Baltimore Orioles v Toronto Blue Jays

2012 Record: 73-89, 4th AL East
2012 Pythagorean Record: 74-88
Impact Player: RF Jose Bautista
Impact Pitcher: RHP Brandon Morrow
Top Prospect: RHP Aaron Sanchez

Significant Acquisitions: SS Jose Reyes, RHP Josh Johnson, RHP R.A. Dickey, LF Melky Cabrera, LHP Mark Buehrle, RHP Esmil Rogers, UT Emilio Bonifacio, C Josh Thole, C Henry Blanco, IF Maicer Izturis, UT Mark DeRosa, RHP Michael Schwimer, RHP Jeremy Jeffress, RHP Mickey Storey, RHP Justin Germano

Significant Departures: SS Yunel Escobar, 2B Kelly Johnson, RHP Henderson Alvarez, LHP Aaron Laffey, RHP Carlos Villanueva, RHP Jason Frasor, RHP Brandon Lyon, C Jeff Mathis, IF Omar Vizquel, SS Adeiny Hechavarria

Watching the 2012 Blue Jays was a bit like watching the third season of HBO’s Six Feet Under. For those unfamiliar with the show’s ebb and flow, the third season starts off oddly happy. For the first few episodes, you get the impression that things might turn out alright for this down-on-their-luck funeral-home-owning family. Something is still amiss—some of the characters are merely pretending to be happy, but for the most part, things are humming along about as well as could be expected.

Then…disaster. Every character seems to enter a sort of crisis and suddenly within a few episodes all the happiness — unsustainable though it might have been — evaporates and the viewer is left with a complicated tapestry of death and misery.

Such was the season for the Toronto Blue Jays. On July 4, they beat the Royals to move to 42-40. Not great, but they were only two-and-a-half games out of a wildcard spot and appeared to be in nice position to make some key acquisitions and take a run at their first playoff berth in nearly 20 years. Then it all came apart. Seemingly every valuable player spent significant time on the DL and the Jays went 31-49 from that point on.

Knowing that his contention window was quickly getting away from him, General Manager Alex Anthopoulos finally struck this offseason after years of slowly building the team’s farm system. This winter, he traded no fewer than seven of the organization’s top eight prospects—as well as a few Major League assets—in order to build a team with a chance at contending for the first time in a long time.

First, he pulled the trigger on one of the biggest trades in baseball history netting shortstop Jose Reyes, starting pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, utilityman Emilio Bonifacio and catcher John Buck from the Marlins for a package of players headed by Yunel Escobar and prospects Justin Nicolino and Jake Marisnick. But he wasn’t done. He proceeded to sign outfielder Melky Cabrera and then pulled off another mega-deal acquiring ace knuckleballer R.A. Dickey from the Mets for the team’s remaining top two prospects in catcher Travis d’Arnaud and right-hander Noah Syndergaard.

The transformation was complete. Adding the newly acquired core of players to the already established core puts the Blue Jays into the contention conversation in the AL East in a way they haven’t been since winning the World Series in back-to-back years in 1992 and ’93.

Pitching

There’s almost no reason to talk about how the Jays’ pitching performed last season since the staff has been completely revamped heading into 2013. Dickey, Johnson and Buehrle join incumbents Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero to form one of the better rotations in baseball—at least on paper.

Dickey became the first Cy Young Award winner to be traded the offseason after winning the award since Toronto dealt Roger Clemens following the 1998 season. The career path of the 38-year-old has been well documented and analyzed, but it’s still nearly impossible to project what he’ll do from this point forward. Last year, he was doing things no other knuckler had ever done before. He was striking out a ton—230 in an NL-leading 233 2/3 innings—he was walking close to no one and he trailed only Cliff Lee in strike-thrown-percentage. Somehow Dickey has become one of the most prolific strike throwers in baseball with a pitch that’s known for its unpredictability.

Johnson finally managed to stay healthy with Miami last season, making more than 30 starts for the first time since 2009 and for only the second time in his career. However, his velocity was significantly lower than it had been in previous years and he threw just over six innings per start—the lowest mark of his career. Still, he was a well-above-average pitcher in 2012 and should continue to be going forward—health permitting.

Buehrle did exactly what you’d expect him to do again last season. He threw over 200 innings and had an ERA in the mid-high threes. He’s not great, but he’s about as dependable as a pitcher can be. He’s entering his age-34 season and will now ply his wares in the AL East so you’d be excused for worrying, but it’s hard to bet against the usual Buehrle performance at this point.

