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Toronto Blue Jays Set To Make a Run at the American League East Title

NEW YORK - AUGUST 03:  Ricky Romero #24 of the Toronto Blue Jays delivers a pitch against the New York Yankees on August 3, 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.The Jays defeated the Yankees 8-2.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
Eric HoldenContributor IFebruary 3, 2011

Toronto Blue Jays fans haven't been this excited for baseball since Joe Carter's walk-off home run in the 1993 World Series.

A brilliant offseason by GM Alex Anthopoulos has given the franchise hope to be a contender in the American League East this year.

On Jan. 21, a deal was completed that rids the Jays of Vernon Wells' seven-year, $126 million contract. With $86 million left in the deal, the Los Angeles Angels hit the panic button after being shut out from other free-agent signings like Cliff Lee and Carl Crawford.

In order to acquire Wells, the Angels sent catcher Mike Napoli and outfielder Juan Rivera to Toronto.

The Blue Jays then sent Napoli to the Texas Rangers for reliever Frank Francisco and cash considerations. The move cleared $23 million off the books for the Jays next season and added depth to their bullpen.

Francisco missed the final month of last season with a muscle stain, but is one of the best relievers in the game when healthy. In 56 appearances with the Texas Rangers last year, he went 6-4 with a 3.76 ERA.

The 1-2 punch of Ricky Romero and Brett Cecil at the top of the rotation can go toe-to-toe with any of the elite hurlers in the division.

Cecil went 15-7 with a 4.22 ERA last season in 28 appearances, while giving up just 18 home runs.

Romero held opponents to a .242 batting average and earned 14 wins in a stellar 2010 campaign.

One can make a case that Toronto has the best bullpen in the game coming into the 2011 season. They made several key moves to retool the roster and improve the squad, including the acquisition of former Nationals and Twins setup man Jon Rauch and right-handed pitcher Octavio Dotel.

Both have experience as closers and can handle the pressure of pitching in a tight spot with the game on the line.

At 6'11" and 290 pounds, Rauch is one of the most dominating and intimidating hurlers in the league when he is at his best.

At 37 years old, Dotel might be on the downside of his career, but he notched 22 saves last year for the Chicago White Sox and should have a little left in the tank.

On paper, the Boston Red Sox should be the front-runner in the division after completing deals to acquire Bobby Jenks, Dan Wheeler, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez.

It may come down to the wire, but the Blue Jays should manage to hold off a charge by the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays to win the wild card in the American League.

 

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