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2014 Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

Mar 28, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT

Jose Bautista AP

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The Toronto Blue Jays.

The Big Question: Isn’t doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results the definition of insanity?

That’s what Albert Einstein said, anyway. To be fair, it’s only “over again,” not “over and over again” for the Jays. Last year was the big shakeup in which they traded for R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle and signed Melky Cabrera. That didn’t work. They’re back with almost the same team for 2014, however, and are hoping that last year’s expectation — a strong team contending for the playoffs — becomes this year’s reality.

There’s reason to think that things should improve, of course, because a lot of players lost time to injury last season. Jose Bautista was the biggest blow on offense, but Jose Reyes played fewer than 100 games too. The pitching staff was even more decimated with injuries, as 13 different men started games for Toronto last season, and only R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle pitched more than 20. But it wasn’t just injuries here. Dickey and Buehrle both posted below average ERAs, as did every other starter (we call that “The Reverse Woebegone”). Overall the Jays’ rotation ranked 14th in the AL in ERA.

The Jays are going into 2014 with basically the same pitching staff and most of the same offense. If Bautista, Reyes and the other 3/5 of the rotation can stay healthy — and if Dickey and Buehrle can simply pitch better — things should improve. But they finished 23 games back, and there is little if any reason to believe that even a healthier Blue Jays team can improve by anything close to that many games. They needed more than better health heading into this season. They didn’t get it.

What else is going on?

  • The bullpen isn’t bad. A lot of teams would like to have Casey Janssen,Sergio Santos and Steve Delabar in the late innings. They and their friends in the Jays’ relief corps were overworked last season, however, and the pressure is on the starting rotation to take the pressure off the pen.
  • The worst player on the Jays last year — and maybe the worse in all of baseball — was J.P. Arencibia. He’s gone, Dioner Navarro is in and even if Navarro comes nowhere close to his flukey .300/.365/.492 13 HR season from last year, catcher should not be a black hole like it was a season ago.
  • Edwin Encarnacion, hit 36 homers last season while walking 82 times and striking out only 62 times. In this age of whiffs, that’s a pretty damn amazing accomplishment.
  • The rotation, should it need reinforcements, may include Marcus Stroman at some point this season. He was the Jays’ first round pick in 2012 and struck out 129 guys in 111.2 innings at Double-A last season.

Prediction: They could be better, but I doubt it’ll be anywhere near better enough to contend. Fifth Place, AL East.

  1. phillysports1 - Mar 28, 2014 at 3:42 PM

    I have them winning one of the WILDCARD spots .

    • proudlycanadian - Mar 28, 2014 at 5:20 PM

      I have them finishing first.

      • bigharold - Mar 28, 2014 at 6:01 PM

        Good Luck with that PC.

      • proudlycanadian - Mar 28, 2014 at 6:29 PM

        Hope springs eternal Harold.

      • bigharold - Mar 28, 2014 at 6:55 PM

        In the Spring it does anyway.

      • dirtyharry1971 - Mar 28, 2014 at 11:20 PM

        of course you do, its because you have sh!t for brains

      • proudlycanadian - Mar 29, 2014 at 6:20 AM

        Remember Harry. People who live in glass outhouses, should not throw stones.

      • Old Gator - Mar 29, 2014 at 1:25 AM

        Well now that was certainly an original comment, O virtual village idiot. Consistent with the imaginatively deprived lowlife responses we’ve come to expect from you – and of course, you never disappoint us in that respect. Considering that you don’t appear to have much besides excrement where your own cerebral cortex ought to be, perhaps you were just projecting again.

  2. churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 28, 2014 at 3:43 PM

    Edwin Encarnacion, hit 36 homers last season while walking 82 times and striking out only 62 times. In this age of whiffs, that’s a pretty damn amazing accomplishment.

    E5 is awesome, and highly underrated. Also obligatory parrot gif:

    http://imgur.com/kCBUV8X

    • DJ MC - Mar 28, 2014 at 6:41 PM

      “Um, excuse me, I believe that is spelled ‘Arncarnarceeown’.”