Morrow might actually be the best pitcher on the staff. For three consecutive seasons now, he has put up peripheral numbers which rival the best pitchers in the game and last year, it finally started to be reflected in his result-based numbers. Unfortunately he missed a good portion of the year with an oblique injury. If he can finally put it all together and stay on the field for 30-plus starts, he could be a darkhorse Cy Young contender.

Finally, there’s Ricky Romero. After proving himself to be an above-average Major League pitcher over the previous two seasons, Romero proceed to lose all sense of the strike zone last year and became one of the worst pitchers in baseball. He posted the worst walk-rate in the AL among qualified pitchers and ranked near the bottom in both fielding-independent pitching and wins above replacement. Offseason elbow surgery might help things and there’s almost no way he’s that bad again. Even if he is, at least he won’t be counted on the way he was last year.

What the bullpen lacks in high-impact arms, it makes up for in depth. Casey Janssen took over as closer after Sergio Santos went down with a season-ending shoulder injury in April and was very impressive. He led the AL among qualified relievers in walks-per-nine and finished fifth in xFIP.

Santos, meanwhile, could be a major weapon at the back of the bullpen if he’s healthy. His poor mechanics finally caught up to him last season and he made only six appearances before eventually needing surgery on his shoulder. How he bounces back in 2013 will go a long way to determining the success of the bullpen. Plus, sliders y’all.

Left-hander Darren Oliver was the focal-point of some controversy this offseason when his agent tried to demand more money or a trade from the Jays in order to lure his client out of retirement, but Oliver said those reports were erroneous and decided to return under his current contract. Even entering his age-42 season, Oliver can be counted on for 60 to 70 very good innings.

The other left-hander in the bullpen will likely be converted starter Brett Cecil who will get every opportunity to stick in relief, but it could be his last opportunity. If he falters, he’s out of options and his days with Toronto could be numbered. Fellow starting pitcher castoff J.A. Happ could also be in the mix for a bullpen spot, but could still start if injuries hit the rotation.

A host of hard-throwing right-handers will round out the bullpen with Steve Delabar, Esmil Rogers (ostensibly the compensation for John Farrell’s dream job pursuit), Jeremy Jeffress, and Brad Lincoln the most likely to crack the team. Michael Schwimer, Chad Jenkins, Mickey Storey, Rich Thompson, Justin Germano and many others will start the year in Buffalo as insurance. With that many arms, one would think there is some combination that will be very successful at the Major League level.

Left-hander Luis Perez is recovering from Tommy John surgery and last year’s first-round draft pick Marcus Stroman still has 42 games to serve on his 50-game suspension for taking a banned stimulant last summer. Both, however, could be nice boosts to the bullpen in the second-half.

TOR P

Lineup

When Jose Bautista first went down with the wrist injury that caused him to miss most of the second-half the Jays were scoring an average of 4.81 runs per game. They scored just 3.88 runs per game afterwards. Not all of that had to do with Bautista being absent, but there’s no questioning that the lineup is drastically different with him in it—even now with all the improvements.

Between May 10 and the time of his injury in July, Bautista hit .279/.383/.637 with 22 home runs in 58 games and appeared to have put a terrible first month behind him. How he recovers from the injury should probably be a bigger story than it has been in Jays-land since severe wrist injuries can have a several-year recovery time.

At least there’s a lot more depth around Bautista this season with the addition of Reyes and Cabrera. Reyes has a somewhat unfair reputation as an injury-prone player, but was really only affected by hamstring problems for a year-and-a-half and has otherwise been fairly durable. Last year in Miami, he led the NL in plate appearances and was worth 4.5 WAR according to FanGraphs.

Cabrera, meanwhile, will be the everyday leftfielder and number-two hitter behind Reyes and is coming off a fantastic season with the Giants. He had accumulated 4.6 WAR in only 113 games before being suspended for PEDs in August after which he did not return to the team. Even if you think a lot of his performance over the last two years was due to PED-use, he should still be at least an average hitter with decent defensive ability in left.

Edwin Encarnacion finally put everything together last season and hit consistently over the whole year. He finished with a .280/.384/.557 slash line and 42 home runs—just two behind Miguel Cabrera for the league-lead. He’ll likely split time between first base and DH with Adam Lind who should never face another lefty in his career.

Third baseman Brett Lawrie will have to tone down the AGGRO to stay on the field for a full season, but if he does, he looks poised to become one of the best third basemen in baseball. He had a bit of a sophomore slump last year, but was still an average offensive player and seems to have developed enough defensively that he should have no problem sticking at the position going forward. If he can improve this year, he’ll slot in to the middle-of-the-order with Bautista and Encarnacion. A minor oblique injury has caused him to pull out of the World Baseball Classic for Team Canada, but he should be ready for Opening Day.

