This was a humbling season for the Blue Jays.
They thought they had done all the right things in the offseason to make themselves contenders.
But they were utter flops. They finished last in the American League and won 74 games, one more win than in 2012.
The starting rotation that was supposed to be so good was worst than could be imagined. The bullpen that was supposed to be a weakness turned out to be a strength. That wealth of relievers could be used in deals to help fill needs.
There were some major injuries, like the 66 games shortstop Jose Reyes missed because of a sprained ankle. Injuries also led to hitters like Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion having their seasons end early.
Starters Brandon Morrow and Josh Johnson also were shut down early with injuries but they had combined for a total of four wins and they had ERAs of 5.63 and 6.20, respectively.
So there is a familiar refrain this season. General manager Alex Anthopoulos knows the rotation must be upgraded.
"I don't know that I can peg how it's going to go," Anthopoulos said. "I'll definitely get on the phone with clubs first -- the ones that aren't in the playoffs -- call and just see who's available, what needs they have and where we line up. We've already started to go through a lot of the free agents. We have a good feel for it."
But the way the market shapes up, he said that trading might be the best route.
"But I think we're going to be open-minded to both," he said.
Anthopoulos said he might also be more wary of a player's history with injuries before obtaining him than he has in the past. He feels that more attention could be given how a player might adjust to the artificial turf at Rogers Centre.
But the big thing is pitching. Some pitchers who were unavailable in 2013 because of significant surgeries, like Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek, will be ready to try for rotation spots.
"We knew we were thin going into the offseason last year. That's why there was the need obviously to get three guys," Anthopoulos said. "But right now we've got volume. The question is, is the quality of that volume enough. That's something that still has to be determined."
2013: 74-88, fifth place in AL East
TEAM MVP: 1B Edwin Encarnacion led the team with 36 homers, 104 RBIs, an on-base percentage of .370 and an OPS of .904, and he did it with a left wrist injury that nagged at him at times. His season ended after 142 games, when he had surgery to clean out cartilage in the wrist. He struck out (62) fewer times than he walked (82) and batted .272. Once a liability defensively as a third baseman, he has become an acceptable first baseman. He is an aware base runner.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: RHP Josh Johnson was the key of the big deal with the Miami Marlins last November. But after a spring training that looked good statistically, he battled his pitch location in his 16 starts between two stints on the disabled list (triceps, forearm) and he finished 2-8 with a 6.20 ERA. His season was over when he was put on the DL on Aug. 7. It is not a good record to take into free agency this offseason.
TOP PROSPECT: RHP Aaron Sanchez has the talent but the Blue Jays are bringing the 21-year-old slowly so he could be two or three years away from Toronto's starting rotation, where he could develop into a front-ender. They want him to continue to develop his fastball command and they want to build him up to the rigors of a major league season. After some soreness near his collarbone early in the season, which was considered minor, he was 4-5 with a 3.34 ERA at Class A Dunedin in 22 games, 20 starts. He has it all -- overpowering fastball, curve and changeup -- but the Blue Jays are willing to wait for it all to come together.
--C Dioner Navarro signed a two-year, $8 million contract with the Blue Jays on Dec. 2, and he will take over as the team's starter. A switch hitter, Navarro batted .300 with 13 home runs and 34 RBIs in 89 games as a part-time player for the Cubs in 2013.
"Dioner is very motivated and very hungry to get back to being that everyday guy," GM Alex Anthopoulos said.
The 29-year-old former All-Star played in 115 or more games with Tampa Bay from 2007 to 2009, but he was used sparingly from 2010 to 2012 by the Rays, Dodgers and Reds. He saw action in only 24 games as a reserve for the Reds in 2012.
--C J.P. Arencibia was non-tendered by the Blue Jays on Dec. 2, making him a free agent. Arencibia, 27, lost his job as the regular catcher when the Blue Jays and free agent catcher Dioner Navarro agreed to a two-year, $8 million contract. In 138 games last season, Arencibia batted .194 with a .227 on-base percentage, a .365 slugging percentage, 21 homers and 55 RBIs.
--INF Mark DeRosa announced his retirement Nov. 12. DeRosa, 38, played 16 years in the major leagues, appearing for eight teams and seeing action at six positions. During his final season, DeRosa played 88 games for the Blue Jays, hitting .235 with a .326 on-base percentage, a .407 slugging percentage, seven homers and 36 RBIs. DeRosa broke in with the Braves in 1998, and he subsequently played for the Rangers, Cubs, Indians, Cardinals, Giants, Nationals and Blue Jays. His final career numbers: .268 average, .340 OBP, .412 slugging percentage, 100 homers and 494 RBIs in 1,241 games.
