Previewing the AL East: Toronto Blue Jays

The Toronto Blue Jays head into the season as… well, I’m not exactly sure. This is a team that made some big moves last offseason and under performed in 2013. While nobody expects them to take the division crown this season right now, it still has the same level of talent it had at the beginning of last season, when they were projected to be one of the best teams in baseball.

Skeptics will be skeptics, though, and because the team failed to live up to expectations last season, the safest bet seems to be to keep expectations low for team for the upcoming season as well.

The Offseason:

To put it short and sweet, the Blue Jays did virtually nothing this offseason. This isn’t to say the team needed to do a lot, but for all the talk we’ve heard about the team looking to sign a free agent starting pitcher, there’s only one fish left on the market. Garza went to the Brewers, Jimenez to the Orioles, Arroyo to the Diamondbacks, Tanaka to the Yankees, and now Ervin Santana remains the only viable name remaining.

Dioner_Navarro_2014Santana might not be the best fit for homer-friendly Rogers Centre, either, but instead of focusing only on what the team hasn’t done this offseason, let’s take a look at the moves the team has made.

Some of the team’s notable transactions this offseason:

- Signed C Dioner Navaro for 2 years, $8MM
– Acquired C Erik Kratz from PHI
– Signed 2B Chris Getz to a minor-league deal

Look at the bright side of the offseason, the team did get a switch-hitting catcher who has been able to evade interest from the rest of the league since 2008, when he was last relevant in the big leagues. And yes, there is plenty of sarcasm in that last sentence. I won’t completely knock Navarro though, after all, the guy did hit .300 with a .492 SLG% in 84 games for the Cubs last season.

As baseball fans, I just think we would of expected a bit more out of a team that seemed as if they were going all in last offseason only to hibernate a little too deep into the winter this year. Let’s take a look at how the team’s 2013 starting lineup figures to look again this season…

Jose+Bautista+New+York+Yankees+v+Toronto+Blue+R-crHAjkrinlProjected Starting Lineup:
w/ 2013 statistics

1. SS Jose Reyes (.296AVG, 10HR’s, 37RBI’s)
2. LF Melky Cabrera (.279AVG, 3HR’s, 30RBI’s)
3. RF Jose Bautista (.259AVG, 28HR”s, 73RBI’s)
4. 1B Edwin Encarnacion (.272AVG, 36HR’s, 104RBI’s)
5. 3B Brett Lawrie (.254AVG, 11HR’s, 46RBI’s)
6. DH Adam Lind (.288AVG, 23HR’s, 67RBI’s)
7. CF Colby Rasmus (.276AVG, 22HR’s, 66RBI’s)
8. C Dioner Navarro (.300AVG, 13HR’s, 34RBI’s)
9. 2B Maicer Izturis (.236AVG, 5HR’s, 32RBI’s)

As previously noted, this lineup includes every player from last season outside of Dioner Navarro, although this is not necessarily a bad thing. I didn’t harp on the Rays for only adding a catcher, one that is similar to Navarro, and the Blue Jays lineup is arguably considerably better than that of the Rays.

Jose Reyes, when healthy, is still one of the best leadoff hitters in the game, despite only stealing 15 bases last season, and Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion make up one of the most powerful 3-4 combinations in baseball, combining to hit 64 HR’s in 2013.

Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus both have question marks over their heads for the upcoming season, but for the opposite reason of the other. Brett Lawrie still needs to prove that his stretch in 2011, where he slugged .580, was not a fluke, and Colby Rasmus needs to prove he’s capable of producing another season like lasts. For some reason, people still talk about Rasmus still needing to break out, needing to prove himself… the guy slugged .501 last season, good for 9th best in the AL behind Texas’ Adrian Beltre. What else do you want out of him?

The question surrounding the Blue Jays has never been whether or not they would hit, but how their pitching would hold up against the tough competition of the AL East. Let’s take a look at how the team’s staff figures to look for the upcoming season…

1024px-R.A._Dickey_on_April_7_2013_1Projected Pitching Rotation:
w/ 2013 statistics

SP RHP R.A. Dickey (14-13, 4.21ERA)
SP RHP Brandon Morrow (2-3, 5.63ERA)
SP LHP Mark Buehrle (12-10, 4.15ERA)
SP LHP J.A. Happ (5-7, 4.56ERA)
SP RHP Esmil Rogers (5-9, 4.77ERA)
CP RHP Casey Jansen (34 saves, 2.56ERA)

To be honest, I’m not sure there’s one guy in the Blue Jays rotation you can count on to throw quality innings outside of Mark Buehrle. R.A. Dickey has thrown 200 innings each of the last three seasons, but his ERA jumped up a run and a half from his 2012 Cy Young season. This is mostly due to the fact that his knuckleball wasn’t as effective in the American League, especially in a division where veteran players have already seen plenty of knuckleballs from the great Tim Wakefield.

J.A. Happ has a career 4.25 ERA and hasn’t been an effective starter since he was a member of the Phillies, and Esmil Rogers owns a career 5.25 ERA across four big league seasons. All Blue Jays fans can hope for is to see RHP’s Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman at some point this season, or for the club to sign the last big-name starter on the market in Ervin Santana.

The bullpen, on the other hand, should continue to be a strength for this team. With Sergio Santos, Brett Cecil, and Steve Delabar bridging the gap to closer Casey Jansen, John Gibbons should not have to worry too much about losing ballgames late.

Overall:

The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays have a lot to prove, and despite the fact that the team still has a lot of big names on its roster heading into this season, every other team in the division has made improvements as the Jays have been stagnant. It’s probably upsetting for Jays fan to read this, but I’m just not sure we can expect anything besides a finish at or near the bottom of the division in 2014.

2014 PECOTA Projection: 80-82 (fourth in AL East)

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