The 2013 Blue Jays were in win-now mode. On November 14, 2012, they acquired Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, and John Buck from Miami for a boatload of prospects. They traded more prospects for then-reigning Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. They signed Melky Cabrera, who’d been tearing it up in San Francisco before getting busted for PEDs. And to cap things off, they brought back John Gibbons to manage the team.
It was a worthwhile gamble. The Red Sox were awful in 2012, the Yankees were getting older, and the Orioles had overperformed. But the result was the exact opposite of the expectations. The Red Sox surged, the Orioles and Yankees didn’t fall that far, and the Jays finished in last place at 74-88.
This offseason, the Jays didn't lose anyone who was really effective for them. The big names:
- Josh Johnson (signed one-year deal with San Diego)
- J.P. Arencibia (non-tendered; signed one-year deal with Texas)
- Rajai Davis (signed two-year deal with Detroit)
- Mark DeRosa (retired)
- Darren Oliver (retired)
If none of the losses were key, none of the acquisitions were either. The team added only Dioner Navarro, although if you stretch the definition of "major-league hitter", Chris Getz got a minor-league deal. To be fair, the core of Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Reyes, Adam Lind, Colby Rasmus, and Brett Lawrie can produce runs. It's the lackluster starting rotation, and the team's failure to upgrade it, that worries Jays fans.
Also, the injuries, Oh so many injuries. Don't believe me? Last year, 21 Blue Jays spent time on the DL: Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, Brett Lawrie (twice), Colby Rasmus (twice), Darren Oliver, Drew Hutchison, Dustin McGowan (twice), Edwin Encarnacion, J.A. Happ, Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson (twice), Kyle Drabek, Luis Perez, Maicer Izturis, Melky Cabrera, Michael Schwimer, Rajai Davis, Ramon Ortiz, Sergio Santos, and Steve Delabar. For perspective, 13 O’s, 21 Yankees, 11 Rays, and 17 Red Sox went on the DL in 2013.
Basically, everybody except Buehrle is an injury concern. Which is a shame because, when they're healthy, Bautista and Encarnacion are a terrific one-two punch. They were each worth more than 4 fWAR last year, and their combined 64 HR last year helped the team rank 4th in the AL in ISO (.158). Even better, they get on base a lot. So does Jose Reyes.
The defense could be considered a strength, depending on how you look at it. In 2013 the team ranked 5th in the AL in DRS. (UZR is less kind, ranking them 10th.) And if you’re reaching, you could call luck a strength. The Jays underperformed their Pythagorean total last year by three wins. That’s a small window of hope for something like an 80-win season in 2014. If you're looking for any more positives, you're down to the fact that Colby Rasmus is a pretty good on defense.
But any strengths are undone by a lackluster pitching corps. In 2013, the starting rotation ranked poorly in the AL:
- FIP: 13th (4.59)
- xFIP: 13th (4.23)
- SIERA: 11th (4.19)
The relief pitching is better, but it’s average at best. The bullpen’s 2013 AL rankings:
- FIP: 12th (3.82)
- xFIP: 8th (3.74)
- SIERA: 8th (3.37)
Second base is also a weakness. Ryan Goins is 26 and coming off a cup of coffee last year. With a .264 OBP and 62 wRC+, it’s safe to say he’ll be batting ninth. 121 PA is a tiny sample size, but so far he looks overmatched at the big-league level. Maicer Izturis could replace him if he struggles. And if that doesn't work, well ... there's always Getz.
Depth is another weakness, given the brittleness of the starters. At some point, a bench player will be called upon to start while a regular is injured. But on that bench, only Moises Sierra is a decent hitter. There won’t be much help from the farm, either: a few pitchers could be called up, but Keith Law ranked the system 24th in baseball. Finally, the team stinks against left-handed pitching. In 2013 the offense mustered only an 84 wRC+ against southpaws, third-worst in the AL.
The 2014 Jays are still in win-now mode, but they'll need lots of luck to make the playoffs. I think they’ll win 75 games at most. I also think GM Alex Anthopoulos will lose his job.
All stats from FanGraphs. DL data from baseballheatmaps.com.