--LHP Juan Perez was outrighted off the Blue Jays' 40-man roster, but he returned to the organization on a minor league contract. Perez, 35, last pitched Aug. 9, as he was shut down due to a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow. He decided not to undergo Tommy John surgery and will try a rehabilitation program. Perez went 1-2 with a 3.69 ERA in 19 relief appearances this year.
--C Mike Nickeas, removed from the Blue Jays' 40-man roster in October, re-signed with the team on a minor league deal in November. He was invited to the team's big-league spring camp. Nickeas, 30, made one major league appearance for Toronto this year as a defensive replacement.
--RHP Casey Janssen and DH Adam Lind had their contract options picked up by the Blue Jays, who declined the option on INF Munenori Kawasaki. Janssen's option was for $4 million. The Toronto closer posted a 4-1 record, 34 saves and a 2.55 ERA in 52 2/3 innings this year. In the past two seasons, the 32-year-old has 56 saves in 61 chances. Lind had a $7 million option. Kawasaki, who had a $1 million option, still could return to the team on a minor league deal. Kawasaki, 32, batting .229/.326/.308 with one homer and 24 RBIs in 96 games in 2013. The 30-year-old Lind batted .288 with 23 home runs and 67 RBIs in 143 games this season.
--LHP Ricky Romero cleared waivers and was outrighted to Triple-A Las Vegas, the Blue Jays announced after the season. Romero, 28, has been poor the past two seasons, going a combined 9-16 with a 5.97 ERA in 36 games (34 starts). He finished 0-2 with an 11.05 ERA in four games (two starts) this year, spending almost all of the season at Triple-A Buffalo.
--OF Ryan Langerhans, who finished the season with the Blue Jays, elected to become a free agent Oct. 8. Langerhans, 33, went 3-for-11 with no RBIs in four games with Toronto.
--C Mike Nickeas was outrighted to Triple-A Las Vegas as the Blue Jays removed him from their 40-man roster. Nickeas, 30, made one major league appearance for Toronto this year as a defensive replacement.
--LHP Darren Oliver said it is definite this time. He is retiring at the age of 42. He came back for one more season with a team that had high hopes but quickly disappointed. Oliver made his final appearance in the seventh inning of the Blue Jays' season-ending 7-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Sept. 29 and had a 1-2-3 inning with two strikeouts." It was great, a great run," Oliver said. "But eventually every good thing must come to an end, unfortunately. Mine just happened to end at 42, I guess. But that's all right. It was great." He had a career record of 18-98 in 766 games and 1,915 2/3 innings. He struck out 1,259 and walked 720 in a career that included three stints in Texas as well as stops in St. Louis, Boston, Colorado, the Angels and Mets. "He had some kind of career," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "Twenty years -- very few guys get to do that. To play a very, very small part and be able to manage him is a pretty neat thing. He was one of the better pitchers in the game for a long time. Longevity in this business is hard to come by, but to do it for that long and be that effective until the very end, that speaks volumes." The Blue Jays have plenty of lefties in the bullpen, led by LHP Brett Cecil, LHP Aaron Loup and LHP Luis Perez, who returned from Tommy John surgery late in the year.
--C J.P. Arencibia finished the season with a .194 batting average, the lowest by a player with 450 plate appearances or more in the history of the franchise. 2B Aaron Hill had the lowest previous average at .205 in 2010. Arencibia had 21 homers and 54 RBIs but he had a miniscule OPS of .592. His defense was lacking as well.
--INF Ryan Goins was 0-for-5 in the season-ending 7-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays on Sept. 29 to snap a career-best nine-game hitting streak in which he batted .333 (12-for-36). He has put himself in the picture to compete for the second-base spot next season if the Blue Jays do not acquire an established second baseman. Goins opened his major league career in August with an eight-game hitting streak. He finished with a .252 batting average in 34 games. As a shortstop for most of his minor league career, he made a quick adjustment to second base when called up to the majors from Triple-A Buffalo. Defense at second base had been a problem for much of the season. "We've talked about some of the defense, second base in particular. We like what Goins is doing," manager John Gibbons said. "It's like putting the pieces of the puzzle together and Alex will go to work on that. I'll throw my two cents in, as well as other guys in the organization, and we have to make it all fit somehow."
--SS Jose Reyes was 2-for-4 with an RBI in the Blue Jays' final game of the season on Sept. 29, a 7-6 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. He had hits in 14 of his final 16 games of the season. He finished his season batting .296 and his absence of 66 games from April 13 to June 25 with a sprained ankle was a major setback for the Blue Jays. "I don't want to say I'm happy now because we finished last," Reyes said. "When we got to spring training, there were a lot of expectations about our ballclub and now to go home without making the playoffs, it's disappointing. But the talent is still here. Hopefully next year we come out of the gate quick and winning and everything will be OK. We need everybody to stay healthy the full season and go from there. We need to play consistent." He ended his season with a six-game hit streak, batting .346 (9-for-26).