      –Gary Thorne

  3. tfbuckfutter - Mar 28, 2014 at 3:48 PM

    70 something wins. As per usual.

    Also, fans born the year the last time they went to the playoffs can legally drink in the United States this year.

    So, you know….they probably will be doing a lot of that.

  4. themanytoolsofignorance - Mar 28, 2014 at 3:56 PM

    So the improved infield defence, the addition of 2 pitchers who had fantastic spring campaigns, and a healthy, tumour free Melky Cabrera mean nothing? not even worth a mention? Goodness me. I can see why some people get on here and shout at you Mr. Calcaterra. This analysis lacks any depth at all.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 28, 2014 at 4:05 PM

      This analysis lacks any depth at all.

      Reyes can’t stay healthy (he’s already got a hamstring problem)
      Goins is awful
      The two best pitchers declined heavily last year (Dickey/Buerhle), is that a bad year or a sign of things to come
      Bautista is having problems staying healthy
      Two of your better hitters last year, Lind and Rasmus, had career years last year, do they regress or is this a new true talent level?
      The pitching injuries, dog in heaven the pitching injuries
      Navarro’s wRC+ by year, tell me which is the outlier: 78, 66, 105, 54, 51, 65, 96, 136

      That better?

      • themanytoolsofignorance - Mar 28, 2014 at 4:10 PM

        So you expect bad luck to continue in the form of injuries, you discount the improved infield defence, an impactful player in Cabrera returning to form, and ignore that a far more logical contender for the basement of the AL East in the form of The Yankees exist? That’s an in depth analysis?

      • themanytoolsofignorance - Mar 28, 2014 at 4:12 PM

        And your Encarnacion parrot .gif? I liked that very much

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 28, 2014 at 4:52 PM

        So you expect bad luck to continue in the form of injuries,

        Games Played
        Reyes: 36, 133, 126, 160, 93 (and he’s already hurt)
        Bautista: 149, 92, 118

        Romero is awful, Gibson can’t stay healthy, Buerhle is 35 and declining, Dickey is 39 and had his worst year in 5 years

        I’m not saying it’s going to continue, but these are trends.

        an impactful player in Cabrera returning to form,

        Cabrera has been a below average hitter and awful defender outside two years with SF. One of those years coincides with a PED bust. He’s also going to be 30 this year which is when people start to decline.

        ignore that a far more logical contender for the basement of the AL East in the form of The Yankees exist?

        Sure, the Yanks could end up in last place, but that’s besides the point.

      • themanytoolsofignorance - Mar 28, 2014 at 5:10 PM

        The Yankees in last place is precisely my point. With that the Blue Jays, clearly a better team, are not 5th. All the pitching injuries that befell them last season, can fall to any other team. Even mine, The Dodgers. Counting on injuries is a two sided sword, so the rest of the AL East could have it happen to them. The Red Sox had the opposite happen. A healthy rotation. That’s due to regress. By the same token of regressing down to the mean we have regressing up to it.

        That analysis up there ignores several factors. Improved infield defence, a non tumour hampered Melky Cabrera, no WBC injured players, a starting rotation with tons of back up depth (Drabek, Happ (if healthy), Romero, Rogers, Redmond, Jeffers can all start as needed) even with Stroman and Sanchez in AAA. League average pitching and that hitting does the rest. They might even challenge the Orioles for 3rd especially if Jimmenez falls off a cliff

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 28, 2014 at 5:40 PM

        That analysis up there ignores several factors. Improved infield defence, a non tumour hampered Melky Cabrera, no WBC injured players, a starting rotation with tons of back up depth (Drabek, Happ (if healthy), Romero, Rogers, Redmond, Jeffers can all start as needed) even with Stroman and Sanchez in AAA. League average pitching and that hitting does the rest. They might even challenge the Orioles for 3rd especially if Jimmenez falls off a cliff

        You can ignore what I write all you want, but don’t accuse me of not including people. Here we go again:

        Cabrera:
        Cabrera has been a below average hitter and awful defender outside two years with SF. One of those years coincides with a PED bust. He’s also going to be 30 this year which is when people start to decline.

