Know Thy Enemy 2013: Toronto Blue Jays

Timothy Brooks previews the club that has emerged as the favorites of the 2013 AL East: The Toronto Blue Jays.

Credit MIX Karen via Flickr

Is it ok to admit to loving the early 90’s Blue Jays? In particular, I loved to play with their team on Ken Griffey, Jr Major League Baseball on the Super Nintendo. Rickey Henderson, Roberto Alomar, John Olerud, Joe Carter, Duane Ward, Pat Hentgen, etc. (or at least their pseudonyms) were a tremendous combination of starting pitchers, power bullpen arms, speed, and power. Those were the days and that was a great baseball team that went back to back in 1992-93.

Since then, the Blue Jays have devolved into an AL East after thought. In fact, during the stretch in the early 2000’s when The AL East annually finished Yankees, Red Sox, Jays, Orioles, Rays (in that order), the Jays were obviously a step below the Yanks and Sox, but likely have competed for a division title in most every other division in baseball. They were good, but nowhere near elite.

That’s where we liked them.

But this offseason has changed everything. But this offseason has been paved by three pivotal decisions Alex Anthopolis made:
1) Finding an idiotic team that would take the Vernon Wells contract (4 years, roughly $89 million left). Could you imagine the Angels if they still had that Wells money and were able to keep Torii Hunter AND sign Josh Hamilton? Do you think the Jays can afford to pull the trigger on the Marlins deal that headlined their offseason if they still had the Wells albatross around their neck? Heck, I could even through in the Alexis Rios waiver (5 years and nearly $60 million left on that contract when the transaction went through) claim that the White Sox made in this paragraph.
2) Seeing something in Jose Bautista. Clearly Bautista is a beast of a power hitter and many teams saw something in him as he had bounced around some. The Blue Jays helped him put it together. He has rewarded them with 140 home runs and a .553
slugging percentage nd he is only 32.
3) Transforming Edwin Encarnacion from a brutal third baseman with a good bat with the Reds into a bad first baseman with an elite power bat for them. (Aside: I have no idea what role John Farrell had in this, but it happened on his watch). He had a 4.6 bWAR last year, and the Jays are surely counting on that once again, as he is in his prime (age 30 season).

The combination of the cash and the cheap/lucky acquisitions of two elite middle of the order bats surely encouraged them to go all in before those bats age. So they did – for the price of one good, albeit controversial shortstop (who through a latter trade found his way back into our division), a few good prospects, and a sack of turd – they received Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, John Buck, Josh Johnson, and Mark Buehrle.

Not too shabby a return.

Have they, now, returned to their 1993 levels? Video games and Jon Heyman will surely suggest so,but what will reality be?

Projected Rotation (W/L, ERA, WHIP)

1. R.A. Dickey (20-6, 2.73 ERA, 1.053 WHIP)
Seriously, how awesome was R.A. Dickey last year? In his age 37 season, he had a 5.6 bWAR, 4.6 fWAR, and a 3.27 FIP, on top of the eye popping traditional stats. He was very good, and his NL Cy Young validated his tremendous season. But was his age 38 season (2013) worth trading an elite catching prospect who will get Major League at bats this season (Travis D’Arnaud)? Likely not, but when you are all in, you are all in.

Beyond Dickey’s age, the next question being tossed about the media is whether or not he can pitch in a dome. A strange question, since Rogers Centre is a retractable roof that is controlled by the home team’s whims and desires during the regular season (Blue Jays closed Rogers Centre 33 times last year, 40% of their home games). Further, he was 4-0 with a 1.22 ERA in domes last year. The narrative is a false narrative when it comes to domes in 2013.

Chances are Dickey will be good in 2013, though heading to the AL and leaving spacious Citi Field will likely take a toll. The really question here is why he stunk so bad against Mexico. I mean, seriously, we all know Adrian Gonzalez does not hit home runs anymore.

2. Brandon Morrow (10-7, 2.96, 1.115, 2.4 fWAR)
By any stretch, Morrow was a good pitcher last year. Though he only made 21 starts, his traditional stats were solid. But there are underlying concerns. His strike rate dropped from 10.9 and (a league leading) 10.2 k/9 in the previous two seasons to 7.8 last year, yet his hits/9 dropped 8.4 and 8.1 to 7.1. On the other hand, he has gradually cut a walk per 9 innings in the last two years. Perhaps he has found something in his approach, hopefully it was a fluke year and he returns to his mid 4 ERA past. His 3.65 FIP from last year suggests it was a fluke and he will resume his former career as average starter.