--DH Adam Lind had some back tightness in the last week of the season, but nothing like the back problems he had in previous years. He finished his season batting .288 with 23 homers and 67 RBIs in 143 games and indications are that the Blue Jays likely will pick up the $7 million option on his contract for next year. "It's definitely a season, so far in my career, that I'll look back on as one of my better ones," Lind said. "I think I did pretty good. I almost hit .290, over 20 homers, I stayed in the middle of the lineup all year, no DL time, more than 140 games played. It was a pretty good, productive season. ... I have no idea what's going to happen with (the option) but I know I've done well enough that I'll be employed somewhere. So my mind can ease a little bit."
--OF Moises Sierra started slowly after being called up from Triple-A Buffalo on Aug. 21, going 0-for-13. But from then until the end of the season, he batted .330 (31-for-94), with 15 of his hits going for extra bases. He had 12 doubles in September.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "To be honest with you, I think that's the main issue we need to hit. But we're not alone; there's only a handful of teams that are set with what they have. Everyone's looking year after year, but that's the one area that really jumped out at us." -- Manager John Gibbons, on starting pitching, the team's main area of concern.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos thought he addressed the starting pitching with a couple of major trades during last offseason.
It did not pan out. The Blue Jays' starting rotation finished the season with a 4.81 earned-run average, second worst in the majors.
The Blue Jays do have some injured starters, like Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison, coming back from major surgeries and a few recent recruits like Esmil Rogers and Todd Redmond had good moments during the season. J.A. Happ showed late-season improvement with a lower arm slot. So they are better in numbers at this point, but there are no guarantees that quantity will evolve into long-term quality.
Anthopoulos will again be looking to upgrade the starters.
A surprise this season was the strength of the bullpen and he could use some relievers in trades to fill other needs that include catching and second base.
BIGGEST NEEDS: Starting pitching must be addressed or nothing else matters. The rotation was supposed to be a strength in 2013 but it was the bullpen that rose to the occasion and it had to as the starters as a group had the second-worst ERA in the majors at 4.81. RHP R.A. Dickey and LHP Mark Buehrle overcame slow starts but finished strong to each exceed 200 innings. They combined for 26 wins, 14 by Dickey, of the rotation's total of 46. Second base and left field also are positions of concern although minor league recruits showed some promise there and LF Melky Cabrera should return in better health to patrol left, which would be a big boost. INF Ryan Goins put himself into the second-base picture after being called up from Triple-A Buffalo in August, but the Blue Jays still may want an established player there.
ARRIVAL: C Dioner Navarro (free agent from Cubs)
DEPARTURE: RHP Josh Johnson (free agent, signed with Padres)
FREE AGENTS: OF Rajai Davis, LHP Darren Oliver, RHP Ramon Ortiz, INF Munenori Kawasaki, INF Mark DeRosa (retired), C J.P. Arencibia
Johnson poses a big problem. He's coming off a two-win season. What if they give him a multiyear deal and he doesn't rebound? Davis is best used off the bench or as a fourth outfielder. He can steal bases (45 this season) and this makes him valuable in this role, but he is prone to mistakes on the bases and on the field. Oliver said he is retiring.
ARBITRATION-ELIGIBLE: LHP Brett Cecil, CF Colby Rasmus, RHP Esmil Rogers
Cecil had an excellent season in completing the transition from starter to reliever and earned a spot in the All-Star Game. He might be worthy of a multiyear deal. Rasmus also could sign for more than a year to avoid the process. Rogers showed some promise as a starter after beginning the season in the bullpen.
IN LIMBO: OF Rajai Davis, DH Adam Lind, INF Munenori Kawasaki
Kawasaki could return on a minor league deal Lind should have his option picked up, Davis has value as a fourth outfielder who can hit left-handers and steal an important base, and some not so important but there are other outfield options in the system.
--CF Colby Rasmus (left eye contusion) missed the season's final week. He will return for spring training.
--LHP Brett Cecil (sore left elbow) was sidelined in September due to a minor nerve issue. He will be ready for spring training.
--1B Edwin Encarnacion (left wrist surgery in September 2013) had cartilage cleaned up. He hopes to resume swinging a bat by Thanksgiving.
--LF Melky Cabrera (lower back surgery in September 2013) had a benign tumor removed from his spine. No complications are expected, and he should be ready for spring training.
--OF Jose Bautista (left hip bone bruise) was shut down for the season's last six weeks. He will return for spring training.
--2B Maicer Izturis (sprained left ankle) missed the season's final six weeks. He will be ready for spring training.
--RHP Brandon Morrow (entrapped radial nerve in right forearm) missed the final four months of the season. He was scheduled to resume throwing in mid-October.
--RHP Ramon Ortiz (strained right elbow) last pitched in early June. He started throwing on flat ground in September at the club's training site in Dunedin, Fla., and he hopes to be ready for next season.
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