Blue Jays ready to turn offseason hype into results
Seven new faces hoping to propel Toronto into American League East elite
TORONTO -- The most eventful offseason in franchise history is a thing of the past, and now the Blue Jays will attempt to prove they can live up to the hype.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos went all in this winter with a flurry of well-documented moves. A pair of blockbuster trades, coupled with some key free-agent signings, have injected new life into not only the organization but the overall fan base as well.
The improvements on paper won't mean anything unless they can be translated into wins on the field, but with Spring Training set to open on Wednesday in Florida, the first test is about to begin.
"I'm a big believer in humility," Anthopoulos said. "It should happen from the front office, it should happen from the players. We've certainly added a lot of talent, we've spent a lot of money, but we have to show respect to the other teams, the other organizations.
"We haven't done anything yet. We like our chances, we like the talent, but there is still a lot of work to do."
The strength of this year's squad can be found on the mound, where R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle represent a massive upgrade in the starting rotation. In a matter of weeks, Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero went from the team's most proven hurlers to complementary pieces.
The offence also received a boost with the acquisitions of Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio. Any potential success will still depend on Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, but this lineup has more balance and depth than any other in recent memory.
This year's Spring Training should be rather uneventful because of the lack of jobs up for grabs. The Blue Jays have almost their entire 25-man roster locked in already, and there are only a few interesting competitions to monitor. But with plenty of new players in camp, and aspirations for the postseason, there won't be a shortage of storylines.
Here's a guide to the new faces, and a summary of the departures, while also taking an in depth look at what to expect this spring and beyond.
Pitchers and catchers report
Full squad reports
First Spring Training game
Away vs. Tigers, Feb. 23 at 1:05 p.m. ET
Home vs. Indians, April 2 at 7:07 p.m. ET
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. Will Bautista be able to recover from a left wrist injury that prematurely ended his 2012 season?
Bautista's rehab reportedly went well, and he is expected to take part in Spring Training without any restrictions. The Dominican native resumed hitting in December, and barring any setbacks, his Spring Training should be just like any other.
Despite the optimism, the Blue Jays have opted to take a cautious approach with their All-Star right fielder. Toronto decided to not make Bautista available for the upcoming World Baseball Classic, and the coaches and trainers will monitor him throughout the spring.
Even though Bautista feels great, it remains to be seen whether he can regain his previous form. Wrist and hand injuries are notoriously tough for power hitters to overcome, but Bautista has been quick to dismiss any skeptics and he fully expects to have a productive season.
2. Which version of Cabrera will the Blue Jays get? The All-Star from 2012 or the struggling left fielder he was prior to 2011?
Cabrera's signing went somewhat under the radar this offseason because of the blockbuster trades with the Mets and Marlins. That will soon change, as Cabrera is set to arrive at camp shortly after a report surfaced in the Miami area that linked the 28-year-old to a supplier of performance-enhancing drugs.
Cabrera was suspended 50 games last year for testing positive for a banned substance. Sources indicate Cabrera is not expected to receive any further sanctions from the league because he's already been punished. Now the focus will be attempting to start with a clean slate.
Even if Cabrera is unable to regain his 2012 form, the Blue Jays would be more than happy if the 2011 version showed up. That year, the Dominican native hit .305 with an .809 OPS in 155 games with the Royals.
3. Will Romero be able to bounce back from a disappointing 2012 campaign?
Romero arguably can be considered the biggest wild card of the Blue Jays' starting rotation. He entered last year as the club's ace, but the recent acquisitions of Dickey, Johnson and Buehrle likely will allow him to slide all the way down to the No. 5 spot.
That should take a lot of pressure off Romero and allow him to escape the leadership role that was forced upon him too early in his career. In many ways, 2012 was a mystifying season, one in which Romero maintained his velocity but battled control problems.
Romero might never return to his 2011 form, when he went 15-11 with a 2.92 ERA during an All-Star campaign. But the Blue Jays don't need him to. They would be more than content with his 2010 season that culminated with a 3.73 ERA in 210 innings of work.
