Monday, March 25, 2013

2013 MLB Preview #7: Toronto Blue Jays

Greetings! This is me buying in big-time...

Projected Starters - JP Arencibia (C), Edwin Encarnacion (1B), Emilio Bonafacio/Maicer Izturis (2B), Jose Reyes (SS), Brett Lawrie (3B), Melky Cabrera (LF), Colby Rasmus (CF), Jose Bautista (RF), Adam Lind (DH)

Honestly, I don't see a real weakness in this lineup. They could get 80 home runs combined from Encarnacion and Bautista, as each guy has gone for 40+ homers recently (2012 for E-5, and 2010/2011 for Bautista) and they provide the central power in the lineup. There's admittedly some concern over the track record for Encarnacion and the health of Bautista, but I think it's safe to project 65-70 total homers from them, and that's big-time. Jose Reyes is my pick for best shortstop in the league (because Tulo can't stay on the field), and he comes over from Miami after a great 2012 season. Reyes played 160 games to shed his "injury" tag, and he stole 40 bases while providing a little pop (11 HR) and good defense at shortstop. If he stays healthy, he's a 4-5 win player and that's incredibly valuable. Brett Lawrie and Melky Cabrera combine to give this team a huge upside. Lawrie is a former elite prospect who arrived like gangbusters in 2011, but had an injury-plagued, disappointing 2012 season (.273/.324/.405 with 11 homers and 13 steals). It's a great sign, however, that his "bad" year still provided 2.9 WAR, and if he hits to his capability, he could be an elite 3rd baseman as early as this season. Melky is Melky, and while I hate him forever (signed, Braves fan), he's hit the cover off of the ball for two solid seasons. Before his PED suspension last year, he was hitting .342 with an OPS over .900, and if he can replicate anywhere near that level, he's a huge luxury. Lind and Arencibia provide big-time power with batting average risk, but neither is a negative contributor as long as the batting average stays above .230. Finally, keep an eye on the 2nd base situation, as Bonifacio arrives from Miami coming off of a season where he stole 30 bases in only 274 PA's, but Izturis is the better defender at second base. If Bonifacio gets 450-500 AB's, he could still 50 bases, and with him and Reyes running wild, that could be entertaining.

Projected - RA Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow, Ricky Romero

Remember when the Blue Jays couldn't even find starters last season? They were killed by injuries in the rotation all year, and they responded by acquiring three big-time pitchers during the winter. RA Dickey was acquired coming off of the best season of his career, where he threw 233 innings with a 2.72 ERA. Frankly, he was an absolute stud last season, and while there are some inherent concerns with a late-maturing knuckleballer, if he's even the guy he was in 2011 (3.28 ERA over 208 innings), they would take that and run. Josh Johnson has some of the best stuff in the majors but he seems to be injured all the time. That said, he did throw 191 innings (31 starts) last year in Miami, and all reports are that he's 100% healthy in Toronto. Buehrle will eat innings in a big way, and he has thrown 200+ innings in an amazing twelve consecutive seasons. His other numbers won't wow anyone (career 3.82 ERA and 5.11 K/9), but that's a marked upgrade from last season's instability. Brandon Morrow led the team in WAR last year (2.4) despite injury causing him to throw only 124 innings. He's one of the biggest strikeout starting pitchers in all of baseball, and if he puts it together, he could be a top-25 starter in the league. He's far from safe, but as a #3-4 starter, there's big-time upside. Finally, Ricky Romero bottomed out last season (5.77 ERA in 181 innings), but he's back as the 5th starter (instead of the #1 guy last year) and there's no pressure. Prior to last season, he had back-to-back years with a 3.75 ERA or below, and there's a track record of success. I like him, and I think he returns to that level.

Projected - Casey Janssen (closer), Sergio Santos, Darren Oliver, Esmil Rogers, Brett Cecil, Steve Delabar

The closer situation in Toronto is theoretically up in the air. Casey Janssen is the reported incumbent (and the better pitcher), but he's trying to get healthy before opening day. He posted a 1.2 WAR last season (very good for a reliever) and if he stays healthy, I think he saves 35 games. Sergio Santos is his challenger, and he's got a great arm, but he's still raw after not pitching until later in his career, and he's hurt as well. Darren Oliver was awesome last season, but he's 42 years old and that's a question. The rest of the pen is "fine", but nothing more.


After their semi-dismal 73-89 record last season, it seems like a drastic jump to give them 91 wins and the AL East title, but there are a few things at work. First, I firmly believe that both New York and Baltimore are taking a step back (see their previews for the details), and secondly, this team was decimated by injuries and got a massive overhaul/upgrade in talent with the acquisitions of Dickey, Johnson, Buehrle, Reyes, and Cabrera. They are far from a "lock", but on paper, I think they're the best team in the AL East.


91-71, 1st in AL East

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