By: Dan Grant
It’s just about here. The 2013 Toronto Blue Jays season will kick off tomorrow and it’s coming with so much hype that I can barely even handle it. If you’re here reading this, you’ve probably heard some of the rumblings about the myriad roster moves the Jays have made this off-season. Just as a quick refresher, the major moves were:
- The ‘Trade’ kicked everything off with Toronto acquiring All-Star shortstop Jose Reyes, starting pitchers Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson, super utility man Emilio Bonifacio and catcher John Buck from the Miami Marlins, for a package of players including Yunel Escobar, Henderson Alvarez and Adeiny Hecchavaria. I wrote about the move here and could barely contain my elation.
- Jays general manager Alex Anthopolous followed this up by signing left fielder Melky Cabrera to a 2 year, 16 million dollar deal, a significant discount, seeing as Cabrera was suspended 50 games for PED use last season and was left off the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants playoff roster.
- A further massive trade was made with the New York Mets, with the Jays acquiring reigning NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, along with catcher Josh Thole, for two stud prospects, catcher Travis d’Arnaud and pitcher Noah Syndergaard. Catcher John Buck was also included in the deal, heading to New York.
It all sounds great right? So why can’t I shake these feelings of doubt? Why can’t I totally commit? I don’t know. I want to be all in. I want to see the (many) Toronto Star headlines claiming that the 2013 Jays have the best shot at a World Series title since 1993 and believe that it’s more than just a city that’s so desperate for any kind of sporting success that it’s like an over-excited five year old at an amusement park. And I kind of do. Logically, it is… or at least it could be. But my deep seeded distrust and, to be honest, my complete inexperience with any major sporting success in Toronto has led me to constantly undermine my own excitement.
In fact, I’d like to introduce you to someone. This is PD, or ‘Pessimistic Dan’. Say hi to the people PD.
PD: Whatever. They probably won’t remember me anyway.
RD (Regular Dan): As you can see, PD is a bit of a downer. He hedges his bets. He constantly scrutinizes things to the point that he’s genuinely crippled by his own uncertainty. He is also a real part of my brain.
PD: I’m all of your brain!
RD: Well no, PD, you’re not. And to be honest, I think lately you’ve been a little too prevalent in regards to these Jays. I do know that you’re a big baseball fan though, is that right?
PD: Well duh. I’m you, you jackass.
RD: Well yeah. That’s right. So I thought maybe we could hash out this Jays team and see if I can convince you to be at least grudgingly excited for this year. What do you think?
PD: Well, you can try. But to be honest, it’s not that I’m not excited. I am. I just think that this team is a lot more fragile than people are—
RD: You’ll have your time to say everything you want PD but let’s actually talk about the team. Why don’t we start with the likely batting order. Cool?
RD: OK. So hitting leadoff is going to be shortstop Jose Reyes. Even you have to be excited for Reyes, PD. He’s an absolutely electric player, excelling with his bat, glove and speed. He won the NL batting title two seasons ago, is a four time All-Star, and three time Gold Glover. He’s the first real leadoff hitter the Jays have had since Shannon Stewart in the early 2000’s. In the immortal words of Joey Tribbiani, what’s not to like?
PD: What’s not to like? In the three seasons before 2012, he missed almost 200 games! He was supposed to be the saviour in Miami and they finished below .500 last year! He’s a ‘franchise player‘ that two teams have either let either walk away in free agency or traded away. I like the idea of Reyes, but the reality might be quite a bit different. This is a guy that the New York media questioned in terms of motivation and concentration. I know he looks great on paper but I’ll have to see some results to believe he’s worth the money.
RD: Well see, that’s a crap argument. Of course you’ll have to ‘see’ a player or a team perform to believe that they’ll be good. You could say that about any team in baseball, or in any sport for that matter. The bottom line is that Reyes won a batting title in 2011 and has over 400 career stolen bases, including 40 last year, when he played 160 out of 162 games by the way. Can you argue with that?