3. Mark Buehrle (13-13, 3.74, 1.171, 2.1 fWAR)
Mark Buerhle is a remarkable defensive pitcher (has won four gold gloves and three fielding bible awards). Who will ever forget the opening day, in foul territory, between the legs, assist he made in 2010? He has been a durable, reliable starter. He also has career ERA’s of 4.64, 6.38, and 4.19 against the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays respectively. Welcome to the AL East, Mark!

4. Josh Johnson (8-14, 3.81, 1.280, 3.8 fWAR)
Josh Johnson did not get hurt last season, which is a notable accomplishment for him. He has been a very good pitcher in his career (3.15 career ERA, with a very similar 3.20 FIP – which indicates that he does not rely on luck), but has had multiple injury struggles. That said, it seems right to fear a recent NL ERA leader who has yet to celebrate his 30th birthday. If he is healthy, he is formidable.

If is a powerful word.

5. Ricky Romero (9-14, 5.77, 1.674, 0.5 fWAR)
Ricky Romero is the reason that Keith law writes for ESPN and does not work for the Blue Jays anymore. He is also, likely, the reason Law’s boss J.P. Ricciardi is no longer the GM of the Jays (well that and the Rios and Wells contracts). Law (and others around the war room) suggested Troy Tulowitzki, Ricciardi took Romero. The Blue Jays should have taken Troy Tulowitzki.

You can 2.92 ERA in 2011 all you want. His FIP was 4.20. Such a suggestion that his 2.92 was luck or fluke based is justified by almost everything else he has (not) done in his career.

Bullpen

Casey Janssen (1-1, 2.54 ERA, .864 WHIP, 22 saves, 63.2 innings)
Sergio Santos (5 IP due to injury)
Steve Delabar (2-2, 3.38 ERA, 29.1 innings)
Darren Oliver (3-4, 2.06 ERA, 56.2 innings)
J.A. Happ (3-2, 4.69 ERA, 40.1 innings)
Casey Janssen was lights out last year. Darren Oliver is a strong LOOGY. J.A. Happ seems upset that he is not starting, but he should probably pitch better If he wants to be a starter. Sergio Santos has a great arm, and was slated to be the closer for Toronto last year before injury. Either way, bullpens are fickle and nearly impossible to project from year to year.

Projected Starters (BA/OBP/SLG/WAR)

C: J.P. Arencibia (.233/.275/.435/1.3 fWAR)

Is there a more overrated player in baseball than Arencibia? His 2012 and career (2 and a half seasons) OBP is .275. This is horrendous, catcher or otherwise. His power is good for a catcher (41 HR’s in two full seasons), but he also provides few doubles,
likely due to a poor contact rate.

WAR likes his defense, which is a nice bonus, but he only has a 2.2 career WAR, and that is with a defensive boost!

All of this and they traded the top catching prospect in baseball for a 37 year old pitcher. Their offseason was not all peaches and roses, and hopefully, it can be seen that this team has as much a chance to be average – at the cost of a depleted farm system – as it does to be elite. There are significant holes and questions in this roster.

1B: Edwin Encarnacion (.280/.384/.557/4.4fWAR)
Encarnacion crossed over into elite bat last year. He was profiled earlier in this article, so not much more could be said here. Suffice it to say that half of his career WAR was earned last season, and he remains a butcher on defense. Jury is out as to whether Encarnacion is now elite at the plate, or he has produced a fluke peak.

2B: Maicer Izturis (.256/.320/.315/0.7 fWAR)
A declining, aging player who, save for one of nine professional seasons, was never better than a 2.0 bWAR player (meaning he does not justify a starting spot on a contending team). Emilio Bonafacio offers another low OBP player with only one career season above 2 bWAR in his career.

3B: Brett Lawrie (.273/.324/.405/2.9 fWAR)
I anticipate a breakout from Lawrie this year. He was a much ballyhooed prospect, who is athletic and provides elite defense (3.9 dWAR and 34 defensive runs saved in one a half seasons) with power and plate discipline potential. Here is the one guy likely to over perform expectations for the Blue Jays this season. Be very afraid.

Reyes meets the Toronto Media
Credit LottOnBaseball via flickr

SS: Jose Reyes (.287/.347/.433/4.5 fWAR
Reyes is a very good player, and is likely the centerpiece of all the offseason work that the Blue Jays did this year. He is a very talented player coming off a very good year. The question to be answered: is he now a 4 win player, or is he capable of a few more 6 win seasons? Either way, he is either great or elite, which is not bad either way.

LF: Melky Cabrera (.346/.390/.516/ 4.6 fWAR)
Melky Cabrera used to be a part of the “most overrated player in baseball” conversation. He was an 85 OPS+ hitter until his breakout in 2011 with the Royals, of all teams. Last year was an otherworldly season, until his PED suspension (his fWAR was in 2/3 of a season).

