The Toronto Blue Jays are World Series favourites.
Okay, they were World Series favourites. For a brief period this week, after GM Alex Anthopoulos pulled off his second massive trade of the 2012 offseason acquiring NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, the Jays were at the top of the list for Vegas oddsmakers.
Since then, expectations for the Jays have tailed off slightly, at least according to bookies but the point is, the Jays are relevant again.
All it took was two blockbuster deals that changed both the reputation of Anthopoulos and Rogers Communications, the historically spending-challenged owners of the Blue Jays. The Jays will head into 2013 with heightened expectations, plenty of new faces and a huge amount of buzz.
Perhaps the most drastic changes the Jays have made are ones to their starting rotation.
2012 ended with the Jays rotation featuring Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Henderson Alvarez, Carlos Villanueva and Aaron Laffey. Only Romero, Morrow, and Alvarez were in the rotation at the beginning of the season.
The revolving door that was the Jays starting rotation saw Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison and Luis Perez all go down with Tommy John surgery, Morrow spend time on the disabled list and Romero collapse into a shadow of himself.
However, heading into 2013, the Jays may have the best five-man rotation in the American League. Sporting three potential aces and having 2012's Opening Day starter relegated to the fifth spot, the team has improved drastically on paper.
Here's a look at how each of R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Ricky Romero will fare in 2013:
Over the last few days, the pages of Bleacher Report have been flooded with features and articles on Robert Allen Dickey.
And for good reason.
The reigning NL Cy Young winner is one of the most interesting athletes in the world, let alone baseball. His story is absolutely unbelievable: from sexual abuse during his childhood, to being labelled as a bust, to re-inventing himself, Dickey's a very captivating individual.
One thing that's certain is the city of Toronto will love him. There's something about players like Dickey: well-spoken, smart, passionate underdog types that endear themselves to Jays fans. Just look at John McDonald.
What's tougher to predict is how Dickey will adjust to his new team, division and league. Many prognosticators have had opinions either way on how Dickey's magic knuckleball will be affected by playing indoors in the Rogers Centre. The evidence points to Dickey being successful indoors.
In 2012 Dickey threw five starts in domed stadiums, going 4-0 with a 1.22 ERA and an absolutely minuscule 0.892 WHIP. Considering wind conditions can often affect a pitcher's control of the knuckleball, the Rogers Centre will only help him.
While moving to the AL may cause Dickey some problems, his stats over the last three years have been incredibly consistent. The fact is, Dickey won the Cy Young last year because he received slightly more run support, was able to win more games and strike out more hitters.
He has two knuckleballs, two fastballs and a changeup. Imagine standing in the batter's box and wondering what R.A. Dickey is going to throw. The Blue Jays will get what they paid for in Dickey.
Predicted Stat-Line: 220.1 IP, 18-6, 3.12 ERA, 204 SO
Alex Anthopoulos has taken the pressure off Brandon Morrow.
With the deals the Jays have made, suddenly Morrow isn't the only sure thing in the starting rotation. He was never really a sure thing but before the Marlins and Mets trades, he was the undisputed number one starter. That is no longer the case.
Morrow is now just another top-end starter in a very strong rotation and that makes him all the more dangerous. As Josh Johnson has said, Morrow has "nasty stuff" and really just needs to put together a complete, healthy season to officially "breakout".
If his 2012 wasn't cut into by an oblique problem, Morrow's stats would have been as good as any starter in the AL. In 21 starts, Morrow posted a 2.96 ERA, a 1.115 WHIP and three complete game shutouts. His walk rate dropped for the fourth straight year and he held batters to a .214 average.
Morrow's biggest issue is consistency. He had absolutely dominant outings with occasional hiccups peppered in between. One memorable example came in May of last year where Morrow allowed six runs in only two-thirds of an inning.
The theme of these inconsistent implosions is Morrow's control. When he throws strikes, he's successful and he's been steadily improving on this since becoming a Blue Jay in 2010.
