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Thursday, February 20, 2014

MLB 2014 Team Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

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MLB 2014 Team Preview: Toronto Blue Jays
By Wild on Sports MLB Analyst Aaron Doorman

2013 Overview:
Toronto went on all-in last year, spending most of their prospect depth on half of Miami’s roster and the reigning NL Cy Young winner, RA Dickey. On paper they looked like favorites to win the division. But you don’t play the games on paper and things fell apart in a bad way last year. Toronto could off to a bad start and never really contended. Almost nothing went right; offensive stars Jose Reyes and Jose Bautista missed large chunks of the year due to injuries, catcher JP Arencibia put up a mind-boggling .227 OBP, the back end of the rotation went MIA for most of the year and Toronto didn’t have the depth to recover, resorting to AAA fodder like Todd Redmond and Chad Jenkins. RA Dickey was solid but unspectacular and Brandon Morrow took a big step backwards. The list goes on.

Winter Grade: D 
Coming: Dioner Navarro
Going: JP Arencibia, Josh Johnson, Rajai Davis
The Blue Jays were linked to several pitchers (Jeff Samardzija, Masahiro Tanaka) all off-season but in the end did absolutely nothing to address the gaping holes in their rotation. The only real move they made was to jettison their whiff-happy catcher, JP Arencibia, and are gambling that Dioner Navarro can come close to matching his surprising production from last year. To really look good going into 2014, Toronto probably needed another middle infielder, at least one dependable rotation arm, and perhaps some more arms in the bullpen as well. Right now they seem stuck in neutral.

Wild Card:
Anthony Gose is only 23 and still is the most athletic player on their roster; he is the kind of guy you bet on to break out. If Gose can tap into some of his power and avoid striking out too much, he could become a similar player to Carlos Gomez, providing everything except batting average.

Key Contract Years:
Colby Rasmus, Melky Cabrera, Adam Lind ($7.5 million option), Brandon Morrow ($10 million option). Lind’s option might be an easy pick up for Toronto, if he duplicates last year’s production. Morrow is more suspect, mainly due to health concerns.

Rookies:
Righties Marcus Stroman and Sean Nolin will compete for a rotation spot in spring training. The former has better stuff while the latter shows better control (and has already made his big league debut). Neither one is supposed to be an ace, but Stroman is also a candidate to move to the bullpen, where he could thrive immediately. Ryan Goins is the surprise incumbent at second base, after starting their in September. He played strong defense but hit an empty .252 and has never shown the ability in the minors to be anything more than a bench player, if that. He’s also already 26 so what you see is what you get.

Key Questions:
What is the health status of their back end starters (Morrow, JA Happ)?
Can any of their former top prospects, like Kyle Drabek, step up and reclaim some lost luster after missing so much time?
How much of a rope do they have before management is forced to pull the plug and start trading pieces?

Farm System Overview: YELLOW (average)
Several interesting pitchers are near ready for some type of role in the majors, while their lone blue chip prospect, rhp Aaron Sanchez, needs to work on his command in AA. The Blue Jays were one of the teams the new draft rules targeted, as they had spent a lot of money on players in late rounds despite the slot recommendations. They still have a lot of young talent at the lower levels, some of whom could break out this year. Not signing their top pick last year hurt, but they will have 2 picks among the first 10 in 2014, which could be a huge boost for them.

2014 Prognosis: Unlikely Contenders
The main takeaway is that Toronto is now a franchise left in limbo, with too many interesting pieces for them to be dismissed, but not enough depth or secondary talent on their roster to give them flexibility. Now that Baltimore has acquired more pitching, Toronto looks like the worst team in the AL East on paper, but that’s where the Red Sox were a year ago. Essentially the Blue Jays are in a holding pattern until they prove that this roster is definitely uncompetitive, at which point names like Jose Bautista or Mark Buehrle could be dealt for prospects. Back to the drawing board.

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