73-89, fourth in the American League East
Projected batting order
1. SS Jose Reyes:
.287 BA, .347 OBP, .433 SLG, 11 HR, 57 RBIs with the Marlins in 2012
2. LF Melky Cabrera:
.346 BA, .390 OBP, .516 SLG, 11 HR, 60 RBIs with the Giants in 2012
3. RF Jose Bautista:
.241 BA, .358 OBP, .527 SLG, 27 HR, 65 RBIs in 2012
4. 1B Edwin Encarnacion:
.280 BA, .384 OBP, .557 SLG, 42 HR, 110 RBIs in 2012
5. DH Adam Lind:
.255 BA, .314 OBP, .414 SLG, 11 HR, 45 RBIs in 2012
6. 3B Brett Lawrie:
.273 BA, .324 OBP, .405 SLG, 11 HR, 48 RBIs in 2012
7. CF Colby Rasmus:
.223 BA, .289 OBP, .400 SLG, 23 HR, 75 RBIs in 2012
8. C J.P. Arencibia:
.233 BA, .275 OBP, .435 SLG, 18 HR, 56 RBIs in 2012
9. 2B Maicer Izturis:
.256 BA, .320 OBP, .315 SLG, 2 HR, 20 RBIs with the Angels in 2012
1. RHP R.A. Dickey, 20-6, 2.73 ERA with the Mets in 2012
2. RHP Brandon Morrow, 10-7, 2.96 ERA in 2012
3. LHP Mark Buehrle, 13-13, 3.74 ERA with the Marlins in 2012
4. RHP Josh Johnson, 8-14, 3.81 ERA with the Marlins in 2012
5. LHP Ricky Romero, 9-14, 5.27 ERA in 2012
The new guys
SS Reyes: The 29-year-old represents the first bona fide leadoff hitter the Blue Jays have had since Shannon Stewart. His ability to get on base and use his speed should go a long way in helping set the table for the likes of Bautista and Encarnacion in the heart of the batting order. Reyes is a dynamic player who should quickly become a fan favorite, but he'll also need to prove he can stay healthy for the duration of the season.
IF/OF Bonifacio: The 27-year-old was the overlooked component of the blockbuster trade with Miami. Anthopoulos insisted Bonifacio be included, and the GM believes he will play a pivotal role this season. Bonifacio could compete with Izturis for the starting job at second base, but failing that, he should receive plenty of opportunities as a super utility man considering his ability to play multiple positions.
IF Izturis: The Venezuela native was signed to a three-year contract this offseason to become the club's starting second baseman. It remains to be seen whether he can hang onto that role, but he should provide above-average defense while being relatively productive with the bat. Izturis is coming off a somewhat disappointing 2012 season but is a career .273 hitter with a .337 on-base percentage that should fit nicely at the bottom of the order.
LF Cabrera: His 2012 season was cut short following a 50-game suspension because of a positive test for a banned substance. Last year's All-Star Game MVP will be looking to prove that the controversial year is now a thing of the past and that he can be just as productive in the future. If Cabrera is able to regain his previous form, he'll be a perfect fit between Reyes and Bautista in the lineup.
RHP Dickey: Last year's NL Cy Young Award winner became the final piece of Toronto's offseason puzzle when Anthopoulos pulled the trigger on yet another blockbuster trade in December. Dickey will take the ball Opening Day and will look to build upon a 20-win season with the Mets in 2012.
RHP Johnson: The big righty was the main target in November's multiplayer trade with Miami. He is coming off an inconsistent 2012 season that saw a dip in his overall velocity. But that was to be expected after suffering an injury the previous season. If Johnson regains some of the lost speed, he will become a stabilizing force for the rotation. And even if he can't, his improved curveball should keep hitters off-balance.
LHP Buehrle: The veteran southpaw has become one of the game's most consistent and reliable pitchers over the last 13 seasons. He's pitched at least 200 innings every year since 2001, and that should be reassuring to an organization that had all five of its starters succumb to injury in 2012.
Prospects to watch
CF Anthony Gose: The young speedster got his first taste of the big leagues in 2012 thanks to the season-ending injury to Bautista. He'll be the first line of defense if any of Toronto's starting outfielders get hurt, but an additional year with Triple-A Buffalo should prove beneficial. The 22-year-old still needs to improve his plate discipline while also cutting down on strikeouts.
LHP Sean Nolin: The 23-year-old is the pitcher most frequently mentioned by Anthopoulos when asked who could become the next starter to make an impact at the big league level. Nolin likely won't be ready for until at least the All-Star break, and should spend the entire season in the Minors. But if he begins the year strong, it does give the organization more depth at the high levels.
