4.5 games behind the New York Yankees. A second-place finish in 2006 had them 10 games behind the Yankees.

Fast forward to the 2012 offseason, where general manager Alex Anthopoulos went for broke. He engineered the biggest trade of the offseason when he picked up pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, shortstop Jose Reyes, outfielder Emilio Bonifacio and catcher John Buck from the Miami Marlins in exchange for shorstop Yunel Escobar; infielder Adeiny Hechavarria; pitchers Henderson Alvarez, Justin Nicolino and Anthony DeSclafani; outfielder Jake Marisnick and catcher Jeff Mathis.

But Anthopolous wasn’t done. He later swapped Buck and young catcher Travis d’Arnaud, pitcher Noah Syndergaard and outfielder Wuilmer Becerra to the New York Mets for reigning National League Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey and catchers Josh Thole and Mike Nickeas.

Along the way, the Toronto Blue Jays signed free-agent outfielder Melky Cabrera — last year’s All-Star Game Most Valuable Player before he was suspended for the final two months of the season for a positive performance-enhancing drug test — to a two-year deal, added to the bench with infielders Maicer Izturis and Mark DeRosa and catcher Henry Blanco, and signed ageless left-handed reliever Darren Oliver.

In the process, the Blue Jays went from afterthought to favorite in the AL East. With the Yankees in decline, questions about whether the Baltimore Orioles have the pitching to repeat their wild-card run of 2012 and concerns about where the runs will come from for the Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto is the prohibitive favorite to win a division they’ve barely contended in for 20 years.

The X-factors for Toronto are right fielder Jose Bautista, who missed much of 2012 with a wrist injury, and first baseman Edwin Encarnacion. If Joey Bats can get back to his 50-homer form from 2010-11 and Encarnacion comes close to repeating last year’s 42-homer, 110-RBI breakout campaign, Toronto is absolutely loaded.

One thing is clear: The Toronto Blue Jays won’t be irrelevant … which is a huge change from the recent past.

Toronto Blue Jays projected lineup (with 2012 stats)

  1. Jose Reyes SS — .287/.347/.433, 11 HR, 57 RBI, 86 R, 40 SB in 160 G for Miami
  2. Melky Cabrera LF — .346/.390/.516, 11 HR, 60 RBI, 84 R in 113 G for San Francisco
  3. Jose Bautista RF — .241/.358/.527, 27 HR, 65 RBI, 64 R in 92 G
  4. Edwin Encarnacion 1B — .280/.384/.557, 42 HR, 110 RBI, 93 R in 151 G
  5. Colby Rasmus CF — .223/.289/.400, 23 HR, 75 RBI, 75 R in 151 G
  6. Brett Lawrie 3B — .273/.324/.405, 11 HR, 48 RBI, 73 R in 125 G
  7. Adam Lind DH — .255/.314/.414, 11 HR, 45 RBI, 28 R in 93 G
  8. J.P. Arencibia C — .233/.275/.435, 18 HR, 56 RBI, 45 R in 102 G
  9. Emilio Bonifacio 2B — .258/.330/.316, 1 HR, 11 RBI, 30 R, 30 SB in 64 G for Miami

The only potential change would be if Lawrie is placed on the disabled list due to a rib-cage injury he suffered on March 7. If Lawrie can’t go at third base, DeRosa or Izturis could be options. It’s unlikely Encarnacion would shift across the diamond to his original position — he only played one game at third base in 2012.

Toronto Blue Jays starting rotation (with 2012 stats)

  1. R.A. Dickey RHP — 20-6, 2.73 ERA, 1.053 WHIP, 233.2 IP, 230 K, 34 G, 33 GS for Mets
  2. Brandon Morrow RHP — 10-7, 2.96 ERA, 1.115 WHIP, 124.2 IP, 108 K, 21 GS
  3. Mark Buehrle LHP — 13-13, 3.74 ERA, 1.171 WHIP, 202.1 IP, 125 K, 31 GS for Miami
  4. Josh Johnson RHP — 8-14, 3.81 ERA, 1.280 WHIP, 191.1 IP, 165 K, 31 GS for Miami
  5. Ricky Romero LHP — 9-14, 5.77 ERA, 1.674 WHIP, 181 IP, 124 K, 32 GS

Toronto Blue Jays prospect watch

The two big trades took a toll on the farm system in Toronto, with five of the top 100 prospects on MLB.com’s list being moved out in those deals, including d’Arnaud, the sixth-best prospect on the list.

The best prospect in the organization at this point would be right-hander Aaron Sanchez, ranked No. 35 by MLB.com. But Sanchez, just 20 years old, is probably two years away from joining the big club. Right-hander Roberto Osuna is No. 90 on MLB.com’s list but is not projected to debut until 2016.

As far as more big-league ready prospects go, right-handed reliever Marcus Stroman is still highly regarded, but will miss the first part of the season after being suspended for PEDs in August. Infielder Ryan Goins is on the 40-man roster but was optioned to triple-A. Outfielder Moises Sierra may be poised to make some noise at the Rogers Centre at some point after having a solid World Baseball Classic for the Dominican Republic. He was also sent down to triple-A.

Prediction

The Toronto Blue Jays appear poised to win 90-plus games and to take advantage of steps backwards by the Rays and Yankees to move ahead in the AL East. However, recent history hasn’t been particularly kind to teams that attempted to rebuild over the course of one offseason — after all, Buerhle and Reyes were part of a similar series of moves the Marlins made for 2012 that ended up as a disaster.

Post By Phil Watson (5 Posts)

I am a veteran of 20-plus years in the newspaper industry as a writer and editor, with my roots as a sports writer and later in my career transitioning to news. I also assisted with the development and maintenance of a newspaper website and also have experience in the advertising arena. I am currently a self-employed sports commentator with a syndicated radio show and blog.

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