2/11/2013 12:23 P.M. ET
Transformed pitching staffs headline Spring Training
By Andrew Simon / Special to MLB.com
The Blue Jays' 2012 season ended, like each one since 1993, with no playoff berth. On the final day, general manager Alex Anthopoulos previewed the offseason with unusual candor.
"I don't see how with a straight face I can tell anybody we're all set in the starting rotation," Anthopoulos said.
Indeed, Toronto was far from set. Following a year in which the club compiled the Majors' fifth-worst ERA and second-worst fielding-independent pitching (FIP), Anthopoulos embarked upon a monumental renovation.
The improvements extended beyond the mound, but were focused there, with two trades netting the rotation a new top three in veterans R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle. A staff decimated by injuries and underperformance suddenly appeared robust.
While the Blue Jays' overhaul was dramatic, it didn't stand alone. With camps beginning to open for pitchers and catchers, many clubs are welcoming a slew of fresh faces.
The Royals followed a similarly bold path after their starters ranked 26th in ERA. GM Dayton Moore paid a steep price in prospects to snag James Shields and Wade Davis from the Rays. He acquired Ervin Santana from the Angels and re-signed Jeremy Guthrie, who pitched effectively after a midseason trade from the Rockies.
"I honestly believe we're not going to see any big, long losing streaks this year because of the quality of the starting pitching we have," manager Ned Yost said last week.
The Angels had a middle-of-the-pack 4.02 ERA in 2012, but will deploy a new-look rotation nonetheless. They traded Santana, didn't re-sign Zack Greinke and Dan Haren, swung deals for Tommy Hanson and Jason Vargas and signed Joe Blanton. They also bolstered their bullpen, which ranked 22nd in ERA, with closer Ryan Madson and southpaw Sean Burnett.
The Cubs, 24th in ERA last year, voyaged into the free-agent market, complementing Edwin Jackson's four-year deal with three low-cost, short-term pacts. Right-handers Scott Baker, Scott Feldman and Carlos Villanueva should help solidify a rotation weakened last summer by Matt Garza's injury and the trades of Ryan Dempster and Paul Maholm.
Villanueva also could lend his services to a bullpen that posted the Majors' fourth-worst ERA and worst FIP last season. More relief could come from Japanese import Kyuji Fujikawa and Rule 5 draftee Hector Rondon.
But when it comes to rebuilt bullpens, the Cubs can't match the Brewers, who finished last in relief ERA and blown saves and went into the offseason searching for answers.
"We've had statistical people and scouts looking at how bullpens are put together. It's very difficult," GM Doug Melvin said in late October.
"Bullpens are tough to put together because they have such a short period of time to perform."
If Milwaukee's relief corps struggles again, it won't be for Melvin's lack of effort. While closer John Axford returns in search of his 2011 form, the rest of the team's five most-used relievers -- Francisco Rodriguez, Jose Veras, Kameron Loe and Manny Parra -- are gone. Right-hander Burke Badenhop and lefties Michael Gonzalez and Tom Gorzelanny take their place after posting ERAs of 3.03 or below in 2012.
For the Rockies, reinforcements may emerge from within. Hindered by Coors Field and a rash of injuries, Colorado sputtered to a league-worst 5.22 ERA, nearly a half-run worse than any other team, while experimenting with a four-man rotation and 75-pitch limits for starters.
Injuries limited rotation leaders Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa and Juan Nicasio to 28 combined outings. Full seasons from them, plus development from youngsters Tyler Chatwood, Christian Friedrich and Drew Pomeranz, could make a world of difference.
The Indians were better than only the Rockies in ERA and will look for improved performances from Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez, as well as help from additions Brett Myers (signed as a free agent), Carlos Carrasco (missed last year to injury) and prospect Trevor Bauer (arrived via trade).
The Twins sported last year's highest FIP and 28th-ranked ERA and responded by signing free agents Mike Pelfrey, Vance Worley and Kevin Correia, while top prospect Kyle Gibson jumps into the mix for a rotation spot.
The Red Sox, who finished 27th in ERA, signed Dempster and relievers Joel Hanrahan and Koji Uehara. But there is greater potential for progress from the team's holdovers.
John Lackey reportedly is in great shape after missing all of last season recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery, and the former Angels ace is searching for the results that escaped him while posting a combined 5.26 ERA in 2010-11. Jon Lester (4.82 ERA in '12) and Clay Buchholz (4.56) also are looking for improvement.
In the bullpen, Daniel Bard is coming off a failed attempt at becoming a starter, while Andrew Bailey is hoping to overcome an injury-plagued first season in Boston. A two-time All-Star closer with the A's, Bailey has been replaced in that role by Hanrahan, but could team with Bard and Uehara to form an imposing setup crew.
"All I can say is that if I'm doing my job and [Hanrahan's] doing his job, we're going to win a lot of ballgames. That's what we're about," Bailey said last week. "Last year was a disaster for me personally and very frustrating as a team. I think everyone is out to do what they're capable of doing, and if we put that together, we should be getting to the playoffs and World Series. That's the end goal."
Those expectations are matched in Toronto. With three new big-name starters, a better season from Ricky Romero (5.77 ERA) and a healthier one from Brandon Morrow (21 starts), Anthopoulos can tell everyone his rotation is set -- and keep a straight face.
Andrew Simon is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.