It all feels like deja vu for Toronto Blue Jays fans.
While 2013 started out so promising, Jays fans are back in the all-too-familiar position of watching other teams compete for a playoff spot in September.
It's hard to explain the feelings surrounding the organization after the unmitigated disappointment of 2013, but there is a huge interest in the direction the team will go over the course of the winter months.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos has several decisions to make; he's already decided on a manager.
Most fans would look at a last-place team with over 80 losses and think that sweeping changes need to be made in order to compete. Not only is that incorrect but it's highly unlikely to happen. If you were hoping for Robinson Cano, Brian McCann and Matt Garza off the free-agent market, you are dreaming. If you were hoping several players get traded, you are only slightly less delusional.
The way it has all shaken out, it's clear the Jays need to improve in three major areas over the course of the offseason: starting pitching, catcher and second base.
What the Jays Have: R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow, Josh Johnson, J.A. Happ, Esmil Rogers, Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison
What's Out There: Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, Ricky Nolasco, Tim Lincecum
First, there is always the possibility of a trade. Anthopoulos has proven over and over that he is capable of pulling off massive, unexpected deals. That does not seem likely given how well his massive, unexpected trades worked out this year.
Josh Johnson is the biggest question mark, but both the team and the player have suffered as a result of their relationship. The Jays would be smart to bet on Johnson's career numbers, submit a qualifying offer and start all over again with the beleaguered starter.
Dickey and Buehrle are locks.
Brandon Morrow's injuries are becoming more frustrating by the day but he's not going anywhere and the rotation is likely to be rounded out with one of Happ, Rogers, Drabek or Hutchison.
It's obvious Anthopoulos would like to add another arm, but the free-agent pitching market is not spectacular and the Jays simply don't have the money to compete for the top-end guys.
Expect another starter to be added, but don't expect any big names. The rotation will look remarkably similar in 2014.
What the Jays Have: J.P. Arencibia, Josh Thole, A.J. Jimenez
What's Out There: Brian McCann, Mike Napoli, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, A.J. Pierzynski
J.P. Arencibia is no longer a major league catcher.
If he is pencilled in as the Jays' No. 1 catcher come April, Toronto will have no shot of making the playoffs. He's proven that he's incapable of getting on base, throwing runners out and calling a game.
Playing a position that demands a lot, Arencibia is only good at one thing: hitting home runs.
His .610 OPS is embarrassing. His .236 on-base percentage is even more embarrassing. Unfortunately for everyone involved, Arencibia's once-promising career has spiralled into complete embarrassment.
The team needs to move in a different direction and acquiring a new catcher who can play the position would be a nice start.
On the top of the wish list would be Atlanta's McCann. He's not the greatest defensive catcher but he can hit, meaning he's very likely to see a big payday with either the Braves, Yankees or Rangers.
Other catchers available on the free-agent market are Napoli, Saltalamacchia and Pierzynski.
Pierzynski should be Anthopoulos' target. He's 36 years old, yes, but he's an intense, professional catcher who knows what it takes to win. The Jays' problems this year have not been a lack of talent; they have stemmed from an apparent lack of professionalism.
Pierzynski would bring about a nice culture change on top of invaluable experience.
What the Jays Have: Maicer Izturis, Ryan Goins, Brett Lawrie
What's Out There: Robinson Cano, Stephen Drew, Jhonny Peralta
Jays fans should move on from the Cano idea. He's going to receive a contract in the $200 million mark and it will not be coming from Rogers Communications' pocket.
The Jays second baseman in 2014 will likely come via trade or internally. Goins made the decision slightly tougher for Anthopoulos with his strong play in August and September and he may end up being the Opening Day starter for Toronto.
Who Do You Think The Jays Starting Second Baseman Will Be in 2014?
What was so refreshing about Goins was not only his ability to hit, but his defensive efforts. Fans were used to Emilio Bonifacio's adventures in the infield and Goins' steady play was hugely appreciated. However, Goins carries plenty of risk and Anthopoulos would be smart to test the trade markets for an experienced infielder.
There is the chance that Anthopoulos brings in another corner infielder like Justin Morneau, creating a situation where John Gibbons will have to get creative, possibly resulting in Lawrie playing second. The team seems hesitant to put Lawrie in that position, however, so it seems unlikely.
While the Jays need improvement in those three areas, the free-agent and trade markets may not offer much in terms of solutions.
The die was cast when Anthopoulos traded for Dickey last winter.
He had already signed Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Brandon Morrow to long-term deals and traded for big contracts in Buerhle and Jose Reyes.
After Dickey was signed to a three-year deal, it was obvious that Anthopoulos had committed to contending with the group he had assembled until 2015. Year one did not work out, but the Jays are still an extremely talented group of players.
Personnel is not the problem.
Anthopoulos has placed his faith in this group, and it's very unlikely he will lose faith during the upcoming offseason.