Blue Jays hope victories are biggest addition in '14
After quiet offseason, team enters Spring Training with something to prove
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have yet to make any major changes this offseason, but the hope is that a return to health will lead to drastically different results on the field.
Last year, Toronto opened camp as one of the favorites to win the World Series. Unfortunately, being crowned the offseason champions didn't mean much on the field, as the club was essentially out of the race before the end of May.
Along the way, there seemed to be one devastating injury after another. Jose Reyes, Brett Lawrie, Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson all went down early, and by the end of the season, hardly anyone remained unaffected by the injury bug.
Outside expectations aren't nearly as high this season, but this is still essentially the same team that was supposed to coast through the American League just one year ago. One doesn't have to look very hard to find examples of teams that faced similar situations in the past, only to overcome the odds quicker than critics ever would have thought.
"You could look at the Red Sox last year, and they added one starter -- Ryan Dempster, who was solid for them -- but they had so many internal improvements," general manager Alex Anthopoulos said of the World Series champions. "Their rotation ERA from 2012 to '13 just completely turned around, and they only added one guy. With all due respect to Ryan, I think the turnarounds were obviously some of the guys they already had internally."
The Blue Jays will be hoping to enjoy a similar type of bounce-back year. Full seasons from the likes of Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista and Lawrie should go a long way in achieving that goal, but ultimately the success of this year's team will depend on its starting rotation.
Morrow is the biggest wild card, but there are plenty of dark-horse candidates who could make an impact. Toronto's starting five ranked as one of the worst in baseball last season, and it will be up to the internal options to make sure that doesn't happen again.
There's also a chance that the Blue Jays will add another starter through free agency, even though Spring Training is already upon us.
"I don't know that we're done, we haven't stopped having dialogue," Anthopoulos said. "Making the change behind the plate we felt was important. We made some changes on the staff. Second base, obviously a guy like Ryan Goins being the front-runner for the job, that's obviously a change from a year ago. And from a rotation standpoint, some of the young guys coming back, Morrow coming back.
"There's still a lot of talented players. ... You believe there are some indicators that some of these players will turn it around. We do have a chance to have a very different starting rotation than we did last year."
Pitchers and catchers report
Full squad reports
First Spring Training game
Away vs. Phillies, Feb. 26, 1:05 p.m. ET
Away vs. Rays, March 31, 4:10 p.m. ET
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. What will the Blue Jays' starting rotation look like on Opening Day?
R.A. Dickey, Morrow, Mark Buehrle and J.A. Happ have guaranteed jobs heading into Spring Training, but there are plenty of question marks surrounding the final spot. Esmil Rogers and Todd Redmond enter camp with an inside track based on last year's time spent in the rotation, but there will be plenty of competition from Drew Hutchison, Marcus Stroman, Sean Nolin and possibly Ricky Romero, Kyle Drabek, Dustin McGowan or Jeremy Jeffress. With so many candidates, someone will really need to impress this spring to stand out from the rest of the pack.
2. Is the Blue Jays' outfield back to full strength?
Cabrera appeared to be in good shape and was running well during last year's Spring Training, but it didn't take long for things to change. When the season rolled around, he was immobile in the field and at the plate, which led to an all-around disappointing season. It wasn't until late August that the cause was found when Cabrera had a large tumor removed from his spine. The former All-Star is now fully recovered, but he will need to prove he can bounce back from a frustrating season. The same could be said for right fielder Bautista, who missed the final weeks of the 2013 campaign because of a deep bone bruise. Colby Rasmus also dealt with late-season injuries but still managed to enjoy a breakout season. Toronto's outfield has the potential to be one of the best in baseball, but health will ultimately determine where this trio ranks at the end of the year.
3. With a lot of relievers out of options, who will head north with the big league club?
There's a lot of depth to work with in the bullpen, and it's possible that options will play a role on who makes the team at the end of Spring Training. Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos, Steve Delabar and Brett Cecil all have guaranteed jobs, while McGowan -- who is out of options -- also likely will begin the year as a reliever, even though he's being stretched out in camp as a starter. That leaves two spots for a group that includes Aaron Loup, Neil Wagner, Redmond, Luis Perez and Jeffress. Loup and Wagner would appear to be the favorites, but Perez and Redmond are both out of options, and that could be a factor in the club's final decision.
74-88, fifth in the AL East
Projected batting order
1. SS Jose Reyes:
.296 BA, .353 OBP, .427 SLG, 10 HR, 37 RBI in 2013
2. LF Melky Cabrera:
.279 BA, .322 OBP, .360 SLG, 3 HR, 30 RBI in 2013
3. RF Jose Bautista:
.259 BA, .358 OBP, .498 SLG, 28 HR, 73 RBI in 2013
4. 1B Edwin Encarnacion:
.272 BA, .370 OBP, .534 SLG, 36 HR, 104 RBI in 2013
5. DH Adam Lind:
.288 BA, .357 OBP, .497 SLG, 23 HR, 67 RBI in 2013
6. 3B Brett Lawrie:
.254 BA, .315 OBP, .397 SLG, 11 HR, 46 RBI in 2013
7. CF Colby Rasmus:
.276 BA, .338 OBP, .501 SLG, 22 HR, 66 RBI in 2013
8. C Dioner Navarro:
.300 BA, .365 OBP, .492 SLG, 13 HR, 34 RBI in 2013
9. 2B Ryan Goins:
.252 BA, .264 OBP, .345 SLG, 2 HR, 8 RBI in 2013
1. R.A. Dickey, 14-13, 4.21 ERA in 2013
2. Brandon Morrow, 2-3, 5.63 ERA in 2013
3. Mark Buehrle, 12-10, 4.15 ERA in 2013
4. J.A. Happ, 5-7, 4.56 ERA in 2013
5. Drew Hutchison, Did not pitch in 2013
Closer: Casey Janssen, 34/36 saves, 2.56 ERA in 2013
RH setup man: Sergio Santos, 1.75 ERA in 2013
LH setup man: Brett Cecil, 2.95 ERA in 2012
The new guys
C Navarro: He was the only significant addition during the offseason. Navarro used a bounce-back season in 2013 to earn a multiyear deal with Toronto, but the pressure will be on as he assumes the full-time role behind the plate. He hasn't been a regular starter since 2009, and he'll need to prove that his .300 average from last season can be maintained with a full workload. There's plenty of upside with the bat, but there are still some question marks about Navarro's defense, and he'll need to use his time wisely in camp to learn Toronto's staff.
