Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

2013 MLB Team Previews: Toronto Blue Jays

Credit: David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

Toronto Blue Jays

2013 in Review

After an off-season which netted them Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, R.A. Dickey, Melky Cabrera and Mark Buehrle, the Toronto Blue Jays suffered their second consecutive losing season, finishing in the basement of the American League East. The accumulation of star and veteran talent the winter prior led many to believe the Blue Jays could compete for a pennant. Instead, they would open the 2013 season 10-21 and finish 74-88.

Ace R.A. Dickey would struggle from the jump and the final cumulative Earned Run Average (ERA) for the primary members of the starting rotation finished at 4.69. Josh Johnson was the most disappointing. Triceps inflammation and forearm tightness derailed his season. Johnson would finish his lone season in Toronto with a 2-8 record and 6.20 ERA.

As usual, power was on dispay hitting-wise. First baseman Edwin Encarnacion led the team with 36 home runs while right fielder Jose Bautista tallied 28. Catcher J.P. Arencibia, center fielder Colby Rasmus and designated hitter Adam Lind would together add 66 HR as well. Despite scoring more runs than the Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto’s prolific offense would be besieged by its horrific pitching.

2014 Preview

Key Departures: RHP Josh Johnson, CF Rajai Davis, C J.P. Arencibia

Key Additions: C Dioner Navarro, C Erik Kratz

Offense

When one thinks of offense, images of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion cranking the ball out of the Rogers Centre emerge. Since 2009, the Blue Jays lineup has finished in the top ten in HR hit every single season. More of the same can be expected in 2014. Bautista and Encarnacion levy heavy power from the plate. DH Adam Lind and CF Colby Rasmus contribute 20-plus HR potential each as well.

Meanwhile, shortstop Jose Reyes continues to be one of the best lead-off hitters in Major League Baseball. He continually hits near or above .300 while walking at a respectable rate. Stolen bases were an issue for Reyes in 2013 as he stole just 15. In his seven previous healthy seasons, Reyes averaged 52 SB. At 30 years old, Reyes may be slowing down but he shouldn’t have a problem eclipsing 20 SB in 2014.

Third baseman Brett Lawrie has been the poster child for hype the last two seasons. With a fast and furious style of play, he often succumbs to injuries. If Lawrie can stay on track, he will provide even more pop for this powerful lineup while also offering 20-plus SB potential.

Second baseman Ryan Goins is pegged to start at second. He offers very little in the batter’s box. Dioner Navarro and Josh Thole will platoon at catcher. Neither offer much offensively either. The Blue Jays will be lucky if they combine for a double-digit HR total.

Outfielder Anthony Gose, infielder Maicer Izturis and rookie utilityman Moises Sierra are expected to round out a less than inspiring bench.

Defense

Ultimate Zone Defense (UZR) is a metric used to quantify defensive aptitude. Per UZR, the Blue Jays were one of the worst defensive MLB clubs in 2013. They finished with a UZR rating of -25.1, good (or bad) for 22nd overall. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are the two primary provocateurs of bad defense. Each of the two have consistently finished with a negative rating annually. However, Bautista’s defense is slowly gaining ground and for the first time since landing in Toronto, he could finish with a positive indicator defensively.

Jose Reyes and Colby Rasmus are two of the better defenders on the club. Last season, Reyes posted a fielding percentage of .974. While respectable, his overall defensive rating tallied a quantifier of -1.4. Rasmus’s defense improved dramatically in 2013. He posted a defensive rating of 12.9 and a UZR of 11.2. Overall, Rasmus finished with a fielding percentage of .987.

At catcher, the Blue Jays are expected to improve immensely defensive-wise. Arencibia’s rSB (Stolen Base Runs Saved) was -4 in 2013. For comparison’s sake, Dioner Navarro finished with a 1 rSB. His backup, Josh Thole, is more similar to Arencibia though. In 2013, Thole’s rSB sat at -5. With Navarro expected to see the majority of time behind the plate, the Blue Jays will certainly improve in this area defensively.

