The Toronto Blue Jays did not live up to their expectations in 2012, finishing in fourth place in the American League East with a record of 73-89, only four games better than the disastrous Boston Red Sox. The Jays' season was marred by injuries to key players as Jose Bautista, Brandon Morrow, Sergio Santos, and Kyle Drabeck all spent considerable time on the disabled list.
That being said, all hope should not be lost going forward.
Here are five reasons why Blue Jays fans should be excited going into 2013 (in no particular order):
1. Quick Turnarounds Possible in the American League.
Looking back at the final standings in 2011, the first thing that jumps out is the Baltimore Orioles finishing at 69-93, and the Oakland A's at 74-88. With playoff runs in 2012, both of these teams have proved that a quick turnaround is possible in the American League, even without the budget of the New York Yankees or Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. What is even more promising when looking at these teams is the fact that neither made a huge splash with high-priced free agents. Instead, both clubs quietly bolstered their bullpens and added complimentary pieces.
2. The Return of Sergio Santos.
Speaking of bolstering the bullpen, the Jays will be able to do so without having to dip into the free-agent market. The team acquired Sergio Santos from the Chicago White Sox prior to the 2012 season, but he only appeared in six games in 2012 before put on the disabled list at the end of April with a shoulder injury. Adding Santos, who registered 30 saves for Chicago in 2011, to a bullpen featuring emerging closer Casey Janssen (22 saves and a .195 batting average against in 2012) will give Toronto comfort taking a lead into the late innings.
3. The Arrival of Travis D'Arnaud.
It's hard to argue how much Roy Halladay has meant to the Phillies since being traded to Philadelphia by the Blue Jays in the winter of 2009. In 2013, Toronto will start enjoying fruits of the trade as well. Although Kyle Drabeck has already made an impact in Toronto, the true jewel of the trade is catcher D'Arnaud, who hit .333 with 16 home runs in Triple-A Las Vegas before getting injured after just 67 games. The 23-year-old D'Arnaud should make an appearance at Rogers Centre in 2013, and fans can plan on anchoring the Blue Jays' battery behind the plate for the foreseeable future.
4. Triple-A Team Moves Back East.
On September 18, the Blue Jays announced that the team had struck a deal with the Triple-A Buffalo Bisons of the International League to bring its highest minor league team back east for at least the next two years. This is important for logistical reasons as prospects can get to Toronto with a quick drive up the QEW instead of having to fly across North America from Las Vegas to make it to the Rogers Centre. More important, however, the move will help expand the fan base and further extend the Jays' territory into western New York.
5. A Full Season of Brandon Morrow.
If you look at the final eight teams remaining in the playoffs, most have a superstar arm anchoring the starting rotation. In 2012, Morrow proved that he can be that guy for Toronto, looking absolutely dominant at times on his way to finishing with a 10-7 record, 2.97 ERA, and 108 strikeouts in just 124 innings. The Jays were robbed out of a full season of Morrow in 2012 due to an oblique injury that cost him two months of the summer. In 2013, Morrow should serve as the opening-day starter, and he should lead the starting rotation to increased success.
Taking this into account, plus a healthy and ready Jose Bautista, there is no reason why Jays fans should not be excited as we head into 2013.
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Del Pearson has been a big Blue Jays fan since seeing the team's best prospects come through Auburn and Syracuse as a child. You can follow Del on Twitter @DelPearson2.