The rest of the Jays lineup is filled with potential, but also with question marks. Centerfielder Colby Rasmus continues to get further and further away from the player he was in 2010 with St. Louis and could be on his way out of a starting role if he continues to fall flat. He had one great month last year and was otherwise putrid. Lind is in the same boat. He actually saw time in AAA last year and should be considered at best a fringy platoon player at this point.

With d’Arnaud included in the Dickey deal, the Jays appear content to go forward with J.P. Arencibia as their everyday catcher. He allegedly works well with the pitching staff, but otherwise there’s not much to like about his game. He’s a bad defender and although he’ll run into the occasional home run, his career .275 on-base percentage should impress no one. Either Josh Thole or Henry Blanco is expected to land the backup job and become Dickey’s personal catcher.

The only real positional battle heading in to the spring will be at second base where the outgoing Kelly Johnson has been replaced by Maicer Izturis and Bonifacio. Both are versatile players, but Bonifacio’s ability to play the outfield could relegate him to a utility role off the bench leaving Izturis to play most of the time at second. Neither is fantastic at the plate, but neither is terrible either.

The rest of the bench will be rounded out by fourth outfielder Rajai Davis—who could end up being a creative platoon partner for Lind given his decent numbers against left-handed pitching—and veteran utility man Mark DeRosa who has been brought in almost exclusively for his clubhouse presence.

Defense

Toronto finished seventh in the AL in defensive efficiency last season, but could be slightly better this year with the additions of Reyes, Izturis and Cabrera who are all well-regarded with the glove. Still, the presence of Bautista, Arencibia and Rasmus ensure that they won’t be elite. If outfielder Anthony Gose ends up seeing regular playing time this year for any reason, he will improve things greatly, but if that’s the case, the Jays could have bigger problems to address.

TOR H

2013 Outlook

Anthopoulos has finally assembled the contending team he promised when he took over as GM a little over three years ago and the next couple seasons will define his legacy in Toronto. There are significant question marks with every core player on the team, but he has put the Jays in a position to overcome some decline from a few of their players.

Toronto finally has the pitching staff and deep lineup to keep up with the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox—and it helps that the AL East is in somewhat of a state of flux. If the injury bug makes another appearance like it did last year, it shouldn’t completely tank the team, but they’ll still need the likes of Johnson, Reyes and Bautista to stay on the field if they truly want to compete for their first playoff appearance in 20 years.

2013 Prediction: 88-74, 2nd AL East

For a detailed depth chart with statistics, click here. Stats obtained from FanGraphs (Toronto’s team page here) and Baseball Prospectus. Depth chart info provided by MLB Depth Charts.

Comments (68)

  1. You could have saved yourself some typing and left the significant departures blank.

  2. how is Rasmus a defensive liability? remember, also, that Rajai Davis was best among AL LFs in runs saved. yes, he looks weak out there, but he’s obviously doing something right. i don’t see a compromised outfield.

    • Rasmus’ defense looks good and he’s a good enough athlete with a strong throwing arm. However, the numbers don’t support the idea that he is a good defender. He was great in 2009, considerably below replacement level in 2010 and 2011 and replacement level last year. I appreciate why people say that he is a good defensive player because he looks so good out there and is capable of some truly spectacular plays, but this is a case where the numbers just on’t support the assumption.

      I do think that, like his offense, his defense has a real chance at improving though because he is such a good athlete.

      • You’ve just countered your own argument; what do you think happened to Rasmus between 2009 and 2010? He gained a ton of weight? Went blind for a while? Forgot how to catch the ball? Defensive statistics are highly dubious.

  3. You dont know shit about Baseball, Arencibia is just fine behind the plate. He improves his game all the time, he has the best work ethic I have seen in a while. Your occasional Homerun comment is very dumb, his average with runners on and runners on 3rd base is very good, and his RBI totals is around 1 every 2 games, and that is batting low in the lineup. When he hits his prime he will hit 30-40 every year with a .260-.280 avg, and 75-90 RBI’S with the potential of much more. There are players who hit over .300, but most of their hits are with the bases empty. I don’t want a catcher running around the bases too much, so I like the way he hits just fine. Almost all of this post is full of shit, maybe that was the point, just to get people scratching their heads at your words. Otherwise you might just be the worst at analyzing the game of Baseball period.

    • Herpily Derpily Derpty Derp. Derping herp querp ferp. Derpintuous herpilogically kerping derp. DERP, herpsichord de la derplidorf. Hmmmpppphhhurp!

      Gerpiptitude herping sturp!

    • Careful now people, don’t feed the trolls!