Rotation and Bullpen

Pitching wrecked the Blue Jays a year ago. Their chances of competing for the club’s first AL East crown since 1993 diminished before April was over. While he improved later in the season, R.A. Dickey was far from a success. Josh Johnson was a bust. Mark Buerhle managed his way to 12 wins. Finally, a plethora of injuries to Johnson, J.A. Happ and others led to a string of dismal appearances from less than stellar arms.

The scary thing is, not much has changed in the rotation. Josh Johnson is gone, and that should help, but after Dickey and Buerhle, how reliable is the rest of the rotation? Brandon Morrow and Happ are not elite arms and both have had their fair share of health concerns. While a line drive to the skull isn’t Happ’s fault, it is symbolic of the tumultuous career he has had since being traded from Philadelphia to Houston to Toronto.

Kyle Drabek is expected to earn the final spot in the rotation. Once considered a very good prospect, Drabek has struggled since landing in Toronto via Philadelphia. Drabek has a 5.80 ERA in 37 games pitched with the Blue Jays. What makes anyone confident he can turn it around?

Toronto has been linked as a possible destination for free agent pitcher Ervin Santana. While Santana remains on free agency, he would be a welcome addition to the Blue Jays middling rotation.

The Blue Jays have a respectable bullpen led by closer Casey Janssen and setup man Sergio Santos. Both Janssen and Santos are reliable late-inning arms that can get the job done. Right-handed pitchers Dustin McGowan, Jeremy Jeffress and Steve Delabar will join left-hander’s Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup to round out the bullpen

Projected Starting Lineup

  1. SS Jose Reyes
  2. 3B Brett Lawrie
  3. RF Jose Bautista
  4. 1B Edwin Encarnacion
  5. DH Adam Lind
  6. CF Colby Rasmus
  7. LF Melky Cabrera
  8. C Dioner Navarro
  9. 2B Ryan Goins

Projected Starting Rotation

  1. R.A. Dickey
  2. Mark Buerhle
  3. Brandon Morrow
  4. J.A. Happ
  5. Kyle Drabek

Prospect to Watch

Right-handed pitcher Marcus Stroman doesn’t offer up much on appearance but with such a small frame, he packs a big punch. Arguably the best prospect in a Toronto farm system lacking potential impact players, there is no doubt Stroman will be called upon at some point in 2014. He has the ceiling of a middle-of-the-rotation starter. In reality, his upside is that of a back-end starter. Still, he has a strong fastball that tops out at 94 mph. His repertoire includes three other pitches. Two different breaking balls and a decent changeup make him more than versatile to work a hitter. The downside is that he was suspended for 50 games for testing positive for a stimulant. Regardless, Stroman may be the best thing Toronto has going on the farm. Look for his name to be called no later than prior to the all-star break.

Best Case Scenario

In what is the absolutely best case scenario, Toronto can win 90 or more games if the top two veterans of the rotation – R.A. Dickey and Mark Buerhle – dominate and stretch 2014 out over 200 or more innings. Then, they would need Brandon Morrow to remain off the disabled list. Additionally, some combination of J.A. Happ, Kyle Drabek, Dustin McGowan and Marcus Stroman have to round out the rest of the rotation, providing quality innings as workhorses. After all, we know the hitting is going to be there. Will the pitching? One cannot underscore the importance  of over-achievement at pitching for the Blue Jays. If they can get it, they will be tough to beat.

Worst Case Scenario

If the pitching goes the way it did last season, it will be another long year for the heavy-hitting Blue Jays. R.A. Dickey is 39 years old and Mark Buerhle will be 35 come Opening Day. Depending on those two to navigate your club through the treacherous waters of the AL East is unacceptable. Things could be even more horrid if Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus do not show signs of progression. To make matters worse, if Jose Bautista somehow ends up with another prolonged DL stint, the Blue Jays will be even more awful then expected. All in all, everything hinges on the pitching. If the pitching gets ugly, so will the Blue Jays.

Prediction

71-91 (5th in AL East)

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