November 13th saw the official waving of the white flag by the Miami Marlins and Jeff Loria as he traded Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle, Josh Johnson, John Buck, and Emilio Bonifacio to the Toronto Blue Jays for Henderson Alvarez, Yunel Escobar, Jeff Mathis, Adeiny Hechavarria, and a number of prospects (notably Jake Marisnick and Anthony DeSclafani). I don’t want to spend much time writing about this pitiful fire sale by the Miami Marlins. Jeff Loria is a joke with no credibility and swindled Miami and his fans just to get a new stadium. Good luck filling it. This post will be about the pending resurgence of baseball in Toronto.
I guess they got bored with no NHL in Canada because this trade has sent shockwaves through the baseball world. In one fell swoop the Blue Jays have gone from bottom feeders in the American League East to my favorites in 2013. I’m going all in on the Blue Jays, despite the notoriously tough Division they play in and here’s why...
Jose Reyes will spark everything in the leadoff spot at SS as he remains as one of the most dynamic players in the game. His infectious high energy attitude and play will have Toronto fans cheering wildly from the moment he is introduced for the first time on Opening Day. He proved he could stay healthy last season playing in 160 games and putting together a modest campaign. There seemed to be no will to compete last season with the Marlins and Reyes is the type of player who thrives in a positive situation. He hit .337 in 2011 with a WAR of 4.7. He's stolen over 400 bases in his career and you know what they say, speed never goes into a slump. He's one of the most talented shortstops in baseball.
Melky Cabrera, famous for being suspended last season 50 games after he tested positive for high levels of testosterone, will be given a second chance in Toronto. He’s had two spectacular years in baseball, but now who knows how much, if any of it, was legitimate. Toronto taking a flyer on him is a good move because if he comes back and is still someone who is at the top of the league in batting average, then the Blue Jays got a stud for cheap. If he goes back to being the bum he was in Atlanta, then they have Rajai Davis sitting on the bench ready to take his spot.
Jose Bautista only played in 92 games in 2012 due to a nagging wrist injury. It ultimately needed surgery and I’m already ready to dub him as my Comeback Player of the Year in 2013. He’s one of the best power-hitters in baseball as he still nearly hit 30 bombs in his shortened injury-plagued season. With guys like Jose Reyes sitting on the bases as he comes to the plate, Bautista could be looking at quite a few RBI opportunities in 2013.
Edwin Encarnacion is one of the most underrated players in baseball. Go ahead, take a moment to look up his stats from last season – 42 HR for a guy with little to no protection in the lineup around him in 2012. A lot of people are calling for a down year for him in 2013, but I'm saying the opposite. He's going to be even better with protection in the lineup and more guys on base. Pitchers will be forced to attack him and his average will rise close to .300 and his power numbers will remain the same. He can look forward to playing in the All-Star game next summer. Being placed in the MVP discussion should Toronto end up winning as many games as I'm predicting won't be too far out of the question either.
I’m a huge fan of Brett Lawrie. He was a huge success in 2011 when he got called up and will now have to prove he can bounce back after a tough 2012 injury-riddled season. You’ll hear me say nothing but great things about this guy. He’s young and raw, but has so much talent ready to be exposed to the baseball world. I've been following him since his years playing in the minor leagues for Milwaukee. I’m convinced he’s going to win a batting title once he hits his prime and more than one Gold Glove Award will be sitting in his trophy case when his career is all said and done.
Colby Rasmus, Adam Lind, J.P. Arencibia, and Emilio Bonifacio round out the rest of this lineup and they’re the question marks. Rasmus had nice stretches last season and the power is there, but a batting average closer to .200 than .250 is not going to cut it on a contending team. Adam Lind saw playing time in the minors for parts of 2012 as he seemingly forgot how to hit a ball. Considering he’s the team’s DH, he may want to remember how to do that or else Toronto will find someone else who can in 2013. I keep waiting for Arencibia to put it all together and not be such a lost cause at the plate when it comes to hitting and I’m not sure it’s going to happen. No matter, they have top prospect Travis d’Arnaud waiting to take over. Two top catching prospects – one of them has got to stick, right? It’s not like John Buck is going to take over. Bonifacio is another guy coming off injuries, which seems like it may be a running theme this year for Toronto and he could be a perfect fit in this lineup. With Reyes at the top and Bonifacio at the bottom, the speed will be there. They just need to get on base.