    • Blah, blah, blah – RBI’s! – blah blah blah – RISP! – blah blah blah – AVG!

      Comments like yours make me feel less intelligent by simply reading them. JPA is a good guy, the ladies like him but, crucially, he’s not very good at hitting a baseball.

    • This is the dumbest post I’ve seen in a while. Maybe instead of looking at isolated stats, try actually using your eyes to watch how poor JP is behind the plate. One of the worst-blocking catchers out there. He’s young, maybe he’ll get better, but your speculation of his potential is ridiculous.

    • Are you a JP stalker? wtf man, he is an OK hitter, and an OK Defencive backstop, his 20-25 HRs a year are what are keeping him as the #1, not a Buster type player whatsoever. Drew knows much more about this topic then you or I, so how about….idk, shut you fucking face.

      • Travis knows much more about this topic then you or I, so how about….

        FTFY Coach LB. The writers name appears at the top of the post.

    • Phil did reveal a bit of self awareness when he said: “Almost all of this post is full of shit”

    • I can’t believe i just seen someone post that JPA will bat .280 and hit 30-40 homeruns in his prime. He is in his prime, he’s 27 years old. Still waiting for those numbers that will never happen…

    • ARRRE BEEEEEE EEYYYYYYEEZZZZZZZZ!

      Out ouf curiosity, is your face frozen in. A permanent likeness of Jeff Kartsens?

  4. Visquel, Significant departure?
    On what level?

    • Semantics. Just acknowledging that he filled out a uniform with the Jays for a significant amount of time.

      • Lmao… you’re pathetic

      • ffs, just cause you put on the uni doesn’t make you a big loss.

        The guy “was” a good player a long time ago, but he was a wasted roster space last year, not only in production and fielding, but in the club house as well. I liked him until he …
        “he filled out a uniform with the Jays for a significant amount of time.”
        Now, i was happy to see him go, no big loss there.

        • You’re putting way to much stock into a list of players who played for the team last year who no longer do. The reason I put the word “significant” in there is because I didn’t want to have to list every minor-league player who was cut at the end of the year and I didn’t want to have to list every non-roster invitee in training camp.

          If you read the rest of the piece, you’ll notice I actually don’t mention Vizquel once.

        • The article is supposed to reflect the amount of change from last year to this one. He was on the roster full-time and now he’s gone and replaced with better depth. It’s a solid inclusion.

          • It’s so close to irrelevant it’s hilarious he even made time to comment on it

            • I think that was his point, which you just confirmed. That he was so irrelevant that he shouldn’t have been included. You are making yourself look like some adolescent asshole. You flame some poster with stupid derp bullshit who was making a decent point about how JP may not actually be the worst catcher in the league as you asserted and now you’re getting all bent out of shape because someone asked why you included vizquel who you admit yourself was irrelevant? Why not trying to be a tiny bit more professional? I know that’s a stretch at a frat house bro organization like the Score (and in a barely professional industry like online sports “journalism”) but maybe give it a try or don’t comment at all.

              • Thx, but im ok….i understand what he was saying….with not wanting to add the 75 plus players that are no longer with the Jays org.

                as for PHIL……keep reading, he really needed to be told to shut up.

              • Herpty derpty derp, BRO.

              • Travis’s first reply: “Semantics. Just acknowledging that he filled out a uniform with the Jays for a significant amount of time.”

                Seems appropriate to me. Why are YOU wasting your time rather than just fucking right off?

  5. Man on third with 2 outs, Arencibia .467 avg last year, .368 career avg. That is amazing, do you have any idea how rare that is to find in a player? He is very valuable. .438 career avg with the count 0-1. Those are the only important stats to look at to see the kind of player he is and will become. So fuck your dumb fake W.A.R stats and you stupid O.B.P comment. I would never want him to have a .500 O.B.P if his avg was .200 in situational hitting.

    • Phil, you’re just embarrassing yourself more. Please stop.

    • Herpy dery derp derp!

    • Easy on the man crush there Phil. I’m pretty sure Aaron Cebia only likes the ladies.

    • I’m with Phil, Aaron Ceebia is a solid catcher with big upside. I hope he puts it together this season, maybe 30 HRs will silence the critics.

    • A total of 7 hits last season for JP with a man on third with two outs. THAT MAN IS SO CLUTCH.

    • How about JP’s career .196 career AVG with RISP and 2 out, or his Late & Close AVG .175? Cherry picking stats is fun, yes, but your politicking is shameless. The above stats seem to tell me that JP chokes under the pressure when his team needs him the most.

      Except that they don’t.