PD: Well no…
RD: Good! Because I really think he gives the Jays a talent in the middle infield they haven’t had since a little guy named Robbie Alomar. Moving on to the second spot in the order, we have new left fielder Melky Cabrera. Despite getting caught for PED use last year, Cabrera would have won the NL batting title, if he hadn’t relinquished the title through his own volition. That means 1. He has shown remorse for his mistake, something I can definitely appreciate and 2. We have the last two NL batting champs hitting at the top of our order! How can you hate on that?
PD: I can hate on that because who knows if the guy can play anymore! He was a borderline Triple A outfielder for the Yankees four or five years ago. He was terrible for the Atlanta Braves and got released. Suddenly he goes to Kansas City in 2011 and explodes… and then gets caught for PED use two years later! Coincidence? Who knows… but what if the guy is no good? Plus Fred McGriff doesn’t like him! I stand with the Crime Dog! Plus this.
RD: OK, I’ll admit Melky is a huge question mark. But I still like the move because the money and the years are so minimal. That and we have depth with speedster Rajai Davis on the bench and Anthony Gose waiting in the wings in Buffalo. If he doesn’t work, we’ve got options.
PD: Yeah I guess that’s true…
RD: Are you coming around at all, Debbie Downer?
RD: Fine, let’s move to the middle of the order. Hitting third and fourth respectively will be right fielder Jose Bautista and first baseman Edwin Encarnacion. Bautista was a revelation in 2010 and 2011 and even though he missed most of the second half of last year, he’s still the major league leader in home runs from 2010-2012. After surgery on his wrist, he’s back and has looked healthy this spring. Encarnacion finally harnassed his talent and put it all together in 2012. Hitting 42 home runs, he carried the offense with Bautista out. The two will combined to be the big boppers for the Blue Jays this year; a lot of the run production is going to come from these two men. You gotta love the middle of the order right?
PD: I’m skeptical about Bautista’s wrist. Mark Teixeira is struggling through the same thing right now in New York. It wasn’t even just a wrist tendon, it was his wrist sheath tendon, meaning the part of your wrist that holds everything together. For a guy that swings as hard as Joey, a re-injury is a definite possibility. I really think he needs to be moved to first base; he has a great arm but he really only gets to show it off because he’s not a very good defensive outfielder. He came up as a third baseman and it shows sometimes with the weird routes he takes to line drives. As for Encarnacion, he really was great last year, even I can admit that. But he’s only done it once! His previous career high was 26 home runs, back in 2008 for Cincinnati. I think he’s a pretty suspect guy to rely on to repeat his 2012 numbers. If he was hitting lower in the order, fine… but he’s your clean-up guy? He’s no sure thing.
RD: I disagree with you about Bautista. He’s looked great and I think he’ll be driving in runs in bunches with the guys hitting ahead of him. Your Encarnacion point makes a bit of sense but if you look at his three years in Toronto, he’s actually been pretty great since the second half of 2010. I don’t think he’ll hit 40 homers again but I definitely think he’ll be a comfortable guy in that cleanup spot.
PD: Fine. I might be nitpicking there, those two are pretty good. But the next three spots in the order are my time to shine!
RD: Alright, let’s hear it.
PD: I’m going to take the lead here! In some order, the fifth, sixth and seventh spots in the order will be occupied by DH Adam Lind, CF Colby Rasmus and 3B Brett Lawrie. I’d like to disparage them one at a time, if you don’t mind…
RD: I actually do mind—
PD: Tough! I’ve listened to your gushy gobbledegook long enough! Lind is terrible! He’s been terrible since his one good year in 2009! How is it that he’s going to be taking meaningful at-bats for a team that spent this much money in the off-season? Why isn’t he hitting eighth?! Why don’t they have a right handed platoon bat for him, since he CAN’T HIT LEFTIES! BRAIN ANEURYSM!
