Overall - The Blue Jays saw a window open to take the usually strong AL East. They went out and added pay roll, acquiring veterans Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buerle from the Marlins and R.A. Dickey from the New York Mets. The cost was steep, with five of their top prospects leaving as well as Henderson Alvarez. Unfortunately, they did not expect the combination of strong play from the Red Sox and the injuries and uninspired play from the same group that disappointed Marlins fans to disappoint Toronto fans. Reyes injuries limited him to less than 400 at bats with 93 games in his continuing battle with injuries, stealing only 15 bases, Johnson had an ERA at 6.20 and Buerle provided them 200 vanilla innings as he always does, while Dickey got off to a horrendous start and did not recover until the Jays were almost out of it. The team was second to the Orioles in allowing the most homeruns per innings pitched with their starters having the second highest ERA in the American League and their defensive zone ratings muddled in the bottom ten of the thirty major league teams, which doesn’t help the pitching staff. Injuries forced them to use 13 different starters, a position they thought was a strength in 2013. There is hope that their .284 batting average on balls in play, which was the fourth worst in the major leagues will improve in 2014, leading to better offensive performance. They also still have a $100 million payroll which should be evidence that you have acquired some decent players.
Key Additions - They acquired most of their players last year. Now their high salaried players give them less flexibility to bid for a pitcher like Masahiro Tanaka. They did sign Dioner Navarro after giving up on J.P. Arencibia’s poor defense and low average. Travis d’Arnaud, a player they gave up for R.A. Dickey would probably be a better option. They also obtained Phillies back up catcher Eric Kratz in a trade. They did sign a Cy Young award winner in Roy Halladay, but that unfortunately a one day retirement contract.
Key Subtractions - They lost both J.P. Arencibia and Josh Johnson to free agency. Arencibia was a one trick pony, who could only provide power. His batting average (.194) and defense were poor. His 18/148 walk to whiff numbers remind you of Brandon Wood. Josh Johnson just never had it. He was a Cy Young contender in his early years, but he is still not healthy from his Tommy John surgery. He gave up a homerun every five innings he pitched. On the upside he struck out more than one batter per inning, but that is now a hope for the Padres.
Catching - This position is completely revamped as J.P. Arencibia leaves and one time top Yankee catching prospect Dioner Navarro and Eric Kratz arrive. Last year the Jays had the fifth worst defense at this position, including the most passed balls (30) and tied for fourth worst for the most errors. Navarro and Kratz hope to change that. Both catchers are more comfortable in playing back up roles, though Navarro hit 13 homeruns for a .492 slugging percentage for the Cubs and Kratz hit nine homeruns with the Phillies. If they can combine for 22 homeruns again that will be one more than Arencibia. Josh Thole is a player the Jays got from the Mets in the R.A. Dickey trade. They needed somebody to catch his knuckleball. He lacks power, is not particularly strong on defense but is a nice contact hitter. He only hit .175 last year but his bat can do better. The Jays best hope is for A.J. Jimenez to be ready. Tommy John surgery in 2012 limited him to 27 games. In 2013 he got to play 67 games. He is a strong defensive player with the potential for a good bat, but in order to develop he needs to stay healthy. With a good year he can be ready by mid-year. Mike Nickeas is another back up catcher they picked up as insurance against a Navarro or Kratz injury.
First Base - The Jays have two first baseman/DH types in Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind. Encarnacion will see the most time here. His bat is now one of the best in the league with a 36 homerun effort after hitting 42 in 2012. He also walked more (82) than he struck out (62). Lind does not hit for as much power (23 homeruns) but is still a big time run producer. They signed Dan Johnson to a minor league contract and he needs an injury to either Lind or Encarnacion to see any roster time. L.B. Dantzler was drafted in round 14 last year but he hit .302 with nine homeruns in short season ball. He is a player to watch.
Second Base - Emilio Bonafacio and Maicer Izturis were supposed to battle for the second base job, but neither hit over .240. Emilio was eventually traded to the Royals. Ryan Goins came up at the end of the year and won the job but still hit only .252 with a 2/28 walk to whiff ratio, which doesn’t elicit promise. If they get desperate to fill this position they can try returning Brett Lawrie to second and move Jose Bautista to third, but that makes for a horrendous defensive possibility. Brent Morel was also signed to play third but he is a good field no hit type of player. The popular Munenori Kawasaki is a nonroster nvitee and could make the team in a utility role. The minor leagues offer no immediate help, though there are some talented shortstops who could switch to second base.
Third Base - Brett Lawrie has got to stay healthy for this team to have success. At one time he was considered their franchise player. He is still young (24) but he plays with wreckless abandon resulting in countless injuries. They need a 500 at bat plus season from him in 2014. He also hit only .254 with a .397 slugging percentage. He is a much better hitter than that. Maicer Izturis should see a lot of time here to rest Lawrie from his nagging injuries. A long term injury would see Jose Bautista move from right field. Andy LaRoche, the brother of Adam is a non-roster invitee who will provide insurance in the higher minor leagues. The long term answer could be 2012 supplemental number one pick Mitch Nay. Not every one is sold on his ability to play defense, but time will be the best answer.
Shortstop - Jose Reyes carries a black cloud of disappointing aspirations everywhere he goes. The Mets, Marlins and Blue Jays all had playoff hopes dashed with Reyes at shortstop. He has had one playoff season in his 11 years and that was seven years ago when he was 23 years old. Kawasaki could see time here in a utility role, but if the Jays choose not to take his weak bat Izturis will get the call. No immediate prospects are at the high minor league level, but at the lower levels Franklin Barreto and Dawel Lugo are players to watch. Both may lack the range to stay at the position long term, but they have strong bats that could fill other positions.
