30 Clubs in 30 Days: Toronto Blue Jays

Posted: February 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

ImageThe final AL East team in our 30 Clubs in 30 Days segment is the organization with the best logo in the league, the Toronto Blue Jays. Wisely, the Jays dropped their futuristic, cartoon “T” and went retro with the iconic smirking Blue Jay behind a maple leaf. But, enough about their aesthetics. What about the team on the field?

Toronto went through the biggest overhaul of any team in the league this offseason. GM Alex Anthopoulos, tired of the neverending “also-ran” status that encompasses most of the AL East outside of the empires in Boston and New York, made drastic moves to improve his team in the offseason. First, they made perhaps the biggest splash of the offseason, taking on nearly $40 million in salary for 2013 by trading with the Miami Marlins to acquire RHP Josh Johnson, LHP Mark Buehrle, SS Jose Reyes, IF Emilio Bonifacio, and C John Buck for RHP Henderson Alvarez, SS Yunel Escobar, C Jeff Mathis, and a hoard of prospects headlined by SS Adeiny Hechavarria.

By making the move, Anthopoulos drastically improved a mediocre rotation and provided power-hitter Jose Bautista with a top-of-the-order presence in Reyes. A month later, the Blue Jays made another power-move, acquiring 2012 NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey from the New York Mets along with C Josh Thole for top prospect C Travis D’Arnaud, RHP Noah Syndergaard, and OF Wuilmer Becerra. The move, which added another $10 million to their payroll, gives Toronto the undisputed best starting rotation in the American League East.

The Jays will also have a new skipper to captain this ship to its desired destination. John Gibbons, who formerly managed the team from 2004-08, is back at the helm. He replaces John Farrell, who returned to Boston to manage the Red Sox. Gibbons had led Toronto to an 87-75 record in 2006, their best winning percentage since they won the World Series in 1993.

Will all these changes translate into wins? Despite not making the postseason since 1993, the Blue Jays are currently the Vegas favorites to win the title. This despite the fact that only one of the players they acquired this offseason in those massive trades has any substantive postseason experience (Mark Buehrle). We have seen in recent years that the offseason champions rarely become World Series champions. Time will tell if Anthopoulos’ aggressiveness pays off.

Five Year Review:
2012: 73-89
2011: 81-81
2010: 85-77
2009: 75-87
2008: 86-76

2012 Team MVP: DH Edwin Encarnacion: I hate to give team MVP to a designated hitter because I hate the fact that the position even exists. But, Encarnacion was undoubtedly the Blue Jays’ best offensive performer in 2012. Despite tons of potential dating back to his days with Cincinnati, the 30-year-old slugger had never eclipsed 26 HR and 68 RBI in his career. That all changed once he got 500+ at-bats behind Jose Bautista in Toronto. Encarnacion, who signed a five-year deal with the team through 2015, came in 11th in MVP voting after he slugged 42 homers and 110 RBI with a career-high .280/.384/.557 slash line. It was a full .134 point increase over his former career-high in OPS. I will be curious to see whether or not Encarnacion can mimic this type of production in 2013. If he can, the Jays may find themselves in the postseason for the first time in 20-years.

2012 Team LVP: LHP Ricky Romero: There were some candidates in the Blue Jays’ lineup for this position. But, the LVP award has to go to Ricky Romero. Going into 2012, the 28-year-old looked like a burgeoning ace. From 2009-2011, his first three years in the league, Romero went 42-29, 3.60 with a 2-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The Jays thought they had their next Roy Halladay. But, it all unraveled in the second half of the season.

From opening day to his second-to-last start in June, Romero held an 8-1, 4.34 mark. Not too shabby, especially that impressive win-loss record. Unfortunately, there was still one more start in June, and that is where the wheels fell off for Romero. Pitching in Boston at Fenway Park on June 27th, Romero allowed 8 ER in just 3 IP. His walks, which were already a concern despite his strong record, became an epidemic from then on. From that start through the end-of-the-season, Romero’s stat line looked like this: 1-13, 7.35 ERA, 59 BB, 55 K. Not surprisingly, their ace’s struggles coincided with the team’s struggles in the second half. On June 27th, Toronto was 38-36. From that point on, they went 35-53. No wonder Anthopoulos wanted to improve the staff in the offseason.

Key Acquisitions:

C Josh Thole (New York Mets)
2B Emilio Bonifacio (Miami Marlins)
IF Maicer Izturis (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of California of the USA of North America of Earth)
SS Jose Reyes (Miami Marlins)
RHP R.A. Dickey (New York Mets)
RHP Josh Johnson (Miami Marlins)
LHP Mark Buehrle (Miami Marlins)

Key Departures:
C John Buck (New York Mets)
C Jeff Mathis (Miami Marlins)
2B Kelly Johnson (Tampa Bay Rays)
SS Yunel Escobar (Tampa Bay Rays)
SS Omar Vizquel (Retirement)
RHP Henderson Alvarez (Miami Marlins)
RHP Jason Frasor (Texas Rangers)
RHP Brandon Lyon (New York Mets)
RHP Carlos Villanueva (Chicago Cubs)

Projected Lineup/Rotation (w/composite 2013 projections):

SS Jose Reyes (.295-11-59)
RF Melky Cabrera (.296-14-67)
LF Jose Bautista (.267-37-96)
DH Edwin Encarnacion (.272-30-89)
3B Brett Lawrie (.275-17-69)
CF Colby Rasmus (.242-21-67)
1B Adam Lind (.266-18-63)
C J.P. Arencibia (.232-20-59)
2B Emilio Bonifacio (.261-3-33)

RHP R.A. Dickey (14-10, 3.75)
RHP Josh Johnson (12-8, 3.65)
RHP Brandon Morrow (11-10, 3.92)
LHP Mark Buehrle (12-12, 4.30)
LHP Ricky Romero (11-11, 4.52)

2013 Outlook:

The Jays made all the right moves and said all the right things this offseason. Their two massive deals with NL East rivals New York and Miami set their rotation up to be the finest in the AL East. Their lineup, meanwhile, has power throughout and capable OBP guys at the top.

Here’s my problem with Toronto, however. 90% of their current roster has no or limited playoff experience. Amongst their projected starters, only four players have even played in a playoff game (Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus, and Mark Buehrle). Of those four, only Cabrera and Buehrle have made the playoffs more than once. Maybe the Jays can ride their offseason momentum to a playoff berth. But, to call this team the odds-on favorite to win the Fall Classic is an absolute joke predicated on media hype.

Also standing in Toronto’s way is their injury history. Reyes, Cabrera, Encarnacion, Rasmus, Lind, and Bonifacio all have massive injury rap-sheets. That’s over half of their lineup right there. Their rotation, meanwhile, is rife with pitchers who are likely to miss time. Johnson and Morrow have only three full-seasons combined without some kind of injury problem, Dickey and Buehrle are both in their late-30s, so who knows about them, and Romero had one of the worst second-halves in baseball last season.

Do the Blue Jays have talent? Yes, of course. But, that talent is littered with a litany of potential problems that will hinder their chances this season. Do not believe in the hype, the Blue Jays will be better than 2012. But, they will only win between 82-88 games in 2013.

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