This series will evaluate one team per day, starting on January 23, 2013, and ending on February 22, 2013 (the first game of spring training). It is based on last season's performance, offseason changes since and the author's outlook for the team in 2013. Please keep in mind that rosters can, and will, change before Opening Day. We start in the AL East and go in ABC order; next up, the Toronto Blue Jays.
2012 finish: 73-89 (4th place, AL East)
LHP Mark Buehrle, RHP Josh Johnson, RHP R.A. Dickey, RHP Esmil Rogers, OF Emilio Bonifacio, OF Melky Cabrera, SS Jose Reyes, 3B Maicer Izturis, 3B Mark DeRosa, C Josh Thole
RHP Noah Syndergaard, RHP Jason Frasor, RHP Brandon Lyon, RHP Carlos Villanueva, 2B Omar Vizquel, 2B Kelly Johnson, SS Yunel Escobar, 3B/C Yan Gomes, C Travis d'Arnaud
Why they will improve this year
If I really wanted to, I could answer this question in one sentence: because the Jays got better and deeper at every position of need. Alas, I'll go on. The Blue Jays have been the most active players on the trade market since day one of the offseason, topped off with the mega-trade they swung with the Miami Marlins that netted them a roster of stars.
As much as people might want to doubt this team and downplay the impact Reyes, Buehrle and Johnson will have in Toronto, we have to look at the facts. And the fact of the matter is, when healthy, the Blue Jays just landed two of the most consistent starting pitchers in baseball and the most explosive leadoff hitter.
How's that for a winter in Canada? This isn't like the big contracts Miami brought in prior to 2013. This is a well-thought-out, shrewd plan by Alex Anthopoulos because Anthopoulos is a smart general manager. He knows what he's doing.
Exhibit A is the acquisition of R.A. Dickey to further bolster the rotation. Exhibit B can be called Cabrera and Bonifacio for outfield depth. Exhibit C can be Izturis and DeRosa for infield depth. Anthopolous hasn't missed a beat this offseason, and because of it, his new-look team is the favorite to win this tough division.
Overall, I fully expect a massive improvement on the pitching front for Toronto. The offense was always there, but adding a dynamo like Reyes, plus the extra depth, brings them up another notch.
Why they will regress this year
As far as the health of these shiny, new players goes, Jays fans should really only feel comfortable with Buehrle, who has been the mark of consistency over a long career. Dickey pitched through an ab injury last season, and those aren't easy to fix. Johnson had arm problems that temporarily derailed an incredibly bright career. And we all know the long list of Jays starters who went under the knife in 2012.
Reyes is always a candidate to get hurt, and who knows how Jose Bautista will fare coming off his unfortunate relationship with the DL last season? Is Cabrera going to be any good off the juice? Can Colby Rasmus continue to progress? What about Brett Lawrie?
And, of course, we must take into account the possibility of the cliched big-team killer—will this team jell? If the injury bug doesn't get to the Jays, it could be the social one that does the damage. While this team seems to have a fairly relaxed (exceptions include Lawrie, Cabrera) clubhouse from an outsider's perspective, it could be a whole different world beyond the diamond.
Even though the Jays clearly made the biggest improvement and the most moves since 2012, their season was pretty abysmal. Does a slew of big moves make up for a few smaller, but just as effective moves in Tampa Bay, Baltimore, New York or Boston? Can the Jays really make up over 20 games in the standings? It seems like a stretch.
The outlook for 2013
I've been down this road before in making predictions. Last year, I bought into the Marlins and all their moves right up until the point where the cashier asks you, "Is this all today?" and you have the moment of clarity where you realize all the things you've done wrong. Luckily, I scrapped the purchase then and picked Miami to finish in the middle of the division.
The reason I feel more comfortable picking the Jays, in a similar situation for 2013, to be successful is two-fold. First, as implied above, Anthopoulos is a brilliant mind. I trust that the talent evaluations and statistical decisions he made will lean heavily toward "good." And secondly, they are additions to an already-established team.
Yes, the Jays finished eight games under .500 last season. They are also one season removed from finishing at the .500 mark. In this case, the injuries are a legitimate excuse for Toronto's failings last year. They may not have made the playoffs, but DL stints definitely cost them a chunk of wins.
In 2013, everything changes. This is one of those rare cases where an offseason spending spree was done correctly, and it will show. Even if Johnson, Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow don't bounce back entirely, they are in good spots behind Dickey and Buehrle. All three may not return to stardom this season, but they will be above-average, no, good starters.
The bullpen finished dead last in American League ERA in 2012 (and it wasn't even close), but I believe in the move to acquire the hard-throwing Rogers to add some power to the back end of the staff. And the return of Sergio Santos, plus the upside of Jeremy Jeffress, has me singing "Oh, Canada" this season. The improved pitching staff will back a ridiculous offense, and the Jays will take back the American League East with 96 wins.
Potential changes before Opening Day
As far as I can tell, the Jays were set with their 25-man roster once DeRosa signed to be the right-handed utility guy they wanted. But, add DeRosa to the long list of injury-prone players the Jays either already employed or have recently acquired.
Though Anthopoulos is adamant that no further trades will even be considered, an early spring training injury could easily reverse his tune. I hope that doesn't happen, but unless Toronto gets some good luck with health through the spring, you could see the rumor mill start churning again.
Biggest surprise: Esmil Rogers
Biggest disappointment: Melky Cabrera
Bold prediction: Dickey puts up another huge season, hits 250 strikeouts.
1. Jose Reyes, SS
2. Melky Cabrera, LF
3. Jose Bautista, RF
4. Edwin Encarnacion, DH
5. Adam Lind, 1B
6. Colby Rasmus, CF
7. Brett Lawrie, 3B
8. J.P. Arencibia, C
9. Emilio Bonifacio, 2B
1. R.A. Dickey, RHP
2. Mark Buehrle, LHP
3. Josh Johnson, RHP
4. Brandon Morrow, RHP
5. Ricky Romero, LHP
Projected finish: 96-66, 1st place
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You can follow Jeremy on Twitter @Jamblinman.