RD: Well he uh—
PD: I’m not done! Colby Rasmus has been atrocious for us! You look at his final numbers from last season and they look decent but if you break it down, he was really only good in June! He hit .291/.331/.597 in June with 34 hits, including 8 homers and 6 doubles, which is excellent. His highest monthly batting average after that was .209, including sub .200 months in July and August! The guy is a pylon—
RD: He’s actually tremendous defensively and his swing is looking really good this—
PD: Let me finish! The last guy is Brett Lawrie, everyone’s favourite Canadian. Where is he to open the year? The disabled list. Again. The guy smells of Kelly Gruber. He’s a fan favourite, he plays way too hard and he can’t stay healthy. He might come back and put up some great numbers this season but how long can he last?
RD: Are you done?
PD: I… Yes.
RD: Are you sure?
PD: Yeah, yeah.
RD: Alright then. Allow me to retort. Adam Lind is inconsequential to this team. Any production he gives them is a bonus and he actually hit really well after being recalled from Triple A last season, and finished the season strongly, hitting .301/.342/.447 in September/October. He’ll likely hit seventh in the order once Lawrie returns and is only hitting fifth right now to stagger the lefty-rightyness of the lineup. Also, Rajai Davis, who rakes lefties, will often take days at DH when Lind would be over-matched, so your point there is moot. He’s also not necessarily a permanent fixture. He got sent to the minors last season. If Lind is terrible, he’ll be out of the lineup.
PD: I see. I guess I didn’ t think—
RD: No you didn’t think! Colby Rasmus is an immense talent and this is a make or break year for him. He’s a great defensive centre fielder but the Jays have a better one in Anthony Gose waiting in the wings. Rasmus needs to be more consistent at the plate but with a big contract on the line, this is his year to do it. If he struggles, Gose and Davis are more than ready to take playing time away from him. This team is DEEP.
RD: And as for Brett Lawrie, the guy is 23 years old! He has a minor rib cage strain because he plays so hard that he hurt it while laying out for a ball in spring training! He’ll learn to pick his spots better. He’s been an elite hitting prospect for years and he showed flashes of greatness defending at the hot corner last year. Comparing him to Gruber just because they play the same position is inane. Gruber was a Rule 5 draft player that we basically stole from Cleveland. His career ended because of a freak bone spur in his spine, not because of how hard he played. Lawrie has been an elite prospect his entire career.
PD: Well yeah OK maybe—
RD: Not maybe! And while I’m at it, let’s finish things off with the bottom of the order. Catchers JP Arencibia and Henry Blanco (the immortal ‘Hank White’) will share the eight spot and Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio will split time at second base and share the nine hole (Izturis will be playing third until Lawrie returns). Arencibia has great power for the catcher position and his defense is improving. Blanco is a great defensive catcher brought in basically to catch R.A. Dickey and his crazy knuckler. Izturis is a defensive wiz with a half decent bat and Bonifacio is apparently made of greased lightning. He was injured last year and only played 64 games, but he still stole 30 bases, finishing in the top 10 in the National League. Yes he’s injury prone, but that’s why we have Izturis too.
PD: Hey now. You’re kind of making my points for me—
RD: I’m refuting the nonsense you’re going to spew before you can even spew it you mean.
PD: I resent the word ‘spew’. Also, I’m not feeling very well.
RD: Yeah? Well, you’re a spewer. And you’re probably not feeling so well because, well PD… I think you’re dying. Suck on that. Let’s move on to the pitching staff, where I’m going to crush you once and for all.
PD: Dying? What do you mean dying—
RD: I mean that you’re going away for a while buddy boy. I’m feeling so good! The Jays starting rotation this year looks like one of the best in franchise history. Reigning NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey starts things off. His knuckleball was borderline unfair last year and he cruised to the award while on a bad Mets team. He’ll be followed by the flame-throwing Brandon Morrow, the ultra-steady Mark Buehrle, the intimidating Josh Johnson and J.A. Happ, who is coming off a strong spring.
