If you’re the Toronto Blue Jays, what do you do one year after having the most talked about off-season in baseball, entering 2013 as a favorite to win the AL East only to walk away in October having won 74 games and finishing dead-last in the division?
Blow up the team?
Trade for missing pieces?
Sign a big name in free agency?
If you’re Alex Anthopoulos, the answer is nothing. You do nothing.
To be fair, Anthopoulos did reportedly try to pull off trades for Ian Kinsler and Brett Anderson but to no avail; and sure, some guys are gone (JP Arencibia, Josh Johnson, Rajai Davis, and Mark DeRosa). Still, when you look at the Blue Jays on March 31st, you will see essentially the same names you saw a year ago.
This leads to the obvious next question: can the Blue Jays win with the same team that lost 88 games a year ago?
Best Case Scenario for 2014
It’s tempting to say the optimism many had a year ago for this team could be realized if the Jays just stay healthy and a few things fall in their favor this year. However, given that they are still in the A.L. East and no help was acquired to improve a rotation that finished 28th in innings pitched and 29th in ERA among starting staffs in 2013, it’s hard to see Toronto as contenders. With health on their side and with a few things breaking badly for the Rays, Yankees, and/or Orioles, the absolute best the Jays will finish is third place in the East.
Most Important Blue Jays
Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion continue to be the cornerstones of a potentially potent lineup. Bautista’s health is going to be a concern as he has now had back-to-back seasons cut short due to two separate injuries. He is still a 40-home run threat if he can keep off the DL. A healthy Jose Reyes will also be a welcomed sight at the top of the lineup on Opening Day.
On the pitching side, a semi-return to 2012 numbers from RA Dickey is critical. If his woes in Rogers Centre continue (4.80 ERA at home last season), visions of the A.J. Burnett signing will be dancing in Jays fans’ heads. Equally as important to the Jay’s success is a healthy and effective Brandon Morrow. Morrow pitched well in 2012 season, sporting a 2.96 ERA but had 2013 cut short when a right forearm injury sidelined him after just 10 starts. Morrow has always shown the potential to be a solid number two or three starter but injuries and inconsistency have made it difficult to see whether or not he can ever live up to expectations.
Potential Breakout Players
Anthony Gose was in this category for 3-Up-3-Down last year and did not play well enough to be considered a “breakout” so here he is again. Gose has been touted as a five-tool player in the past and while that might be a stretch, he is speedy and strong defensively. If he can show some discipline at the plate, he could be a solid asset if/when there is a hole to fill in the outfield.
Drew Hutchison is returning from Tommy John surgery and is a favorite to win the fifth spot in the rotation coming out of Spring Training. He saw limited action with the Jays in 2012 and while he’s stuff isn’t overpowering, he is touted as having strong command and good deception with both his slider and changeup. The battle for the fifth rotation spot will be a tough one but even if Hutchison doesn’t win the job right out of camp, chances are we will be seeing him at some point this season.
Worst Case Scenario
Many are picking the Jays to finish last in the East again in 2014 and it’s hard to blame them. Still, it’s difficult to imagine this year’s team being worse than last year’s – they will win more than 74 games. A last place finish in the East and 80 wins is the absolute worst Toronto could be in 2014.
Areas of Concern
It’s no secret that second base was a major problem for the Blue Jays in 2013. Ryan Goins is pretty much a lock to be at the position to start the season (against righties, anyway; Maicer Izturis will likely start against lefties). Goins is decent with the glove but was only a .252/.264/.345 hitter in 119 at-bats last season and nothing from his minor league career indicates improvements are to come. There are rumblings that Scott Boras is trying to convince the Jays to sign Stephen Drew to potentially man second, which would be an upgrade offensively. It’s hard to see this as the right solution for the Jays, though.
A second weakness has already been mentioned – the rotation. A year ago, having RA Dickey as your staff ace meant something after his stellar 2012 Cy Young-winning season. After his abysmal year for the Jays and with questions persisting as to whether or not his knuckleball can be effective in Rogers Centre, Dickey feels like the best of bad options to take the ball on Opening Day. Brandon Morrow is the wildcard and perfectly capable of putting together a strong season but he has to stay healthy; Mark Buehrle will do what he does. Putting those three in front of JA Happ and “a-player-to-be-named” doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, though.
Who Needs to Bounce Back From a Down 2013
As discussed, RA Dickey has to be better in 2014 if the Jays have any chance of getting out of the basement. Looking around at the rest of the team, it’s hard to see anyone who had an “off year” from their norm that can really be expected to bounce back. Health will be a major factor. Injuries wreaked havoc on the team last year and if Bautista or Reyes get knocked out for an extended period again, it will be devastating for Toronto. Brett Lawrie is only 24 and while 2013 wasn’t exactly a down year for him, I think we have yet to see his full potential.