The 2012 Miami Marlins utterly imploded.
Before the season, the team spent wildly in free agency to usher in a new era in their new stadium, unlike any offseason in Marlins' history.
Some of the big names included: Shortstop Jose Reyes for six years and $106 million, starting pitcher Mark Buehrle for four years and $58 million, reliever Heath Bell for three years and $27 million, as well as trades for volatile starter Carlos Zambrano and a mid-season trade for an aging Carlos Lee.
The result was a last place, 93-loss season after which the Marlins unloaded nearly every big contract on the books, despite verbal promises to both Reyes and Buehrle against trading them.
With the 2013 season coming up, the Blue Jays have also had a surprisingly aggressive offseason, with two blockbuster trades.
More importantly, the Blue Jays acquired another blockbuster trade many of the former Marlins acquisitions, including: Buehrle, Reyes, starting pitcher Josh Johnson, utility player Emilio Bonafacio and catcher John Buck (later part of the trade to the New York Mets for Dickey).
The Blue Jays traded a ton of big prospects and are clearly going all-in this season much like the Marlins did.
Even though the Marlins’ spending spree was a disaster, here are six reasons why the spending will work much better for the Blue Jays:
The Yankees eventually bowed out in four games in the divisional series, and should struggle this season.
The AL East, a notoriously tough division, may be well on the decline this coming year.
The New York Yankees, who finished first last season with a 95-67 record, will likely not replicate that success.
Were it not for the incredible seasons of Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout, the Yankees’ star shortstop and face of the franchise, Derek Jeter, may have gotten serious MVP interest with well over 200 hits and 32 doubles. Yet he is still rehabbing from a broken left ankle, but he claims he will be ready by Opening Day.
The only respectable starting fielder under 30 on this team is outfielder Brett Gardner, and even he is 29-years-old.
Expect a down year for the Yankees.
As for last year’s second-place team, the Baltimore Orioles, they may be the most dangerous team in this division.
They finished their miraculous run last season at 93-69.
This team is young and confident, with strong starting pitching throughout the rotation and an offense that was second in the majors in home runs. They could very well beat out last year’s first place team, the aging Yankees sans Alex Rodriguez and other role players.
But the loss of power-hitting infielder Mark Reynolds will hurt, and the team has not done anything in anticipation of perhaps another injury-riddled season for former star second baseman, Brian Roberts. This could be offset by the late emergence of rising star Manny Machado, who will now play his first full season in the majors.
They haven’t made any notable additions though except for injury-prone starter Jair Jurrjens. The Orioles will win a good amount of ball games, but not nearly as many as last season.
Furthermore, this team was 29-9 in one-run games last season, and that record may not be the same by next season.
As for the third-place team, the Tampa Bay Rays, they lost far too many key players to contend as well as they did last season.
However, the Rays acquired outfielder Wil Myers in a trade with the Royals, who was the Minor League Player of the Year after he hit .314 with 37 home runs through Double-A and Triple-A. But the trade also included losing James Shields, who has been one of the top pitchers for the Rays for years. Myers could get called up mid-season and provide power to a weak outfield.
Expect an average season from the cash-strapped Rays.
The last-place team in the division in 2012 was the Boston Red Sox.
In spite of this, I expect the Red Sox to win many more games this season than the 69 they won in 2012.
The marriage between Bobby Valentine and the Red Sox last year was very clearly doomed from the start. The Red Sox players complained about how they wanted a relatable manager that would be more supportive and less critical. Notwithstanding the fact that they’re paid millions of dollars and that is one of the softest and most childish things I’ve ever heard, the front office still disregarded this and hired Valentine, who is one of the most passionate, outspoken and blatantly critical managers ever.
Now that Valentine and many of those players are gone, expect new manager John Farrell to have much more success. Farrell had his ups-and-downs with the Blue Jays, but should be successful with the new-look Red Sox.
Boston also added a number of key players this offseason that should be a headache for the Blue Jays.
I believe the new talent and new manager could bring a bounce-back year for the Red Sox, but still not enough to make the playoffs.
On the other hand, the 2012 NL East was stacked with talent, primarily with the prominent rise of the Washington Nationals, who are here to stay. The 2012 NL East was much tougher than the Marlins anticipated, and that partly contributed to their demise.
In the end, all four AL East teams have serious holes that have yet to be filled, and the Blue Jays should take serious advantage this season.
Gibbons while coaching the Royals in 2010.
Gibbons, who was already manager of the Blue Jays from 2004-2008, should have tremendous success with the new Blue Jays roster.
He is a passionate and personable manager. Shi Davidi, who covers the Blue Jays for Rogers SportsNet, tweeted that Gibbons showed “more personality in three minutes than John Farrell [previous manager] did in two years.” Clearly, Gibbons is going to be someone that GM Alex Anthopoulos believes can right away connect with players and front office.
However, his hiring does come with some caveats.
Gibbons has two big red flags over him. First is wearing down starting pitchers, and second is headstrong skirmishes with players.
Gibbons has gotten into intense altercations with former players such as Shea Hillenbrand and Ted Lilly. But according to Davidi’s twitter again, Gibbons states that he learned from the incidents with the two players, and has learned to control his intensity. Gibbons called the incidents a “black eye for me.”
