Even if the Jays would have signed RHP Ervin Santana, I am still down on this team this season. Does it have to do with the fact that I had much higher expectations for them last season? Perhaps. When trying to point out what went wrong last season, the expectations had a lot to do with it. But mainly, it was the starting pitching, which was lousy and missing Jose Reyes for two months after the team already had a slow start. It was the slow start, then the Reyes injury surrounded by starting pitching that was not that good. Because of that, the Blue Jays were never in the AL East race. They have followed up the disappointing season with a quiet offseason.
However, bringing in Dioner Navarro should add a little production both offensively and defensively. Last year, he hit (.300, 13, 34 in 89 games for the Cubs) in place of JP Arencibia (.194, 21, 55 in 138 games and 148 strikeouts). Acquiring Erik Kratz from the Phillies gives them a legitimate backup and solves their catching woes of a season ago. With Reyes around and hopefully healthy all season, I think this team can surprise, but I am going in with a cautious approach.
The question over whether this team will be any good will rest in their starting pitching. RA Dickey (14-13, 4.21. 34 starts) was better than his numbers and pitched as well as he did in 2012 during the second half of last season. Mark Buehrle (12-10, 4.15, 33) pitched like a workhorse who is on the decline. Neither were the issues, it was the rest of the rotation that gave them little to nothing. Josh Johnson, who came over in the same trade that brought the Jays Reyes, was terrible, going 2-8, 6.20 in 16 starts before getting hurt. He is off to San Diego. Brandon Morrow (2-3, 5.63, 10 starts) was counted on to be the number 2 starter in the rotation behind Dickey after pitching to a 2.94 ERA with 3 shutouts in 2012. Morrow will be back in the mix along with JA Happ (5-7, 4.56, 18), who has hit with a linedrive during a game last season. Drew Hutchison, who was 5-3, 4.60, 11 during the 2012, but missed the 2013 season, has the edge on being the 5th starter. Esmil Rogers, Todd Redmond and former top pitching prospect Kyle Drabek will all get a chance at some point this season. A dream scenario would see LHP Ricky Romero return to form. Once of the nicer guys in the game deserves to return where he was from 2009-2011, where he won a total of 42 games. Also keep an eye on top pitching prospect Aaron Sanchez, who may be up by seasons end.
Casey Janssen (4-1, 2.56, 34 saves) is one of the more underrated closers in baseball and leads a very good bullpen. Sergio Santos (1-1, 1.75, 29 games) returns to anchor the 8th inning. Amazing that the Jays had two All Star relievers and neither were Janssen. Steve Delabar (5-5, 3.22 in 55 games) and Brett Cecil (5-1, 2.82, 60) made the AS team last year. The depth continues with Dustin McGowan (2.45 ERA in 25 games) coming off his arm injury and LHP Aaron Loup (4-6, 2.47, 64). Neil Wagner (2-4, 3.79, 36) and Rogers (5-9, 4.77 in 44 games, 20 starts) will round out what has the makings to be one of the better bullpens in all of baseball.
Reyes (.296, 10, 37 in 93 games) stole just 15 bases but did get off to a great start before getting hurt. Having 3B Brett Lawrie (.254, 11, 46 in 107 games) and Melky Cabrera (.279, 3, 30 in 88 games) back from injury should make the lineup stronger. The same can be said about Jose Bautista (.259, 28, 73 in 118 games) and Colby Rasmus (.276, 22, 66 in 118 games). 1B/DH Edwin Encarnacion (.272, 26, 104) and DH/1B Adam Lind (.288, 23, 67) had very good 2013 seasons. The team plans to go into the season with 2B Ryan Goins, who got a little experience last season, but will also consider Munenori Kawasaki and Chris Getz. The lineup I would go with is Reyes SS, Rasmus CF, Bautista RF, Encarnacion 1B, Lind DH, Navarro C, Lawrie 3B, Cabrera LF, Goins 2B. On the bench will be Moises Sierra, Anthony Gose, Kevin Pillar, Macier Izturis, Kratz, Josh Thole and maybe Dan Johnson- in on a minor league contract.
Injuries destroyed the Blue Jays last season. It is tough to expect the same group of players who were hurt last year to all be healthy this season. Morrow and Happ can make the team forget about the starting pitching woes it had in 2013. I really like their bullpen and their offense can be dangerous if everybody stays healthy. I just don't expect health to fall out of the sky. Vegas has them at 79.5 which about where they should be predicted to be. I am taking the under, going 72-90, last place in the AL East. If I am correct, it is unlikely manager John Gibbons makes it through the season. I was wrong by picking them to take the division last year, maybe I will be incorrect taking them to finish in the basement.