This will be Toronto's biggest strength. I threw a no-hitter once with Josh Johnson in MLB '12: The Show - so you know he must be good. What? That's not enough for you? Fine. He's a 2x All-Star who led the National League in ERA in 2010. He's going to end up as the number 1 starter for Toronto and most likely flip his W-L record from last year (8-14 - not his fault, though, he still put up very good stats) with a number of wins closer to 20 this time around.
Mark Buehrle is one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball and his durability will be a God-send for this fragile team. They won’t have to worry about whether or not Buerhle can make his scheduled start – he’s going to become the anchor of this rotation. Buerhle is a big game pitcher with a World Series ring to show off and enough no-hitters to make Justin Verlander blush.
Like Brett Lawrie, Brandon Morrow is another young stud on the Blue Jays that I rave about. He’s got an electric arm and good enough stuff to lead the league in strikeouts. And yet, here we go again, he’s coming off an injury. I feel like a broken record at this point, but he too will have to show that he can bounce back and shake the cobwebs. He was forced to try and be the number 1 guy in the rotation when he did pitch in 2012, he can be a middle of the rotation guy in 2013 and let his talent establish himself as the best arm on the staff next to Josh Johnson.
Ricky Romero was pretty much the only pitcher Toronto had last season that didn’t get hurt and he was dreadful. He had a 0-12 stretch where his ERA blossomed into the 7 range and his control was a huge issue. 105 walks (compared to only 124 strikeouts) and a WHIP of 1.67 made fo a shockingly bad year for the otherwise very good pitcher. A WAR rating of -1.7 says it all for Romero. Despite all of this, I'm still willing to say that the 2010 and 2011 versions of Romero are what we're going to see in 2013. 2012 was a fluke season for him – he's got far too much talent to be that bad again.
The 5th rotation spot will be up for grabs come Spring Training. J.A. Happ has the inside track to the spot but there are plenty of guys who could compete for the job. Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison are trying to recover from Tommy John surgery and Dustin McGowan hasn't been healthy in years. Deck McGuire will eventually get a shot in 2013 to try and pitch in the majors. Toronto could always sign a fifth guy to man the spot or make a trade mid-season.
Here’s where the Blue Jays will need to improve. Casey Janssen did a fine job as Toronto’s closer last season but he’ll be closing games that matter now. I’m far from a 100% believer in his but you could certainly do worse. Sergio Santos was supposed to man the closer’s role for Toronto but he never got out of the starting gates as he had shoulder issues all year long. Assuming he’s healthy, the duo of Janseen and Santos will rack up saves and holds as Toronto fights for the playoffs. Keep an eye on Steve Delabar. He had nearly 100 strikeouts out of the bullpen in less than 70 innings in 2012.
Baseball games are not won on paper, we all know this. Ask the Boston Red Sox how that went for them last season. The AL East is surprisingly up for grabs in 2013. The Yankees are still the Yankees and most likely the favorites, but they’re getting older and older. Derek Jeter is recovering from a broken ankle he suffered in October and Alex Rodriguez is a shell of his former self. The Baltimore Orioles are going to be back in contention again and the pesky Tampa Bay Rays aren’t going anywhere (except hopefully out of Tampa one day, but that's a story for another article). Any one of the teams in this Division – yes, even the Red Sox – could win it. The Blue Jays have caught up with the rest of the field and possibly even surpassed them. I’m very excited for the season to begin next year and I, like many of you, will have my eyes on the Blue Jays.
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