Editor's note: Yahoo Sports will rank every team in Major League Baseball from 30th to 1st before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Toronto Blue Jays.
2013 record: 74-88
Finish: Fifth place, AL East
2013 final payroll: $125.9 million (9th of 30)
Estimated 2014 opening day payroll: $145 million (8th of 30)
Yahoo Sports offseason rank: 18th
Blue Jays in six words: How about a mulligan on 2013?
By now, every baseball fans knows the sad ballad of the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays. They won the hot stove season a year ago – pulling off a couple of huge trades, overhauling their roster and creating enough excitement about their retooled team that they were, at one point, the odds on favorites to win the World Series.
The hot stove season was about all the Jays won, though, as they finished last in the competitive AL East. Injuries and inconsistency doomed the Blue Jays to the point where even the local police were using them as a punch line.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos' game plan was much different this offseason. The Blue Jays' moves were … wait, where were the Blue Jays' moves? The biggest addition to the team is Dioner Navarro, who had a career-best season in 2013 with the Chicago Cubs. He hit .300/.365/.492 with 13 homers in 89 games. The Blue Jays gave him a two-year, $8 million deal that helped push whiffmaster J.P. Arencibia out of town.
The Blue Jays also signed second baseman Chris Getz, whose most exciting trait is that he used the “R.B.I. Baseball” theme song as his at-bat music with the Royals. Also new: catcher Erik Kratz (acquired in a trade with the Phillies), back-up third baseman Brent Morel (a waivers acquisition) and pitcher Tomo Ohka.
Ohka, interestingly enough, is a 37-year-old Japanese pitcher who has 10 years of big-league experience. After being out of MLB since 2009, he's re-invented himself as a knuckleballer, like his new Jays teammate R.A. Dickey.
Pitching is the biggest need for the Blue Jays, and Ohka isn't the bandage the Blue Jays need to cover their ugly wound. Their starters had the second-worst ERA in baseball last season, as Dickey wasn't anywhere near the Cy Young form of 2012, Brandon Morrow was injured most of the year and Mark Buehrle had one of the worst seasons of his career. None of the Blue Jays' starting pitchers finished the season with an ERA below 4.00, which … ouch. That includes Josh Johnson, who has since left for the San Diego Padres.
The pitching market as a whole has been slow, and we'll see what happens now that Japanese star Masahiro Tanaka is a Yankee. It's entirely possible that Anthopoulos just hasn't made his move yet. There are quality pitchers left on the market, a few of whom would solidify Toronto's bullpen. Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana have both been linked to the Jays.
However, Anthopoulos also said recently that the prices are too high, both in free agency and the trade market, for the Blue Jays at the moment. Maybe he's just trying not to look desperate, or maybe he saw that pitchers like Scott Feldman (with his 4.67 career ERA) are fetching $10 million per year in free agency and would rather cross his fingers that the Jays pitchers couldn't possibly be as disappointing as they were last year.
Here's something: The team that won the World Series last season finished in the cellar of the AL East the year before. OK, so maybe that's not a “reality” any team can count on, but it's a fun silver lining Blue Jays fans can smile about. At least until the season starts.
Like the Boston Red Sox of 2012, the 2013 last-place Blue Jays probably weren't as bad as the standings said. Sure, they've got some stank on them from last year's colossal disappointment, but this 2014 team returns a bevvy of offensive talent. Jose Bautista, Jose Reyes, Brett Lawrie and Melky Cabrera all missed time last season because of injury and all, if healthy, are certain to make better contributions this time around.
Edwin Encarnacion, one of the few Toronto players who didn't get hurt in 2013, should continue to be a steady producer for the Jays. His $9 million salary for 2014 is a bargain considering his 36 homers and 104 RBIs last season.
As a team, the Blue Jays' offensive numbers were decent, considering they were without a few of their top talents, mainly Reyes. They finished ninth in runs, fourth in homers and 11tth in RBIs. They need more hits and a better team on-base percentage – they were 14th and 15th, respectively – and getting Arencibia out of the lineup and having a healthy Reyes should help.
This is reality too: The Blue Jays still play in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. Their pitching, as it stands now, might not be enough to complement what looks like a potent lineup unless Dickey makes that knuckler move like it's 2012, Morrow returns to form, Buehrle rebounds and J.A. Happ rekindles some 2009 magic.
The prospect first in line to help is Marcus Stroman, a 22-year-old who had a 3.30 ERA in Double-A last season. He throws in the mid 90s with a plus cutter that led to 129 strikeouts in 111 innings in 2013. He'll get a shot at big-league spring training this year, but his chances of making the team aren't strong.
Prospects aren't the answer in Toronto, though. Ultimately what the Blue Jays are banking on, given their tame winter, is that their moves from last year show results now. It's not out of the question.
When they Blue Jays traded for Jose Reyes, they weren't planning on getting 97 games out of him. They were hoping to get an MVP-caliber player who made their big boppers, Bautista and Encarnacion, even more dangerous. But Reyes missed a lot of time with an ankle injury. He returned to hit a respectable .296/.353/.427, but by that time the Blue Jays' season was all but finished. Getting an entire season of a top-notch Reyes, who will turn 31 in June, is vital to success in Toronto. He could be the spark the Blue Jays thought they were getting when they traded for him – just a year late.
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