So, has he found something, or was he artificially enhanced? If there is anything that we know, it is that if you or I took steroids, we would not suddenly become good at baseball. PEDs are not magic baseball skills pills. Chances are, that Cabrera has found something on top of PEDs. This year we will find out just how much he has found. And before dismissing Cabrera, remember that Ryan Braun – whether guilty or innocent – was pretty darn good last year after his brush with MLB over a PED connection, even if he was not suspended.

CF: Colby Rasmus (.223/.289/.400/ 1.4 fWAR)

I have long been a bit of a closet Rasmus supporter. I am not sure if it is because Rasmus and I share a Tony La Russa disdain
, that he was once the #3 prospect in baseball (behind David Price and Matt Weiters), or if it is because I actually believe he is good.
Truth is: he hasn’t become good, yet (save his 2010 season, which is getting to be a long time ago). 2013 is his age 26 season, so it may be time for a breakout. If he does not break out, it may be time for us to all agree that Rasmus is not that good, and that we are glad that he is a Blue Jay.

RF: Jose Bautista (.241/.358/.527/3.2 fWAR)
Lord. Have. Mercy.

Bautista is the breakout of Encarnacion and Melky rolled into one. In the last three seasons, Bautista has put up a 165 OPS+, 17.5 bWAR, and 18.3 fWAR. He is a beast of a power hitter, and at age 32, likely has a couple more seasons in his prime left.

The questions here is how he bounces back from an injury plagued 2012 season.

DH: Adam Lind (.255/.314/.414/ 0.2 fWAR)
Good news for the Toronto Blue Jays: Adam Lind was an amazing player in 2009. Bad news for the Toronto Blue Jays: Adam Lind has not been particularly good since. In fact, in the last three seasons, baseball-reference has Lind as a negative WAR, both at the plate and in the field.

Lind was one the #37 prospect in baseball, according to Baseball America. This is the same neighborhood/quality of prospect that Jackie Bradley, Jr. is today. There is talent here. Something, however, has gone horribly amiss. Perhaps moving to DH and focusing on hitting alone will allow Lind a chance to get his hitting fundamentals back and succeed. Of course, he has three years running arguing against this possibility.

Projected Line Up

Reyes, ss
Cabrera, lf
Bautista, rf
Encarnacion, 1b/dh
Rasmus, cf
Lawrie, 3b
Lind, dh/1b
Arencibia, c
Izturis/Bonifacio 2b

Bench

Emilio Bonifacio
Rajai Davis

Josh Thole
Mark DeRosa

Anthony Gose

Bonifacio and Davis bring speed. Thole can catch the knuckleball, I guess. Mark DeRosa is gutty, old, and tells stories on the bus better than Kevin Costner in Bull Durham. As far as benches go, this one provides helpful substitutions, particular skills (defense, versatility, speed).

Prospects

The Blue Jays prospects are now in New York or Miami, and such is the cost of transforming a fourth place team into a contender in just one offseason. Keith Law suggested that the trades took them from a top 10 system to 24th. Their top prospect, Aaron Sanchez, pitched in single A last year, and is unlikely to help the Major League team this year. Another RHP, Roberto Osuna, is just 17 years old and is years away.

The system is pitcher heavy and position player light. If there are injuries, the Blue Jays are far more likely to turn to a AAAA type player as opposed to the next big thing.

Projections
This is no 1992-3 Blue Jays team. There are age, injury, league change, and performance questions. There is a huge part of me that wants to suggest that this team is as likely to win 83 games as it is likely to win 92 games and the division. That said, barring the unforeseen slump, injury, or collapse, this is a very good team.

Let’s join with the chorus of prognosticators as suggest:

92-70

Categories: Adam Lind Boston Red Sox Brandon Morrow Casey Janssen Colby Rasmus Edwin Encarnacion Jose Bautista Jose Reyes R.A. Dickey Sergio Santos Tony LaRussa Toronto Blue Jays

Thinks Pedro deserved the MVP and that Justin Verlander did not, that Dwight Evans was better than Jim Rice, that Marty Barrett was a worthy choice as favorite Red Sox player when I was a child, that J.D. Drew was very good for the Olde Towne Team, that Fenway Sports group owning Liverpool is not a proper reason to support that loathsome soccer club, that Peter Gammons needs a key lock on his cell phone, still thinks that Nomar Garciaparra is better than Derek Jeter, and that, finally, there is no such thing as being completely bias-free. When not writing about or watching the Red Sox, I moonlight as a father, a husband, a pastor, a doctoral candidate, an infielder and #2 hitter on the church softball team, soccer fan, Disney pass holder, snark manufacturer, and pizza connoisseur. Free time free since 2001.

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