Toronto Blue Jays
2013: 74-88, 5th place, 23 games back
2014 projection: 85-77, 4th place
Manager: John Gibbons, 7th season
Projected 2014 payroll: $132.6 million
Can the Jays pull off a worst-to-first? For all the headline-grabbing moves the Blue Jays made last offseason, the Blue Jays came undone faster than mayor Rob Ford at a keg party. They managed to win just one more game under John Gibbons in 2013 than they did in their 2012 campaign under John Farrell. The remodeled upscale Blue Jays stumbled out of the gate and a wave of injuries took their toll.
Last season, the Blue Jays were wheeling and dealing and bringing in brand names Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Melky Cabrera, and R.A. Dickey and they went absolutely nowhere. Dickey was a bust in his first year putting up a 4.21 ERA in 224-plus innings
Their biggest move this offseason? Signing pitching great Roy Halladay to a one day contract so he could retire as a Blue Jay.
The Blue Jays are coming back with essentially the same starting group that disappointed in Toronto last season, albeit they’ll have some significant weapons starting the season healthy.
Those who left include pitcher Josh Johnson, who battled through arm injuries en route to a 2-8, 6.20 ERA season in Toronto, signed on with the Padres and catcher J.P. Arencibia joined the Rangers. Other losses include relievers Darren Oliver and Brad Lincoln, outfielder Rajai Davis, and infielder/outfielder Mark DeRosa.
Veteran catcher Dioner Navarro – who batted .300 with 13 home runs in limited duty with the Cubs last season – will take over for Arencibia behind the plate and provide a bit more pop. The Jays also signed second baseman Chris Getz from the Royals and picked up catcher Erik Kratz and third baseman Brent Morel.
The most interesting acquisition for the Blue Jays is 37-year-old-friend Tomo Ohka to the pitching staff. Ohka, who is attempting a comeback as a knuckleballer, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2009.
Projected lineup: Jose Reyes, SS; Melky Cabrera, LF; Jose Bautista, RF; Edwin Encarnacion, 1B; Adam Lind, DH; Brett Lawrie, 3B; Colby Rasmus, CF; Dioner Navarro, C; Ryan Goins/Maicer Izturis, 2B
Rotation: R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Mark Buehrle, J.A. Happ, Kyle Drabek/Drew Hutchison/Esmil Rogers
Bullpen: Casey Janssen, CL; Sergio Santos, Steve Delabar
Off the bench: Erik Kratz, Anthony Gose, Moises Sierra
Outlook: After coming off a year when their starters had their starters had the second-worst ERA in baseball (4.81), how the rotation bounces back will be the key determining factor for the Jays in 2014. Can knuckleballer R.A. Dickey perform like an ace in the AL East? Morrow, Buerhle, and Happ will also have to take big leaps forward for this rotation to stack up against the likes of Boston and Tampa Bay. If the Jays rotation comes undone again, they may move 21-year-old prospect Aaron Sanchez into the starter mix. If the Blue Jays can sign Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez it would certainly help the beleaguered rotation. And if Toronto can avoid being decimated by injuries for a third year in a row, they may be able to stay in the hunt beyond April this time around.
If Jose Reyes can stay healthy and live up to his billing, the star-filled lineup should be able to provide plenty of offensive punch. Edwin Encarnacion had a breakout season in 2013 – belting 36 homers and knocking in 104 runs – and he should continue to be a force. The Jays also have Jose Bautista, one of the most dangerous hitters in the game when healthy. And if Brett Lawrie can take a step forward for his injury-riddled 2013 season, he could become another dangerous weapon in a stacked Toronto offense. But all that offense might ut that might not be enough to advance them beyond the middle-of-the-pack in the always-tough AL East.