C Erik Kratz: He isn't on the 40-man roster, so it would apepar to be an uphill battle in his competition with Josh Thole to earn the backup job. Kratz does provide a lot of depth, and a strong spring could cement his spot as the organization's third-string catcher, which would result in a promotion to the big leagues if either Navarro or Thole goes down with an injury.
IF Brent Morel: He was claimed off waivers from the White Sox just before Christmas in a move that mostly flew under the radar. Morel has a chance to make the team in a utility role, but in order to do that, he'll likely need to beat out Moises Sierra, who is out of options. That seems unlikely, but there's an outside chance that if Morel and Sierra impress, both could make the team over Anthony Gose. Morel has the ability to play multiple positions, and his career numbers are much better against left-handed pitching.
Prospects to watch
SP Stroman: He seems destined to start the year with Triple-A Buffalo, but he'll likely become one of the biggest storylines in camp. Stroman is generally considered to be ready for the Major Leagues, and with a spot currently open in the rotation, it might be tough for the Blue Jays to stick with the Minor League plan. He has an overpowering fastball and an impressive slider, but the development of his changeup is what could be crucial to making his eventual transition to the Major Leagues. Stroman will be in Toronto's rotation at some point, the only question is when.
Blue jays top prospects
SP Nolin: He will likely also start the year in the Minor Leagues, but he will be one of the first pitchers called up in the event of an injury. Nolin's big league debut in 2013 is something he would like to forget, but the results should be much better with another year of seasoning under his belt. He's not a hard thrower like a lot of other pitchers in Toronto's system, but above-average command and ability to throw a lot of innings should eventually help him secure a big league job.
SP Aaron Sanchez: He isn't a threat to make the Major League roster this spring, but he represents the future of Toronto's organization. Sanchez is the club's top-ranked prospect and appears to have a bright future, with all the tools necessary to become a frontline starter. His debut likely won't come until 2015, but that timeline could change depending on how he pitches in the first half of the season. This will be Sanchez's first big league Spring Training.
On the rebound
LF Cabrera: It was obvious to anyone who watched the Blue Jays last season that Cabrera's health was a major concern. Despite multiple MRIs, it wasn't until late August that doctors finally found the cause: a large tumor in his spine. A surgical procedure has since resolved the issue and Cabrera must now prove he can regain his previous form.
RF Bautista: Each of Bautista's last two seasons have come to a premature end because of injuries. In 2012, a left wrist injury was the main culprit, while last year the cause was a deep bone bruise in his hip. Bautista was cleared to resume full workouts early in the offseason, and all signs point to him being in fine form this spring. The biggest challenge will be maintaining that health and playing a full year for the first time since his dominating 2011 season.
3B Lawrie: He finished the year healthy, but his first half was marred by injuries. Lawrie missed the beginning of the year because of a strained oblique and later was absent for 41 games because of a sprained left ankle. The two major setbacks had a negative impact on his overall numbers and resulted in a change to his offseason workout routine. Lawrie's aggressive style will always be a concern, but it's also what makes him so valuable at the plate ad in the field.
RHP Morrow: He made just 10 starts last season because of an impinged nerve in his right forearm. The issue has since been resolved and Morrow will need to establish himself as a frontline starter if the Blue Jays are going to have any chance at competing in the AL East. He's the biggest wild card on this team, but there's a very high ceiling based on the 2.96 ERA Morrow posted in 2012.
LHP Cecil: His 2013 season came to an end in early September because of a sore shoulder. That shouldn't come as a major surprise, considering the heavy workload Cecil had in his first full season as a reliever. Cecil now must prove the shoulder issue is a thing of the past as he attempts to build on a breakout season that also included his first trip to the All-Star Game.
C J.P. Arencibia: He once was considered part of the Blue Jays' core, but it didn't take long for that to change. Arencibia's third full season in Toronto also was his worst, as he posted a .194 batting average with 148 strikeouts in 474 at-bats. He struggled defensively, and it became increasingly apparent as the 2013 progressed that a change was needed behind the plate. That happened when the club decided to non-tender Arencibia and sign Navarro.
RHP Johnson: He was expected to be a workhorse in the Blue Jays' rotation, but he made just 16 starts and went 2-8 with an ugly 6.20 ERA last season. Injuries played a role, and in the end, the Blue Jays decided not to make Johnson a qualifying offer. He has since signed with the Padres on a one-year deal, and he'll look to re-establish his value in a more pitcher-friendly park.