PD: Man, I’m really not feeling good. I’m pretty faint actually… I can only manage one word for each of these guys.
Dickey – Age
Morrow – Health
Buehrle – Age
Johnson – Health
Happ – Crap. Rhyme. I’ve got another one. Romero… where-o? OK, I’m starting to feel a bit better—
RD: Not so fast. Dickey’s age is inconsequential because of his style of pitching. He’s improved each of the last three years with the Mets since he started throwing the knuckler consistently. Other knuckleballers such as Tim Wakefield and Phil Niekro have pitched well into their 40’s. Will he win the Cy again? Probably not. But he gives the Jays a unique advantage. Morrow has had trouble staying healthy yes but last years injury was a random oblique strain. I think this year is the year he finally puts it all together, especially seeing as he’ll be throwing gas the day after a team has just seen Dickey’s dancing knucklers. If he does, he could make his first All-Star team. Mark Buehrle is older sure, but he’s had career success in the American League, he’s good for 200 innings ever year and he’s one of only a handful of pitchers to throw multiple no hitters. I’ll take him in my rotation any day. Josh Johnson had some health problems in the past but he threw 191 innings last year and he’s a free agent after the season. I expect him to do anything he can to stay in the lineup and have a big year. The man wants to get paid! J.A. Happ is a decent fill in for yes, Ricky Romero, who has been sent down to Single A, ostensibly to an extended Spring Training, to work out some issues. This rotation is so deep that it doesn’t matter and I expect Ricky back before long. Also, it worked for this guy, so it’s worth a shot.
PD: Can you call a doctor… things are spinning again.
RD: The bullpen looks solid as well. The Jays are opening the season carrying 13 pitchers, a number that will likely decrease as the season wears on. Casey Janssen will retain the closer role for now but Sergio Santos has had a strong spring and is comfortable in that role as well. Darren Oliver returns as a lefty specialist and sage veteran, Steve Delabar and new acquisition Esmil Rogers are throwing heat, Aaron Loup looks great and could step into the rotation if there’s an injury. The final bullpen spot is a four way competition between the injured Dustin McGowan, being kept on the disabled list because he’s out of options, meaning he’d have to clear waivers to be sent to the minor leagues, non-roster invitee and former Jays starter Dave Bush, hard-throwing righty Jeremy Jeffress and former top prospect, lefty Brett Cecil. Both Jeffress and Cecil are also out of options and might be scooped by another team if they’re placed on waivers, leading me to believe it will be one or maybe both of them landing a spot to start to the season.
PD: (gasping) Health… depth… experience…
RD: Any team is going to have questions about health. Janssen is back and if he needs extra days, like I said, Santos is there. The rest of the bullpen has been remarkably healthy and we have plenty of minor league depth. Brad Lincoln, Chad Jenkins and whoever loses out on that four-way competition will be around to step in if need be. Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek could be back from Tommy John surgery by July or August, for depth down the stretch. As for experience, that’s why you have a guy like Darren Oliver. This bullpen could use another veteran maybe, but it has a ton of talent.
RD: PD… are you there? PD? Uhhh… well I guess PD is gone. I’ll just finish by saying that I love the Jays re-hiring of John Gibbons. Gibbons was a solid manager that was given a volatile clubhouse and a team with overpriced veterans the last time he was here. He wasn’t the problem when he was fired, it was the roster constructed by former GM JP Ricciardi. Gibbons is a smart guy who the players love, he’s not afraid to say what’s on his mind and he’s shown a disposition towards advanced statistics including using platoons and playing matchups, that bodes well for the stathead communities sanity, as well as the success of the Jays in 2013.
PD: I’m… feeling, ummmm, pretty green.
RD: Great! That was the idea. Now I can enjoy the season in peace. Happy 2013 baseball season everyone! PLAYOFFS!