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Pressing Questions: The Toronto Blue Jays

Scott Pianowski
Roto Arcade

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Never change, YYZ (USAT)

Although it's been two decades since the Blue Jays made a playoff appearance (touch em' all Joe), hopes were high on the 2013 outfit. Big hitters were added, name pitchers brought north. Pennant fever grips the YYZ. Alex Anthopolous is a genius.

Alas, Toronto's season was pronounced DOA in the doctor's office. Only two position players made it past 118 games played - think about that for a moment - and the top three starting pitchers had disappointing years. The out-the-door 74-88 mark was just a one-game improvement from the previous model. Alex Anthopolous needs a new plan.

[Baseball 2014 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]

Maybe the Blue Jays can turn themselves into this year's Red Sox, the team that arrives a year late and shocks the division. Certainly no one is expecting much from Toronto as we wait for the snow to melt. Clay Davenport's projection model has them pegged for 78 wins, while Joe Sheehan's back-of-envelope prediction says 76-86. If you want to drop a few ducats on the AL East champion, the Jays offer the largest payout (that's a nice way to say they're earmarked for the basement).

But even if the team isn't special, there's plenty of fantasy intrigue here. A few Toronto players will go in the early rounds of every draft, and Rogers Centre is usually a plus park for offensive production. You'll want to take a good look around this roster.

Q: How many games are you paying for with Jose Reyes?

A: Reyes was a durable and reliable commodity during his early days in New York, but the past five years have been a mess - just one full season over that stretch. Here's the games played column starting from 2009: 36, 133, 126, 160, 93. That's an average of about 110. Calf, hamstring and knee problems - toxic to a base stealer. (On the plus side, it hasn't robbed Reyes of his joie de vivre - consider this photo from a week ago.)

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Alas, it's not a slam-dunk case to avoid the injury-prone infielder. Reyes is only 30 years old and he's still a productive player when on the field. He posted a useful .296-58-10-37-15 line over 93 games last year, which made him the third-best fantasy shortstop on a per-game basis (20 game minimum). It's obviously a position of attrition - the two players who outproduced Reyes in the PPG metric (Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki) had their physical problems, too.

I'm willing to pay for about 120-130 games with Reyes, viewing anything past that as gravy. Your league scope is critical when considering this type of player (do you have DL spots? what's the replacement level in the middle infield?). The debate between Reyes, Jean Segura and Ian Desmond is a fun one entering fake baseball 2014 - look at the Yahoo staff ranks, you'll see the disagreement (my vote goes to Desmond). Their current Yahoo ADPs are roughly even, in the 44-47 range. Place your bets, gamers.

Q: Is Edwin Encarnacion worth the big ticket?

A: You'll probably have to spend a second-round pick if you want the man formerly known as E5. He's currently slotted at No. 21 on the Yahoo overall board, and his Yahoo ADP is in the same neighborhood. He's turned into a star since the beginning of 2013. Only Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis have more homers and RBIs over the last two years than Encarnacion (78 taters, 214 ribbies), and Encarnacion throws in the occasional stolen base.

There's also some sneaky batting-average upside with Encarnacion - last year's .272 average goes into the unlucky file. Fluky hit rate (.247 BABIP)? Check. Significant increase in contact rate? Check. Trimmed infield fly rate? Check. The room will probably treat Encarnacion as a neutral player in batting average, but a 30-point gain seems far more likely than a 30-point drop.

Encarnacion's 2013 season ended with September wrist surgery; as per usual, it's being spun as successful. This looks like a perfect second-round selection to me, and I'm willing to consider Encarnacion at the end of the first round in some deeper pools. You're getting five categories here, and the dual-position eligibility (both corners) is a nifty bonus. Let's have some fun with his age-31 season.

Q: Do we want any part of this messy Toronto pitching staff?

A: We'll deal with the rotation later, but closer Casey Janssen looks like a terrific value pick. He's the No. 16 closer off the board in early Yahoo ADP, costing you a 13th round pick (138th overall) in standard formats. If you want your saves on a budget, this is an excellent player to consider.

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Janssen has been terrific since taking over in the ninth inning back in the middle of 2012. He's converted 56-of-61 save chances over that span, striking out about a batter per inning and rarely walking anyone (22 unintentional passes over 116.1 innings). His ground-ball rate increased to 47.9 percent last year. His ERA sits in the mid-2s. This is a pitcher doing a lot of things right, and it's all happening with little fanfare.

Sergio Santos and Steve Delabar are quality arms in front of Janssen (shoulders permitting), but the Jays have no reason to mess with the pecking order. Janssen has marked his territory.

Q: Okay, so what about the starting pitchers?

A: In general I consider AL East pitchers as guilty until proven innocent - I need a strong case before I talk myself into any of them. I don't see any Toronto starters I want to gamble in for a mixed league, not in this jagged division. (Yes, there's a price for everyone, but I'll be unfailingly patient with this batch). Poison mound.

R.A. Dickey is the only pitcher with an expectant ADP (currently 169.3). Age doesn't always matter to knuckleballers, but nonetheless this is a 39-year-old hurler. Dickey's first Toronto year was a letdown: 14 wins, 4.21 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 177 strikeouts. The ratios did get better in the second half, if that matters to you. If you can't find a similarly-priced pitcher with a better upside, you're not looking hard enough.

Brandon Morrow? I gave up that ghost a while ago. He's never made it to 180 innings in a season, and this time he's trying to rehab through forearm problems, as opposed to having surgery. Sounds like we'll be writing about Morrow's pending surgery later in 2014.

I'm not opposed to streaming Mark Buehrle here and there (as a way to fight through the boredom of the dog days), but at his age (35 next month) and mph readout (84.2), he's not a draft-and-hold in the mixer world. You need strikeouts from your primary horses.

J.A. Happ is a quick deletion from the mixed-league conversation - stuff is too ordinary and he walks too many guys (4.37/9 last year). If he ever shows a K/B clip over two, we'll reevaluate.

Blue Jay Way: What's the right price on Jose Bautista these days? His slugging percentage has dipped for three straight seasons, and injury problems (wrist, hip) mucked him up the last two years. His career average of .254 is a logical place to set your projection, entering his age-33 campaign. I probably won't consider him until the fourth round, which means I won't land him in most leagues . . . Make it five teams in five years for Dioner Navarro; the Jays grabbed him for a two-year, $8 million contract. There's a lot to like about the move. Navarro's coming off a useful .300/.365/.492 run with the Cubs over 89 games, throwing 13 homers into the mix. No one expects the same efficiency in a full-time role, but Navarro looks reasonable as a cheap first catcher in deeper pools or a strong No. 2 option. And just seeing J.P. Arcencibia out of Toronto makes most of us happy . . . Colby Rasmus had a growth season in 2013, but late injury problems cost him a month and kept his counting numbers from grabbing mass attention. Maybe we can have a good time in his age-27 campaign. Rasmus turned in a solid .276/.338/.501 slash over 118 games (with 22 homers), though it also came with a bloated 29.5 percent strikeout clip. He's never going to be a monster against lefties, but at least he hit .256 against them. Stolen bases don't come with the package - he attempted just one last year. Outside of the Top 200, you could do a lot worse . . . Brett Lawrie is the full-time third baseman this year, and maybe defensive stability will help his bat some. A .254/.315/.397 slash isn't moving the needle, and it's a far cry from what his brilliant 2012 debut promised us. On the plus side, Lawrie maintains last year's 2B tag, and he's far from a finished product at age 24. Do you feel lucky? The 117 ADP looks an eyelash expectant for my taste, even with a 15-15 season looking perfectly reasonable.

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