Toronto Blue Jays baseball is almost here.
After one of the most memorable offseasons in the history of the franchise, fans have waited patiently to see their team finally come together, to eliminate lingering questions and have a complete roster that represents the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays.
Throughout spring training, there were several position battles. A few of them were obvious in February and a few emerged in March. Second base was always up for grabs. The fifth starter role, however, was a shock for fans, players and management alike.
Despite the ongoing saga of Ricky Romero, general manager Alex Anthopoulos has to be confident heading into the April 2 opener against the Cleveland Indians.
Even with his 2012 Opening Day starter in Single-A, his team has five solid pitchers in the rotation. Even with his starting third baseman injured, he has two veteran backups hitting well in Maicer Izturis and Mark DeRosa. Even with the disruption of the World Baseball Classic, he still has a relatively healthy 25-man roster.
The encouraging thing about the 2013 version of the Blue Jays is that losing two star players, Romero and Brett Lawrie, has worried absolutely nobody.
Fans and management are confident. The depth of this team is staggering.
Here's a look at why the Jays have "playoffs" written all over them.
A month ago, the Blue Jays' starting rotation seemed like a foregone conclusion.
The team's Opening Day starter from 2012 had been forced into the fifth spot due to the acquisition of several quality pitchers.
But Ricky Romero's 2012 seems to be more than just a hiccup.
There were several plausible answers to why Romero struggled last year, and the most attractive thing about these answers was that they seemed exclusive to the 2012 season.
Jays fans were more than happy to explain that Romero had elbow surgery in the offseason, that lingering mechanical issues were sorted out and that he was healthy and ready to return to top form in 2013.
However, during spring training, those excuses have transformed into a more confusing and worrying explanation of Romero's struggles. Now, instead of elbow pain, Romero will start the season in Single-A Dunedin because he simply can't get hitters out.
The Jays just don't have anymore excuses for Romero.
The positive side to all this is that the Blue Jays' depth has never been stronger. The team has the great luxury of having a serviceable and occasionally effective starter ready to contribute in J.A. Happ. Last year, if Romero didn't make the team out of the spring, Drew Hutchison or Brett Cecil would have been on the Opening Day roster.
Whether this is the first step in the end of Romero's career or a small blip, it's the right decision.
It is not worth the risk to place "faith" or "loyalty" in Romero when clearly Happ will give the team the best chance to win right now. In his last spring start, he allowed one run in 4.2 innings. If Romero proves he's ready to compete with major league hitters, he will get his opportunity to make a comeback.
For now, it's Happ.
1. R.A. Dickey
2. Josh Johnson
3. Brandon Morrow
4. Mark Buehrle
5. J.A. Happ
The Jays' offense has the look of a playoff team.
A full season of Jose Bautista, the new Edwin Encarnacion and an electric leadoff hitter adds up to a whole lot of runs.
When you look at the team's lineup, it suddenly dawns on you why Melky Cabrera so quickly signed with the team after Anthopoulos pulled off the 12-player deal with the Marlins.
He'll be hitting behind Jose Reyes and in front of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion.
Opposing pitchers will have to make sure they throw strikes against Cabrera. If Reyes manages to get on base with consistency, the pitcher will give Cabrera fastballs to cover the steal, and they will be throwing strikes to avoid facing Bautista and Encarnacion with runners on.
To recap: A batter who hit .346 last year will be seeing plenty of fastballs for strikes.
The position battle for second base seems to have been put on the shelf while Brett Lawrie is injured, as Maicer Izturis and Mark DeRosa will have to fill in at third.
After a brilliant spring training, DeRosa will play third against lefties, but on April 2, Izturis will start against Justin Masterson. DeRosa is a nice comeback story and may turn out to be a hugely valuable veteran piece on the superstar-laden Toronto roster.
Henry Blanco beat out Josh Thole for the backup catcher role, as J.P. Arencibia and R.A. Dickey developed chemistry at the World Baseball Classic. Doubts that Arencibia could properly catch Dickey's knuckleball have been effectively eliminated.
1. Jose Reyes, SS
2. Melky Cabrera, LF
3. Jose Bautista, RF
4. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B
5. Adam Lind, DH
6. J.P. Arencibia, C
7. Colby Rasmus, CF
8. Emilio Bonifacio, 2B
9. Maicer Izturis, 3B
Bench: Henry Blanco, C, Rajai Davis, OF, Mark DeRosa, IF
Disabled List: Brett Lawrie, 3B
For whatever reason, the Jays have decided to enter the 2013 regular season with eight relief pitchers.
Manager John Gibbons elected to have Brett Cecil pitch long relief despite questionable spring numbers. Cecil is out of minor league options and therefore the Jays risked losing him to another team had they left him off their active roster. This is a clear decision by management to hold on to Cecil and shows that long relief is a priority in the Jays bullpen.
Casey Janssen's health has been the subject of scrutiny in March, But in an article appearing in the National Post, Gibbons seemed confident in the right-hander.
The Jays bullpen looks to have solid structure with Janssen at the top followed by Oliver, Santos, Delabar and Loup, who are a formidable supporting four. With the exception of Delabar, all four posted spring WHIPs below 1.2.
However, Rogers, Jeffress and Cecil are much less steady hands who will have to be used carefully in order to preserve wins early in the season.
Closer, Casey Janssen
RHP, Sergio Santos
LHP, Darren Oliver
RHP, Steve Delabar
LHP, Aaron Loup
RHP, Esmil Rogers
RHP, Jeremy Jeffress
LHP, Brett Cecil