Gibbons appears to be a changed man, and he should benefit greatly from a talented Blue Jays team with high expectations.
As for starting pitching, the Blue Jays will have learned from Gibbons’ first stint.
There were a vast number of pitching injuries throughout his coaching tenure. Not every single injury can be blamed on Gibbons, but it is enough where the tendency has to have been on the front office’s mind.
Josh Johnson has recently had minor shoulder inflammation and has come back from Tommy John surgery, and many of last season’s Blue Jays pitchers have had arm trouble.
Considering this fact, the Blue Jays will likely keep even closer tabs on their starters and not let Gibbons’ tendencies become an issue.
Also, Gibbons does have knuckleballer Dickey to work with. It almost works in Dickey’s favor to have a manager that tends to overwork starters, since as a knuckleballer Dickey can pitch much longer than normal starters and not need nearly as much rest, if any. He also happens to be the reigning Cy Young award winner, but should hopefully maintain the success of his power knuckleball in the indoor Rogers Centre.
Comparing Gibbons to Ozzie Guillen, the 2012 manager of the Marlins, there is a fine line between passionate and crazy.
Ozzie Guillen is bordering on crazy. In 2012, for example, Guillen was suspended five games for his remarks in admiration of Cuban leader Fidel Castro. He is outspoken and unconventional. But unlike Gibbons, Guillen cannot relate nearly as well to a locker room full of professional baseball players. That is the difference.
In the end, Gibbons is a good hire. If the Blue Jays are to make a serious postseason push, they need an active and enthusiastic manager to inspire the team to believe.
Reyes being officially introduced to the Blue Jays.
Of all the new acquisitions this team has made, Jose Reyes is the best one.
If Reyes has proven anything over his 10-year career, it is that he is a game-changer.
Despite a somewhat down year for him with the Marlins, Reyes hit .287 with 40 stolen bases last season. Not including the injury-plagued 2009 season, Reyes has had seven straight seasons of at least 30 stolen bases and 10 triples. Even though he was on an inept Marlins team that ranked second to last in runs, Reyes also managed to score 86 runs and drive in 57 RBIs while making over 60 percent of his at-bats from the leadoff spot.
Reyes can also hit very well from both sides of the plate.
Last season was no different, as he hit .277 against lefties and .291 against righties. Since he is on a team that should be contending this season, expect both of those numbers to increase.
Furthermore, Reyes should continue his more telling form that he showed in the second half of last season.
After a poor first half, Reyes caught fire following the All-Star break. He hit .312 with eight home runs, 20 stolen bases, 19 doubles, six triples and only 22 strikeouts. He finished the second half of the season with a .856 OPS, which is extraordinary for a speedster.
However, Reyes must improve on his defense.
He tied a career high with 18 errors, and ended up with a DWAR (defensive wins above replacement) of -0.9. Reyes must work to adjust to the hard turf at Rogers Centre.
Nevertheless, Reyes will be much more motivated after being on such a poor Marlins team.
The 2011 Jose Reyes played his heart out for a contract year, while the 2013 Jose Reyes will play his heart out for the first team in his career with incredibly high expectations.
I expect him to recover his offensive form of his 2011 contract season with the Mets. In 34 fewer games than the 2012 season, Reyes led the league with a .337 average, 16 triples, 39 stolen bases and only 41 strikeouts to 43 walks. Reyes also had a .877 OPS. But any sort of production will be a monumental upgrade over an aging Omar Vizquel and a disappointing Yunel Escobar.
At 29-years-old and having played in all but two games last season, Reyes is healthy and ready to play the best baseball of his career.
Bautista (left) and Encarnacion (right) should could both have 40 home runs if healthy all season.
Unlike the 2012 Marlins, the 2013 Blue Jays already had a slew of credible players, and still do even after the two blockbuster trades.
Everyone knows what the two best sluggers, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, are capable of. Even though Bautista missed significant time with a wrist injury, they combined for almost 70 home runs last season. If healthy, both of these men will easily contend for the most home runs in the American League.
The team also has a number of other players with power that pitchers must respect all season.
Reyes, as mentioned, had 37 doubles, 12 triples and 11 home runs last season, and is fully capable of hitting third at times next season.
23-year-old third baseman Brett Lawrie, a budding star, is gifted enough to have a 20-20 season, with the potential to even reach 30 stolen bases. Before becoming a full-time major leaguer in mid-2011, Lawrie was hitting .347 in 73 total minor league games with 18 home runs, 13 stolen bases and an incredible 1.060 OPS.
Outfielder Colby Rasmus provides left-handed power and respectable defense. He is coming off a 23-home-run season, but must improve on his .223 batting average.
The loss of top catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud in the trade for Dickey hurts the position, but J.P. Arencibia will be very solid as a full-time catcher, and he can feasibly hit 20 or more home runs.
As for the starting pitchers, Brandon Morrow has proven an extremely effective pitcher for the Blue Jays when healthy. He finished 10-7 last season with a 2.96 ERA, and only 41 walks in 124.2 innings pitched. The only problem is that he only pitched 124.2 innings last season. However, Gibbons recently named Morrow as his No. 2 starter after Dickey, and if he can stay healthy he can be a dominant No. 2.
