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No. 2 Blue Jays: Offseason acquisitions make Toronto the beast of the AL East

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports

Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Toronto Blue Jays.

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2012 record: 73-89
Finish: Fourth, AL East
2012 final payroll: $92.1 million
Estimated 2013 opening day payroll: $115 million
Yahoo! Sports offseason rank: 2
Hashtags: #regibbons #melkyfied #bautistaswrist #rickyredo #janssenorsantos #thanksmarlins #hewindsuphere #chinstrapforlawrie #prospectstogo

OFFSEASON ACTION

The AL East is no place for mediocrity. It’s rarely been a place for hope or luck or hang-around champions. Don’t win 90 games? Don’t bother.

The Blue Jays haven’t won 90 games for 20 years. Oh, they fielded winning teams in nearly half of those seasons. Had some good players. Had a few great ones. Even finished in second place once. Second! Ten games behind the New York Yankees.

They bounced through managers. And general managers. And directions. They mostly avoided truly terrible, and rarely attained much more than mediocrity. A generation passed since the back-to-back championships of 1992-93, and the best you could say about the Blue Jays is they were almost always spirited and they almost never embarrassed themselves.

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R.A. Dickey returns to the AL after winning the NL Cy Young last season as a Met. (Reuters)

In the AL East, that’s a lot more than some teams could say.

The point is, if part of your organizational philosophy was to hope for a stray recession in New York and Boston (and lately Tampa Bay), then you were inviting mediocrity. Until, perhaps, now.

In his fourth offseason as general manager, Alex Anthopoulos, whose previous occupational highlight was trading away Vernon Wells, found riches in the Miami Marlins’ surrender and an ace in the New York Mets’ indecision. And at a time when, well then, the Yankees and certainly the Red Sox appear to have become vulnerable, the Blue Jays are division favorites.

Over 44 days this winter, Anthopoulos traded 13 players, many of them bright prospects. In return, he retooled his starting rotation with R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle. He put Jose Reyes at shortstop and in the leadoff spot, and Emilio Bonifacio into a utility role, or at second base. He brought in the catcher – Josh Thole – who can harness/chase/jab at Dickey’s knuckleball.

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He also signed Melky Cabrera, the disgraced San Francisco Giant, to play left field. And he hired John Gibbons, the same John Gibbons who managed all or parts of five seasons from 2004-08, to again man the top step.

In those 44 days, the Blue Jays sold off a good piece of the tomorrow they’d been planning for years. In doing so, tomorrow might finally have arrived.

REALITY CHECK

While it’s certainly good to be a Blue Jays fan again, what with all the new studs and promise, there is the matter of keeping everybody upright, playing the games and winning them. Remember how we so loved the Marlins a year ago? Same guys who are in Toronto today.

Stuff happens.

And in a division where the Yankees, no matter how old and sideways they may look, will not go gently… in a division where the Tampa Bay Rays will pitch you to death … in a division where the Baltimore Orioles are confident again … in a division where the Red Sox won’t be as lousy as some think …

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Edwin Encarnacion busted out in 2012 with a career-best 42 homers and 110 RBIs. (AP)

Yes, stuff happens.

There’s much to like. On its best nights, the rotation – Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Buehrle, Johnson and Ricky Romero – should stand with some of the best in the league. On those nights, Dickey will be as hale in the AL as he was in the NL, and Johnson will continue to trend toward the pitcher he was (with the healthy shoulder he had) in 2010, and Romero will show that 2012 – and not 2011 or 2010 – was the fluke.

[Related: Red Sox prospect Bryce Brentz accidentally shoots self in leg]

On its better nights, the bullpen won’t be the worst in the AL again. Casey Janssen adapted to the ninth inning better than most expected. Sergio Santos, presumably healthy again after shoulder issues, sits behind him. Darren Oliver is back. Steve Delabar has a huge arm. So, there’s that. For the optimists, there’s this: If the rotation is way better, there won’t be as many innings for the bullpen.

On its roughest nights, the offense should still score its share of runs. Jose Bautista claims his left wrist is sound. Since 2010, nobody’s hit more home runs, and Bautista missed nearly half of 2012. Edwin Encarnacion just experienced a breakout season that could only be described as Bautistian. Brett Lawrie just turned 23 and he’s 700 plate appearances into his big-league career. If the turf doesn’t take his legs out, Reyes can be dynamic. You know whose leadoff hitters had the worst on-base percentage in the AL last season? The Seattle Mariners’. The second-worst? The Blue Jays’.

SAVIOR

Jose Reyes sure seems to have a lot of moving parts. In his final three years in New York, his legs could barely carry him through a season. Then he won a batting title. Then he went to Miami, to a lost team in an utterly lost season, and he played in 160 games and was fifth in the league in hits. Partly, of course, because he led the league in plate appearances. His on-base percentage, in the past three seasons, has been all over the place.

Anyway, as he approaches his 30th birthday, a time when maintaining a game based on speed will be a challenge, Reyes faces another transition. He goes to the AL, to a team with lots of power behind him, to artificial turf. If he can get on base, if he can stay there ahead of Bautista and Encarnacion, if he can maintain his range defensively, everything he does makes everyone else better.

HAIKU

Odds are with the Jays
According to Bovada
At seven to one

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