      All of these statistics are SMALL SAMPLE SIZES. Look it up.

      I could tell you that JP was terrible with the bases empty because be only has 23 RBI on his home runs in those situations – just because one can regurgitate statistics does not mean one knows what they are talking about. Now tone down the attitude because you’re ignorance is showing.

    • Situational hitting stats mean nothing, Phil.

      • So, when the Jays catcher with the same stats as JPA won the World Series MVP in ’92….that didn’t mean anything?

        • It does actually;
          It means that even average offensive performers can step it up across a short period of time and outperform the elite. By your definition Pablo Sandoval is a better hitter than Miguel Cabrera, and Scutaro was the true snub for MVP.

    • The Toronto Sun comments section is thataway dude———>

      Oh and this. A million times this: http://m.youtube.com/#/watch?v=dw9qqvm-LT8

    • Your sample sizes are a tad small.

    • Are you suggesting that he has some magical ability to suddenly hit the ball at will as soon as somebody is on base? The rest of the time he’s not trying?

      • Or….hear me out….pitchers….give him more strikes with RISP and when the bases are empty, they pitch around him, thats got to be it.

  6. About right. The pusher for me is that the Jays, in my mind, are almost certain to get a few deals done to push em over the hump before the deadline and that’s something Tampa can’t really do. Still think they win the div.

    • I hope we dont have to make any mid season deals to get over the hump. Im hoping AA did enough this year with trades, FA, other pick ups to build enough depth mixed with small number of DL trips to get us over the hump that way, and at least get us that 1 game wildcard playoff spot. At least then we could have a shot.

  7. My only problem with this column is that you didn’t mention how Jose Reyes is going to hit .500 with 30 HRs and about 100 stolen bases

  8. Travis….real question for you here.

    You said that either Blanco or Thole will be the back up as no one seem to really know for sure with most leaning to Blanco as Thole has options left, yet you list Thole on your BN line up. Does that mean your leaning his way, or just putting a name down?

    Im leaning Thole as wel (if thats what your line up card means)l, even though most say no way, with his options he will be depth, but with him coming over in the trade, as Dickeys everyday catcher, i would think, Dickey would have a say in who catches him, but really, im just guessing here.

    • I think over the course of the full year, Thole will see more time.

      • Hope so, I think he may turn out to have been a real nice pick up in that deal.

        Not a .330/450/950 line that JP will put up this year with his 45hrs and 125 RBIs – with runners in scoring position, while on 1st base in the top of the 5th at home at Fenway! Eh Phil!

  9. Color me a troll if you want, but part of me would be interested to see the general reaction to the Jays shitting the bed again this year.

  10. Prediction: 2nd in AL East??? 88-74??? Yikes. Tampa finished with a 90-72 record last year and didn’t get a wild card spot. My prediction for the Jays: 118-44. Another Cy Young for Dickey, MVP for Bautista, Manager of the year for Gibby, Gold gloves for Reyes and Lawrie, Rolaids Relief man to Santos, Comeback player to Cabrera, Roberto Clemente to Arencibia, ALCS MVP to Encarnacion…. Hate to be a realist though as they Jays will likely lose out in game 7 of the ALCS….

  11. People bashing jp are not being fair. He will be around 250/25/80 which is solid numbers. Seeing as only really posey will put up better numbers I think at 27 I can be happy with jp. His obp and d is pretty awful but lets not write him off yet. He had only had what 2 full seasons in the bigs. And obviously aa knows more about his skill then us, and he is willing to pin his hopes on jp to be a part of this ws team.

    • Not sure it was JP bashing, more like Phil bashing. Most fans are happy with JP, but are a little more realistic then 280 BA or 40 HRs.

      I went over board with my numbers to highlight how dumb the projection was that Phil posted up, then he double down on the next post. Its ok to be a fan, but I think we all know that those types of numbers out of JP, well they just aren’t going to happen. and Im with you, 250/25/80 would be solid.

    • .250/25 I would take. RBIs are a simple function of position in the batting order (ie useless). And he’ll still likely make outs 70% of the time, which is, ya know, terrible.

  12. Man that Phil K guy reminds me of Tom Selleck on Mr. Baseball . I hit the most doubles in the 9th inning last year in the final month! LoL! who cares if I guy is on third and he has an awesome average. Whats his strike out ratio when guys are on base? you have that stat , go google some more stats ya goof

  13. who are you picking for 1st in the east?

  14. martinez and tabler need to be replaced, all these guys are gunna be talking is the importance of having switch hitters.

  15. The jays and tigers may finally get to play meaningful games once again

  16. 88 wins only? Looks more like a 90-95 team to me…

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