The difference in thema Toronto Blue Jays being in the postseason and out is Marcos Stroman. I healthy Marcus Stroman was good enough to propel the Toronto Blue Jays into the playoffs for the first time since 1993. Traditionally on the 30-1 MLB countdown previews, a spring training injury was enough for a team to lose a win- and that win going to another team in the same league. In this case, it marks the first time that the loss of a single win pushed a team out of the postseason and resulted in a postseason berth for another.
One of the things that has bothered me over the past couple years is the Blue Jays not pursuing a top of the rotation starting pitcher. In the past off season, I would have liked to see the Jays pursue James Shields, Ervin Santana or even Jon Lester or Max Scherzer. Initially, I could not figure out why the Blue Jays would not want a guy like that at the top of their rotation. Then, I took a couple minutes to see how young pitchers like Drew Hutchison (11-13, 4.48, 32 starts) and Stroman (11-6, 3.65, 26 games, 20 starts), just 23, were developing. Then, I took a look at the stuff top pitching prospects Aaron Sanchez (2-2, 1.09, 24 relief appearances) and Daniel Norris (12-2, 2.53, 25 starts in the minors), both 21. Add in veterans RA Dickey (14-13, 3.71, 34 starts) and Mark Buehrle (13-10, 3.39, 32 starts), who I think can mentor the young pitchers, the Jays rotation actually looks much better. Losing Stroman forces the Blue Jays to perhaps rush Sanchez and/ or Norris and maybe expect too much out of RHP Marco Estrada (7-6, 4.38, 39 games, 18 starts, NL leading 29 HR allowed). LHP Johan Santana is making a comeback, but is a long shot to be ready in time for opening day.
I love the moves made by the Blue Jays to get 3B Josh Donaldson (.255, 29, 98) and C Russell Martin (.290, 11, 67). I also think the potential platoon of OFs Michael Saunders (.273, 8, 34 in just 78 games) and Dayan Viciedo (.231, 21, 58) makes up for the loss of OF Melky Cabrera (.301, 16, 73) adding a little more power while giving up batting average. The Blue Jays are led by their big three- SS Jose Reyes (.287, 9, 51, 30 SB), OF Jose Bautista (.286, 35, 103) and 1B Edwin Encarnacion (.268, 34, 98). Losing DH Adam Lind (.321, 6, 40) to the Brewers in the Estrada trade allows for incumbent catcher Dioner Navarro (.274, 12, 69) to become the team's full time DH. Former Mariners 1B Justin Smoak (.202, 7, 30) comes in recording 54 home runs from 2011-2013 with Seattle.
The other two spots in the Toronto batting order are very interesting. The team looks ready to go with journeyman Macier Izturis (.286, 10-35 in 11 games in 2014) as their regular 2B, with Ryan Goins (.188, 1, 15) probably getting a look. Initially, GM Alex Anthopoulos was not ready to part with 3B Brett Lawrie in the Donaldson deal, instead hoping to move him to 2B. After the Athletics insisted he be included in the deal, off he went. Switch hitting OF Dalton Pompey (.317, 9, 51, 43 SB, 9 3B in the minors) gets a shot to be the everyday CF. He reminds me of a young Jose Reyes with his speed and sneaky power. I'd bat him lead off with Reyes behind him, followed by Bautista RF, Encarnacion 1B, Donaldson 3B, Martin C, Navarro DH, Saunders/ Viciedo LF, Izturis 2B. The team can also bat Pompey 9th and move Martin or Saunders to the two spot with Reyes leading off. Infielder Danny Valencia, Viciedo/ Saunders, Goins, Smoak and OF Kevin Pilar are the favorites to be on the Jays bench to start the season. Ramon Santiago is also in camp.
I understood that the Blue Jays would probably not re-sign closer Casey Janssen (3-3, 3.94, 50 games, 25 saves). What I did not understand was how the team did not go for an upgrade for either closer or 8th inning guy. LHP Brett Cecil (2-3, 2.70, 66 games, 5 saves, 76 Ks in just over 53 IP) is a good candidate to close, but leaves the team without a solid 8th inning option to miss bats. The next two top Jays relievers, Aaron Loup (4-4, 3.15, 71 games) and Steve Delabar (3-0, 4.91, 30 games) are more situational left and right handed pitchers. Both are best suited to get a single batter out as opposed to pitching entire innings. RHP Wilton Lopez hopes to have a return of his success in Houston with RHPs Todd Redmond (1-4, 3.24, 42 games) and Chad Jenkins (1-1, 2.56, 21 games) looking to help out, despite neither being over powering. Miguel Castro (8-3, 2.59, 16 games, 15 starts in the minors) is just 20 years old and misses bats and could be considered a dark horse. If I was Toronto, I would still consider signing RHP Rafael Soriano, who is still a free agent.
The top three Blue Jays prospects, Norris, Sanchez and Pompey are all expected to be on the opening day roster. Maybe Norris gets left behind, but you can make a case that the team is better with him in the rotation over Estrada. 2B Devon Travis (.296, 10, 52, 16 SB in the Eastern League) should be ready to join the team at some point in 2015.
The 2014 Blue Jays went 83-79, finishing in 3rd place in the AL East division. Vegas has their O/U at 82 1/2, which is right on with what they did last season. The injury to Stroman, who I felt could have taken over as a 1 or 2 starter on this team, cost them a game so I have the Toronto Blue Jays at 84-78, 2nd place in the AL East. Being ranked 11th makes them the first team on the outside looking in for the month of October.