2013 Preview: Toronto Blue Jays
WHO'S NEW: OF/INF Emilio Bonifacio (MIA), OF Melky Cabrera (SF), INF Maicer Izturis (LAA), SS Jose Reyes (MIA), INF Mark DeRosa (WAS), C Josh Thole (NYM), SP Mark Buehrle (MIA), SP R.A. Dickey (NYM), SP Josh Johnson (MIA), RP Esmil Rogers (CLE).
WHO'S GONE: OF Ben Francisco (CLE), OF Travis Snider (PIT), C Jeff Mathis (MIA), SS Yunel Escobar (TB), 2B Kelly Johnson (TB), SS Omar Vizquel (retired), SP Henderson Alvarez (MIA), RP Francisco Cordero (FA), SP Jason Frasor (TEX), SP Aaron Laffey (NYM), RP Brandon Lyon (NYM), SP Carlos Villanueva (CHC).
Expectations for our neighbors to the north are sky high for the 2013 campaign annointed as one of the big winners this winter, courtesy of the Miami Marlins most recent fire sale. Manager John Gibbons returns for his second term with the team. Gibbons, who has been known not to have the cleanest reputation when it comes to dealing with players, is likely under the most pressure to win now judging by their acquired talent. The Jays landed a game-changer of a shortstop when healthy and three quality starting pitchers, including the 2012 National League Cy Young award winner for essentially serviceable players and some prospects, none of which are ready to contribute at the Major League level. Jose Reyes should flourish playing his home games at the Rogers Centre, a park that features a fast carpet surface and wide open gaps which greatly increases his stolen and extra base potential. Also included in Miami's gift basket to Toronto was speedster Emilio Bonifacio, who traditionally plays center field but is versatile enough to start at second base to begin the season. The outfield is set up nicely with slugger Jose Bautista in right, Colby Rasmus in center and newly acquired and suspension-free Melky Cabrera patrolling left. It will be interesting to see how much of a drop Cabrera's stats take, given he hasn't played a meaningful game since last August and was batting a robust .346 at the time. The Jays unique combination of team power and speed should give Cabrera, Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion at first (42 HRs, 110 RBIs in 2012) ample opportunities to drive in runs. Brett Lawrie has tremendous upside at third base, yet he needs to produce better run production from a corner infield position (48 RBIs in 125 games). Infielder Maicer Izturis signed a 3-year deal to serve as the preliminary utility man, but don't be surprised to see him take over second base. The Blue Jays' best asset is team speed by far with Bonifacio, Reyes, Izturis and Cabrera combining for 100 stolen bags last season. Catcher J.P. Arencibia is all or nothing at the plate, but is very good defensively. Josh Thole is the back up and likely will serve as Dickey's designated catcher. The starting rotation from one to four is rock solid with Dickey, Johnson, Buehrle and Morrow. Johnson has a lengthy injury history and Dickey is 38, which makes their durability an issue in the long-term. Ricky Romero gets first crack at the 5th starter spot. If he struggles anywhere near as badly as he did throughout last season (5.77 ERA in 32 starts), look for J.A. Happ, Drew Hutchison or Kyle Drabek all to get spot starts. Casey Janssen is the closer, posting 22 saves in 25 chances. The bridge to get to him might be a little suspect considering the average ERA of Steve Delabar, Brad Lincoln and Esmil Rogers was 4.04. Sergio Santos is returning from a shoulder injury which sidelined him for the season and Darren Oliver is nothing more than a lefty specialist at age 42.
BOTTOM LINE: This team is too talented offensively and should be deemed the favorites to win the A.L. East since no other division foe acquired as much talent as they did during the offseason. If the bullpen falters, Toronto should be able to outslug their opponents more times than not. Pitching durability, bullpen effectiveness and the 5th starter are the initial concerns. Anything less than a postseason appearance would be viewed as a disappointment in Canada.