12/19/12 2:19 PM ET
Blue Jays should pack knockout punch in AL East
Key offseason additions have some forecasting a championship '13 season
By Terence Moore / MLB.com
It bodes well for themselves and for the American League East, which quickly is acquiring these tags: Highly competitive. Unpredictable. Absolutely the best in the Major Leagues.
Once, the National League East threatened to become THAT division -- you know, if you go all the way back to a year or so ago.
Then several things happened. The Philadelphia Phillies went from dominant to ordinary, the great renaissance for the Miami Marlins flopped, and the New York Mets remained the New York Mets of late in the standings, which isn't necessarily good.
Here's the bigger thing that happened: With only the Washington Nationals and the Atlanta Braves producing stellar headlines in the NL East, those other teams in the AL East not named the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox decided to show a pulse.
Actually, the Tampa Bay Rays began their Lazarus routine in the AL East awhile back, with their trip to the 2008 World Series. They've continued as a force in the aftermath.
Then came last season, when the Baltimore Orioles did enough for their first winning campaign since 1997. They even reached the playoffs for the first time in 15 years, which meant it was up to the fifth and final team in the division to do something worth mentioning.
Here come the Blue Jays, and they are coming in a hurry.
In fact, the Blue Jays are coming so swiftly that somebody could make the case that they are the favorites to win the AL East despite not reaching the playoffs since winning the 1993 World Series.
I won't make that case. The AL East remains the Yankees' division to lose, even though the average age of their key players is in the AARP range. That said, other than the Yanks -- and without any major deals happening between now and Opening Day involving others in the division -- the Blue Jays are at least the equal of everybody else in the AL East.
They could be better.
We can start backward and go forward with the Blue Jays acquiring and signing R.A. Dickey, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner. There are legitimate questions about whether he can spend next year repeating his 2012 success. After all, Dickey is a 38-year-old pitcher who rose from obscurity last season to go 20-6 with a 2.73 ERA.
It's just that Dickey is a 38-year-old "knuckleball" pitcher, and one of his mentors is Phil Niekro, who perfected that pitch well enough to remain in the Major Leagues until he was 48. Even now, at 73, Niekro looks fit enough to go a few innings. Dickey obviously is decades younger, with a knuckleball that moves faster with more accuracy than anything thrown by Niekro and others through the years.
So Dickey will do just fine in a starting rotation that will include newcomers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, veterans with 15-win seasons on their resumes and career ERAs under 4.00. They'll join solid holdovers, Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow.
Earlier in the offseason, the Blue Jays traded for All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes -- a prolific leadoff hitter.
Melky Cabrera is a prolific hitter, period. He comes to the Blue Jays as a left fielder who spent the last two of his eight years in the Major Leagues batting over .300.
But Cabrera had issues last season. In August, he was suspended for violating baseball's substance-abuse policy. Cabrera was leading the NL in hits, and he was second in batting average. He also pushed the San Francisco Giants toward winning the NL West before they went from there to a second World Series championship in three years.
The point is, a repenting Cabrera should help the Blue Jays.
So should Emilio Bonifacio, who will provide speed and defense at second base. He -- along with Reyes, Cabrera and the rest -- will join a roster with holdover Jose Bautista, who has averaged 30 home runs and 83 RBIs during his nine years in the Major Leagues.
Bautista was limited last season by a nagging wrist injury, but he still hit 27 homers in 92 games after finishing the previous two seasons with 43 and 54 homers, respectively.
The rest of the Blue Jays' regulars include efficient players such as designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion, third baseman Brett Lawrie and first baseman Adam Lind.
In addition, closer Sergio Santos is expected to have his shoulder problems behind him.
The Blue Jays are going for it, all right.
We know this, because among the players the Blue Jays gave the Mets in exchange for Dickey was Travis d'Arnaud, who is considered a can't-miss catching prospect.
There also is this matter of the Blue Jays rehiring feisty John Gibbons last month as their manager. This is the same Gibbons who was dismissed by Toronto four years ago after a 305-305 record over five seasons. He was noted during his first stint with the team for challenging players in the clubhouse (and elsewhere) to fights.
Get it? Since the AL East figures to become a battle to the end between a slew of teams, the Blue Jays wanted a manager who could become Ali to everybody else's Frazier.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.