Morrow has just as much ability as any starter on the Jays roster. His success is simply a matter of staying healthy. 2012 proved that he's a legitimate dominant starter, something that was not clearly the case before last season, and that he doesn't have to be the ace of the staff is a huge development for Morrow.
All he needs to do it stay healthy and throw the ball.
Predicted Stat-Line: 190.2 IP, 14-10, 2.98 ERA, 185 SO
In a recent December article, I predicted that Josh Johnson would win the AL Cy Young Award.
While that's certainly within the realm of possibility for 2013, he still has to compete with Justin Verlander, David Price, Jered Weaver and the rest of the Jays rotation for that matter. It may sound like a hyperbole, but the Jays have three legitimate Cy Young contenders in Dickey, Morrow and Johnson.
There has been much made of Mark Buehrle's consistency over the last decade, but Johnson, perhaps surprisingly, has been steady statistically as well. Since 2009, Johnson has posted a WHIP below 1.280 in every season and has struck out approximately eight batters per nine innings.
Like Morrow, however, Johnson's biggest issues revolve around health. He missed the majority of 2007 and some of 2008 to Tommy John surgery and missed most of 2011 to shoulder inflammation. If Johnson can stay healthy, which is no guarantee, he'll post strong numbers.
Historically, he's been successful against American League teams and with a rise in run support expected from the Jays offense, Johnson will improve upon his good, but not great 2012 numbers.
In lieu of previous predictions about Johnson's 2013, here are some slightly adjusted numbers.
Predicted Stat-Line: 18 GS, 125.2, 10-6, 3.45 ERA, 120 SO
Predicting how Mark Buehrle will perform has become fairly easy over the years.
Since 2001, Buehrle has thrown no less than 201 innings, started no less than 30 games, and his ERA has risen above 4.00 only three times. He's pitched against the American League, pitched in the playoffs and his attitude gives off the impression that he's as steady as they come.
In 2012, Buehrle was his usual self, going 13-13 with a 3.74 ERA. However, his quality start rate dropped to its lowest point since Buehrle's somewhat disastrous 2006 season and his opponent's batting average on balls in play dropped slightly below his career mark.
Those numbers seem to suggest that Buehrle may be in for a bit of a regression in 2013, but his numbers have been so consistent over the years, that it's very hard to envision a total collapse.
Buehrle has never suffered a significant injury during his career so some naysayers may say he's due at 33 years old, but that is all speculation. He's the definition of a workhorse and that may be the exact thing the Jays have been looking for in a fourth starter: a pitcher who's reliable and eats innings.
There's no reason to think that won't happen in 2013 and I stand by some earlier predictions.
Predicted Stat-Line: 209.2 IP, 16-10, 3.76 ERA, 123 SO
It was almost a relief for Jays fans to hear that Ricky Romero needed elbow surgery at the end of 2012.
The term "ace" was thrown around perhaps too liberally by the Toronto fanbase as Romero struggled through last season. His ERA ballooned from 2.92 to 5.77, he threw only 181 innings in 32 starts and saw his walk rate rise to 5.2 per nine innings.
Quite simply, Romero was not himself in 2012. Since his rookie season, he had been steadily improving, showing he was a legitimate top-end starter with his 2011 campaign.
Jays fans are hoping that the elbow injury was the main reason for Romero's massive regression.
In an article from the Toronto Star, Romero stopped short of blaming the injury for his woes, but such a dramatic drop in performance without significant changes to delivery or velocity suggests he was battling through pain.
Romero's improvement since his rookie year was based heavily on better control. As a raw young starter in 2009, Romero worked hard to bring down his walk rate only to see it hit a career high in 2012. He lead the league in walks last season and that is the biggest reason Romero regressed.
The scar tissue that was removed from his elbow may have been standard procedure, but Jays fans can hope that a healthy Romero is the player who throws strikes and wins ballgames.
Predicted Stat-Line: 201.0 IP, 12-10, 3.90 ERA, 3.6 BB/9