RHP Marcus Stroman: He will begin the year on the suspended list after testing positive for a banned substance last offseason. When he returns in May, it might not be long before he forces his way into Majors. Stroman was taken in the first round of last year's Draft, and was considered by many experts to be ready for the next level almost immediately. The only thing that could delay his arrival is that the Blue Jays are expected to stretch him out into a starting role to see if he can handle the extra workload.
RHP Drew Hutchison: The 22-year-old was considered a major component of the Blue Jays' future until he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery in early July. He won't be ready until at least the All-Star break but could become a factor late in the year if need arises. Hutchison won't overpower anybody, but he has very reliable command and has the potential to become a middle-of-the-rotation starter.
On the rebound
1B Adam Lind: He has found his name on this list the past three years. This season will likely represent his final shot at establishing his spot in the Blue Jays' lineup, but a strong season could change the overall outlook. Lind was expected to begin the year in a platoon, but manager John Gibbons seems to have changed his line of thinking on that issue, and the veteran could still find himself in the lineup versus lefties.
RHP Sergio Santos: The 29-year-old has been throwing without any complications since November. That's an encouraging sign following a year in which he appeared in only six games because of a right shoulder injury. Santos will be given every opportunity to secure a role at the back end of the Blue Jays' rotation, and he's eager to put a frustrating first year in Toronto behind him.
RHP Dickey: The veteran knuckleballer is the ace of a Team USA staff that will be looking to avenge a disappointing finish from the last time the World Baseball Classic was played in 2009. He'll be joined by the likes of Derek Holland and Ryan Vogelsong, and should play a pivotal role in the club's chances of capturing the championship.
C J.P. Arencibia: The young catcher's departure from camp to play in the Classic will be a tough pill for the Blue Jays to swallow, but the pain is eased by the fact he will be working with Dickey. Arencibia has never caught a knuckleballer, and the extra reps should go a long way in providing a true test to see whether he can handle those duties during the regular season.
1B Encarnacion: The veteran slugger should find a spot in the heart of the Dominican Republic's batting order. He was one of the game's most prolific hitters in 2012, and the only reason he is not teaming up with Bautista in the Classic is because Bautista is being held out of the tournament.
SS Reyes: The speedy shortstop is expected to be the leadoff hitter for a powerful Dominican lineup. He will be tasked with setting the table for the likes of Adrian Beltre, Robinson Cano, Hanley Ramirez and Encarnacion. It should provide an excellent warm-up for the All-Star shortstop, who is set to begin his first season in Toronto.
3B Brett Lawrie: His popularity in Canada should grow even more when he takes on a starring role for the Canadian team. He actually was a part of the last World Baseball Classic but found himself buried on the bench as a 19-year-old prospect. That won't be the case this time around, as he'll start at third base and will be key to any success the country is able to have.
SS Yunel Escobar: The Blue Jays officially parted ways with Escobar when the Cuban native was traded to Miami in a multiplayer deal this offseason. Escobar eventually ended up in Tampa Bay, where he'll be looking for a fresh start after a tumultuous year in Toronto. The 30-year-old enjoyed varying degrees of success in Toronto but he'll ultimately be remembered for writing a homophobic slur on his eye black that resulted in a suspension last season.
2B Kelly Johnson: The veteran infielder entered 2012 with lofty expectations, but after a strong start to the year he struggled to find consistency. Johnson struck out an astounding 159 times in 507 at-bats, and showed only brief flashes of the power he had during the earlier stages of his career. He will once again team up with Escobar after signing a free-agent contract with the Rays.
RHP Henderson Alvarez: He was one of the Blue Jays' top prospects a couple of years ago but failed to impress in 2012. Alvarez has an overpowering arm, but the lack of a consistent breaking ball led to plenty of doubts over whether he can be a reliable starter or will instead be forced to the bullpen. He was sent packing to Miami in order to provide an upgrade to the club's starting rotation.
RHP Jason Frasor: The veteran reliever became expendable following last year's midseason acquisitions of Steve Delabar and Brad Lincoln. His spot on the depth chart was further hampered by the offseason trades for Esmil Rogers and Jeremy Jeffress, which ultimately led to a lack of interest from Toronto and a new contract with the Rangers.