Left Field - In 2012 Melky Cabrera may have won a batting title if not for his drug suspension. Perhaps the drugs were the assist he needed to win the batting title. He didn’t show the same bat in 2013, showing very little power for the corner position. Another possibility to patrol left field is Anthony Gose, but he also lacks the power to play this position, with tools better suited to play center. What he does offer is more speed and better defense than Cabrera and his slugging average was even better than Cabrera. His Achilles heel is his lack of patience which gave him a 5/37 walk to whiff ratio and an OBA under .300. Kevin Pillar is another interesting possibility. He only hit .206, but in the minors he has done nothing but hit with a career average of .331 entering the 2013 season. Moises Sierra is a strong bat who has the arm to play right. With Jose in right he could move to left if the trio mentioned above struggles. Pillar is the only real immediate help in the minors.
Center Field - Colby Rasmus had his character issues with the Cardinals. He seems to have left those behind with the Blue Jays. Injury issues limited him to 118 games but he slugged 22 homeruns. Anthony Gose is probably the better defensive player and this could be Rasmus last year as he is eligible for free agency next year. Gose has to improve his patience. With better contact he would be an ideal leadoff hitter. If Rasmus departs for free agency after this year the Jays have no real alternatives to take over the position if Gose proves lacking. D.J. Davis is a player in rookie ball who is the long term answer.
Right Field -Jose Bautista won a couple homerun titles but the last two years have been shortened with injuries. He still slugs homeruns with 28 last year, but his seasons have ended early with injury. If the Jays need to get the bat of Moises Sierra in the lineup Bautista has the flexibility to move to third base. They lack options in the minors if they struggle through injuries again this year. Pillar and Gose can also fill spots here.
Designated Hitter - Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind will rotate here. Lind has had his struggles with left handed pitching so this may give Jose Bautista a break to bat here and have Moises Sierra play right. Two of their AAA sluggers Mauro Gomez and Luis Jimenez signed with Asian teams and will not be available for depth in 2014. Since they were not needed in 2013 that should not be a great loss.
Starting Pitching - This was supposed to be a strength in 2013. Brandon Morrow is the key. He only got ten starts last year and they were poor ones before his season ended early. Injuries have hounded him from getting 30 starts. R.A. Dickey should fill the ace hole. He got whacked early in the season but eventually lowered his ERA to 4.21, not near his Cy Young numbers of 2.73. Mark Buerle will provide innings from the back end of the rotation. One thing you can count on from him is 30 starts, 200 plus innings and a 4 plus ERA. After those three it gets dicey and spring training will sort it out. The Jays would like to see J.A. Happ win the fourth spot. Todd Redmond is a journeyman and Esmil Rogers is more effective in relief. Aaron Sanchez is a promising prospect who amazed in the Arizona Fall League. Expect to hear his name before the season ends. The Jays still have some strong options in the minors that could be mid season callups. Daniel Norris and Sean Nolin can offer left side options. Nolin had one horrendous start with the Jays and Norris should start at High A but could move quickly. Many think at 5′9″ Marcus Stroman is too small to be a starter and would be best used in relief. He does have the multiple pitches required of a starter.
Relief Pitching - Myworld can’t get excited about this area but we have to admit, they get the job done. Casey Janssen saved 34 games with a WHIP under 1 a testament to his effectiveness. Casey has had three seasons in a row with more than 50 appearances with an ERA less than 3 with a total WHIP less than 1. Brett Cecil has found the bullpen to his liking after getting toasted in the starting rotation. He will be the setup man from the left side while Steve Delabar will handle duties from the right side. Sergio Santos had a strong season and was acquired to be the closer until injuries sidelined his 2012 season and most of the 2013 season. He had a .584 WHIP in his 29 appearances. Kyle Drabek was once a big time prospect and is the son of Doug. Injuries have prevented him from meeting his potential, but perhaps he can begin his career again in the bullpen. Aaron Loup is another lefty option who gave them good outings last year. Since the Blue Jay starters had the fewest innings worked among AL clubs last year it brought a lot of pressure on the bullpen. Considering the number of innings they worked they did a credible job.
Potential Rookie Candidates - Aaron Sanchez has the potential to compete for rookie of the year if he has a good spring and makes the rotation. Sean Nolin could get the first call. He had a horrible outing in his major league debut, but that shouldn’t take away from a solid minor league season. He’ll probably start in AAA unless he has a lights out spring. If the catchers do not produce expect a mid season callup from A.J. Jimenez. Kevin Pillar is a long shot but needs to win an outfield job over a failing veteran. He needs to hit better than .206 to keep that job.
2008 Draft - Their first round pick David Cooper was a disappointment. He was limited to September callups. Their second round pick Kenneth Wilson was just placed on the 40-man roster. Tyler Pastornicky was a fifth round pick and lost the Braves shortstop job to Andrelton Simmons. His best future role is as a utility player. Seventh round pick Eric Thames had a couple major league seasons but in 2014 he will be playing in Korea. Ninth round pick Antonio Jimenez is their best catching prospect. Injuries have delayed his fast rise to the major leagues. 16th round pick Michael Crousse is still progressing in the minor leagues. If their number one pick had panned out and Jimenez becomes the catcher they think he will be this could have been a decent draft.
Expected Finish - The Division is still up for grabs. The Jays have holes at second base and behind the plate and the starting pitching must perform to expectations. That is a lot to ask. Expect them to move up a notch to fourth place but no higher. They have done little to improve their team because of salary restrictions and are filling their weak areas that could hemorrhage with band aids.