Blue Jays Still In Good Shape For 2014
The team I whiffed most on this season (there were a few) was the Toronto Blue Jays.
"I believe they have the top lineup and rotation in the division and that's not a combination I'm willing to bet against," I wrote in my preseason predictions.
There were a few others, too, such as this doozy: "The big-spending Blue Jays have a real chance to improve 20 games from the 73-win team the club fielded a year ago and are the most complete team in the division."
The reality is, I, like many, botched it when predicting Toronto was set to become the top dog in the American League East.
R.A. Dickey is not pitching like he did in his 2012 Cy Young Award season -- which I never thought would happen to begin with -- but, worse, he's not getting the same results he did when he was a 2-plus WAR pitcher during the 2010 and '11 seasons. Josh Johnson has spent time on disabled list, again, and been an utter disaster. Brandon Morrow went from awful to hurt to likely not pitching until 2014. Ricky Romero, coming off the worst season of his career, failed to crack the Opening Day rotation, and has had mixed results in the minors -- not a good combination when he's owed $15-plus million after this season. J.A. Happ, like Morrow, has had a chunk of his season lost to injury. Almost everything that could have gone wrong with Toronto's rotation has.
The offense has been snakebitten, too.
Jose Reyes missed more than two months due to injury. Ditto for Brett Lawrie, whose bat is currently well behind his defense. Melky Cabrera has been hobbled and atrocious. It's hard to tell who he is -- the player who has looked really bad this year and has next-to-no pop or the All-Star who batted .346 last year (but the whole PED thing). Probably somewhere in the middle.
It's tough to win when you get hit with the amount of injuries and underperformance the Blue Jays have experienced this season. But there's no reason why doom and gloom should be cast over the 2014 year despite the team turning in its most disappointing season in franchise history.
Consider this: The Blue Jays will go into 2014 with all of the players mentioned above -- assuming they extend Johnson a qualifying offer and he accepts -- and they don't move anyone from the core. Perhaps you aren't as bullish on those pitching pieces as you were in March, and neither am I, but it's a decent start.
Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are also signed through the 2015 year -- both with club options for 2016 -- and Colby Rasmus is controllable for one more season. In other words, Toronto's best position players will be back next season. And I would gladly go to battle with Reyes, Bautista, Encarnacion, Rasmus, Lawrie, and a healthy Cabrera at $8 million next year. While we really don't know what Cabrera is, I'll take my chances with him on a one-year deal.
Mark Buehrle, who has been pretty much exactly what I thought he would be, is also under contract. If I'm the Blue Jays, I'd be trying in earnest to move him by the trade deadline, but it will be a tough task with his back-loaded deal set to make him $39 million over the next two seasons. Toronto could try to eat some money and package him with something else -- a bullpen piece, perhaps -- but that will likely be a tough sell.
Worst case, you go into the offseason with your starting pitching depth looking something like this: Dickey, Morrow, Johnson, Buehrle, Happ, Romero, plus minor leaguers Sean Nolin and Marcus Stroman -- the jury is out on whether he is a starter or reliever -- and fellow recovering Tommy John arms Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison. There is a lot of injury concern there, and I wouldn't call that group spectacular -- although the general consensus thought it was not too long ago -- but it's certainly not awful. And I would think improving the rotation would be at the top of general manager Alex Anthopoulos' plans. If you can shed some of Buehrle's contract or open up the vaults again, maybe you can go after free-agent-to-be Matt Garza (many teams will be in play for him, though). I'll bank on Johnson's track record over the results he has shown this year, and I'm not about to pull the plug on my belief that Morrow is a front-of-the-rotation arm. Yes, when healthy.
I prefer Lawrie at third, so second base is a position of need. Maicer Izturis is someone I would try to move if I was the Blue Jays, but if he's back, I see him better suited as a super-utility player off the bench. The Blue Jays could potentially save $5 million, as well, if they don't bring Adam Lind back -- they owe him at least $2 million through a buyout, $7 million if they pick up his club option. Either way, he still can't hit left-handers, so he would be an expensive platoon player if he's in the mix for 2014.
The bullpen is fine, with the team's top three relievers under contract or in their arbitration years in Casey Janssen, Steve Delabar, and Brett Cecil. That also makes them all solid trade pieces, and after what the Milwaukee Brewers received back for rental Francisco Rodriguez, they could all, in theory, net a solid piece. I prefer not to speculate on returns, but the Blue Jays don't need to move any of them, so they aren't just going to hand those guys away.
Dustin McGowan and Sergio Santos have electrifying arms when they are able to suit up. Luis Perez, also recovering from Tommy John surgery, could be in the mix, too, and fill Darren Oliver's role as a lefty out of the bullpen (Oliver is someone I would try to move by the deadline). Let's not forget about Aaron Loup, either. And if Stroman is deemed a reliever, he could very well crack the 2014 Opening Day roster. Esmil Rogers could be given a chance to fight for a rotation spot, but, if not, he's in the bullpen, too.
That's a set 'pen, and a very good one on paper, which will likely have more names added to the mix, too. The bullpen is in good shape and is the easiest part of the roster to fill.
As for behind the plate, upgrading J.P. Arencibia would be ideal. But he can be retained cheap in his first year of arbitration, and the free agent class isn't exactly what you would call stellar. You know what you're getting with him and if he can improve some, bonus.
So, to recap: Acquiring an impact arm -- easier said than done -- a second baseman, and someone to platoon with Lind or replace him. Those are the biggest areas the Blue Jays need to address. If they can do that, there is a good chance I'll be writing, "The big-spending Blue Jays have a real chance to improve 20 games from the 73-win team the club fielded a year ago and are the most complete team in the division," for the second consecutive year.