By: Dan Grant
If you read the previews on the major sports websites, listen to the pundits and bloggers and even discuss the team with your friends, the general consensus is: “well they sucked last year, and they didn’t do anything in the off-season, so they’re going to suck again!”
Look, I get it. I wrote a whole series of columns last year where the negative half of my sports fan brain argued with my normal brain[i]. It’s frustrating. My season preview last year was entitled “Endless Hope, Boundless Hype”, which really tells the whole story doesn’t it?
The expectations were huge. We added All-Stars, a Cy Young winner, batting champions. We were supposed to take advantage of a down year from the Red Sox and Yankees. We were supposed to at least make a run at it! And we went 74-88. Worse than any of those years with 83-87 wins, when we were stuck in purgatory. We took our shot and it blew up in our faces.
Except that the shot is still going. And anybody who tells you they know what this year will hold is so full of shit that their eyes are brown.
Take a look.
The following link contains a summary of all of ESPN’s baseball ‘experts’ and their preseason choices for winners of the different Major League Baseball divisions before 2013.
Of the 43 experts polled, 20 picked the Blue Jays to win the American League East. A further 12 picked the Blue Jays to make one of the Wild Card spots. So 32 of the 43 polled had the Blue Jays as a top 4 team in the American League.
20 also chose the Tampa Bay Rays to win the division, so a pretty even split. Two chose the Baltimore Orioles and one chose the New York Yankees. Only four of these gurus picked the Red Sox to win a Wild Card spot. Not one of them picked the Red Sox to win the AL East. So what happened? The Red Sox won 97 games and the World Series. The Jays, Yankees and Orioles missed the playoffs. Tampa made the Wild Card, but was quickly eliminated. The ‘experts’ didn’t have a damn clue.
I’ll generously include myself in this. In our American League preview last season, I wrote:
“Boston is going to suck. Their pitching staff is a mess, Jacoby Ellsbury can’t stay healthy, a disease is eating Mike Napoli’s hips and Dustin Pedroia is most certainly not the best second baseman in the MLB (I see you Robinson Cano and Ian Kinsler), although he is the only one with a highly suspect MVP trophy.”
This after our other ‘expert’ called for them to finish with 75-80 wins and finish fourth in the division.
The bottom line is that, in the words of William Goldman, nobody knows anything!
No, the Blue Jays didn’t change much this off-season. The big move was eliminating JP Arencibia, which is addition by subtraction, in that he was a defensive liability and also historically awful at the plate. It’s also addition by addition, in that they added Dioner Navarro, who is just average at both. But average is a huge improvement.
The other thing is, at least on the surface, this team looks a hell of a lot healthier than a year ago. Both Brett Lawrie and R.A. Dickey were injured during the World Baseball Classic. Lawrie took a while to come back and then immediately got injured again on a freak slide and wasn’t completely healthy until July. Dickey pitched through a strained lat muscle, which affected his ability to throw his knuckleball ‘hard’. Once this issue subsided, Dickey was much better. We also have a year of empirical data to suggest that he absolutely, unequivocally needs to pitch the with Dome closed at Rogers Centre. If he pitches with it open this season, that is absolutely indefensible and the Blue Jays will be hearing from my attorney.
Jose Reyes was injured just a week into the season on another freak slide. He was fantastic whenever he played and if he and Lawrie can actually stay in the lineup together, that left side of the infield looks tremendous both offensively and defensively. Ryan Goins is poised to start at second base, and while he really can’t hit, he can definitely catch and throw, which is more than be said for the Emilio Bonifacio/Maicer Izturis combination from a year ago.
Melky Cabrera had a spinal tumor! Now he doesn’t. This has to be a good thing.
Many people were clamouring for the Jays to add a veteran pitcher to the starting rotation over the winter and I completely understand that. With their ability to add one without giving up a significant draft pick, it made a lot of sense. However, with the prospects the Jays have emerging in Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman, I can understand not wanting to commit to four years of Ervin Santana or Ubaldo Jimenez. Mark Buehrle and Dickey are here for the next two seasons at least. If you feel like Stroman and Sanchez are likely going to be a part of your rotation in 2015 or even late 2014, why commit to that veteran? You already have Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, J.A. Happ, Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison and Todd Redmond to fill those one or two extra rotation spots. Those are solid options, they were just undone by injuries and ill fortune over the past couple seasons. Last season, not one of those guys was able to give the Jays 20 starts. This season, they might all able to, at least physically. That is a huge upgrade.
I’d like to sit here and predict that the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays almost have to get better, just by attrition. Last season, everything that could’ve gone wrong happened. I wouldn’t be surprised if Alex Anthopolous somehow left his headlights on every single day last year and had to jump-start his car before heading home; the probability of that is about the same as every terrible thing happening to Toronto that did.
Just remember that this is basically the same team that 20 of ESPN’s experts chose to win the division last year. The Rays look worse, the Orioles and Yankees slightly better and the Red Sox, I’d say look worse, but who knows?
Not me. Not anyone.
[i] Look out for more Regular Dan vs. Pessimistic Dan columns in about a month!