The 2013 Blue Jays have retained all of this talent after the two big trades, and as a result this team has much more depth than the Marlins had entering the 2012 season.
The ample stock of talent on this roster, before inserting the talent from the trades, is simply another reason why the Blue Jays will be vastly more successful than last year’s Marlins.
Esmil Rogers should continue his strong debut in the American League last season.
Anthopoulos knew he needed to improve on a bullpen that ranked 25th in ERA in 2012, at 4.33.
As a result, the Blue Jays acquired some important bullpen depth.
One of these players is Esmil Rogers, a 27-year-old who has already shown the ability to compete in the American League.
Rogers finished last season with a 4.69 ERA and 1.44 WHIP, but that does not tell the whole story. He began the season with the Colorado Rockies but got off to a horrible start, as his ERA ballooned to 8.06 in 25.2 innings pitched, as well as a terrible 2.10 WHIP. Rogers was traded mid-season to the Cleveland Indians, and had a complete turnaround.
With the Indians, Rogers posted a 3.06 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and had 54 strikeouts in 53 innings.
Rogers should maintain this American League success next season for the Blue Jays.
Another face who will get much more playing time is left-hander Aaron Loup. The 25-year-old only threw 30.2 innings as a mid-season call up in the latter part of last season, but was lights out.
Loup had a 2.64 ERA, an astounding 0.91 WHIP, as well as a ridiculous 2 1/2 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The Blue Jays will now have the privilege of a full season of Loup’s services.
Another addition is Jeremy Jeffress, a wild pitcher who is full of potential and can hit triple digits on a fastball.
Jeffress will perhaps only serve as a role player in the revamped bullpen, but he has potential. In his brief major league experience last year, Jeffress boasted a .192 batting average against lefties, but also suffered a .412 average against righties. He must also improve drastically on averaging nearly a walk per inning.
But Jeffress has electric stuff, and if he can develop a solid second pitch he could become a serious bullpen threat.
The remaining bullpen pitchers should build on their productive 2012 seasons. Closer Casey Janssen had a 2.56 ERA, as well as an unbelievable 0.86 WHIP and .195 batting average against. He will have many more save opportunities with a much more successful team this year.
Two other quality relievers stand out, as well.
One is Steve Delabar, who had a 3.82 ERA, .193 BAA, and only allowed 46 hits in 66.0 innings. Next is the 10-year veteran Darren Oliver. Last year, Oliver posted a 2.06 ERA, .214 BAA, 1.02 WHIP, and 52 strikeouts in 56.2 innings.
These productive relievers that were retained should give the Blue Jays a bundle of options throughout the season.
The team also hired Pat Hentgen as the bullpen coach in December.
Hentgen was a very successful pitcher for the Blue Jays from 1991-1999 as well as his final 2004 season. He led the league in complete games, shutouts and innings pitched for both the 1996 and 1997 seasons.
In the 1996 season, Hentgen went 20-10 with a 3.22 ERA and won the Cy Young.
Hentgen’s knowledge and experience will help the rest of the bullpen immensely, and the new additions should make the bullpen much more efficient this season.
Dickey showing off his knuckleball grip while being officially introduced to the Blue Jays.
Both on and off the field, Dickey is a true gentleman and role model.
Dickey’s rise to prominence is well-documented.
He has overcome such adversity as being sexually abused as a child, which he talks about further in his memoir. On the field, Dickey was a hot prospect until it was discovered he was missing an ulnar collateral ligament in his throwing elbow and his stock plunged. After laboring through 10 journeyman seasons, Dickey developed his incredible knuckleball.
Dickey’s knuckleball eventually led to his fantastic 2012 season, in which he went 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, and 230 strikeouts in 233.2 innings.
Even more, Dickey has more control than any past knuckleballer, accumulating only 54 walks last season.
Worst-case scenario, the Blue Jays acquired a player who will eat upwards of 200 innings next season, because barring something unforeseen a knuckleballer will have a much healthier arm and is exponentially more likely to throw that many innings.
But in the best-case scenario, the Blue Jays have acquired a player who could become the American League Cy Young winner, a year after winning the award in the National League.
The one caution, as mentioned earlier, that may hold Dickey back from repeating his success is playing in the domed Rogers Centre. Dickey’s power knuckleball relies on the humidity and warm air to get as much drag and “knuckle” as possible, and there is not much of that indoors.
But Anthopolous can always just crank up the heat and tell fans to pack lightly when Dickey pitches.
Nevertheless, Dickey is a franchise-changing pitcher who gives the Blue Jays a good chance to win every five games this year. At 38-years-old, he still has many good years left for a knuckleballer, and perhaps a few as an elite pitcher, too. For a team looking to take charge in its division for at least the next few years, that is a great addition to help you beat the best and avoid long losing streaks.
The two blockbuster trades mean the Blue Jays’ lineup has strong play at all positions, including starting pitching. With the revamped bullpen to complement the starters, this deep Blue Jays team will outplay the 2012 Marlins immensely, and could play themselves deep into October.