        Romero:
        You are counting on a guy with 188.1 IP of 5.96 ERA ball the last two years? the guy who was so bad in the minors last year he threw 113.2 IP of 5.78 ERA ball at AAA? Every team has that kind of “depth”

        Drabek: 169.1 IP of 79 ERA+ ball with one TJ surgery out of the way.

        JA Happ: Last time the league was worse than he was by ERA, was 2010. Since then he’s thrown 393.2 IP of 4.96 ERA ball (80 ERA+)

        Do i need to keep going? And you are completely ignoring the guys who had career years, unless you think they are going to sustain and everyone who was bad is going to regress to their means.

        And again, the Yanks have nothing to do with this. If you want to argue that I’m biased b/c I’m a Yankees fan, point out where what I’m writing is wrong.

      • themanytoolsofignorance - Mar 28, 2014 at 6:01 PM

        I didn’t even know you were a Yankee fan. I thought all Yankee fans were obnoxious ani-stat blow hards. Way to buck the trend.

        Back to the argument. I’m NOT counting on Romero, Drabek and Happ. They represent depth and each of them has had starting experience. Besides, you’re cherry picking the worst/injured guys.

        Cabrera, even WITH a tumour, posted a solid batting average last season. he lacked power due to the tumour. Without the tumour and in shape? Im betting on him.

        What is more, the entire thrust of what I’m saying is that the Jays are better than the Yankees and will NOT be last. That, more than anything, is my point.

      • Old Gator - Mar 28, 2014 at 7:29 PM

        Tools, please don’t tar all Borg fans out of Poor Dim Harry’s bucket.

    • supersnappy - Mar 28, 2014 at 4:13 PM

      Fantastic spring campaigns aren’t as helpful as you might hope. Other than showing a guy is healthy (which is important) spring stats rarely translate into success for the season

      • themanytoolsofignorance - Mar 28, 2014 at 4:16 PM

        I agree, but then the same argument could be made against Pineda, Sabbathia, Kuroda and Tanaka. Given the “tire fire” infield and the lack of much power in the lineup, how is it that The Jays get the cellar ahead of what may well be a historically awful Yankee team?

        My beef isn’t just that anyone here undervalues the Jays. Its that they seriously think The Yankees are better.

  5. dillongeeescapeplan - Mar 28, 2014 at 4:17 PM

  6. elwaysagenius - Mar 28, 2014 at 4:29 PM

    So much needs to go right for this team to make the playoffs, whereas for the rays and Red Sox only a few things need to go right. Gonna be another long summer

  7. bigharold - Mar 28, 2014 at 4:56 PM

    The AL East will be a dog fight next year again. Toronto might be the least threatening dog of the bunch but even small dogs bite. And, who knows if the O’s, Rays RS and Yankees beat up enough on each other the Jays might sneak into the playoffs ahead of one of them.

    I would agree that the Jays will have a hard time doing better than 5th next year. But, keep in mind only the most died in the wool, card carrying member of the RS Nation would have predicted anything better than 5th for the RS last year. Look how that turned out.

    • spudchukar - Mar 29, 2014 at 9:36 AM

      There is one outstanding team in the division, then 4 flawed ones. How flawed will determine the finish. Whose “ifs” become reality. From here, in the backwoods of the interior NW it looks like:

      Tampa Bay 101-61
      Baltimore 83-79
      Toronto 82-80
      New York 77-89
      Boston 75-87

      • proudlycanadian - Mar 29, 2014 at 10:03 AM

        Interesting numbers. I gave you a thumbs up for the effort. At this time, we just do not know what will happen. Like last season, I expect some major surprises.

      • spudchukar - Mar 29, 2014 at 10:14 AM

        If the Jays can get anything close to middle of the pack pitching they could easily overtake the O’s. They are going to score a boat load of runs, perhaps more than any team in MLB.

        Or if they recognize that weakness early enough and swing a deal, they may indeed capture a WC spot. As they say “time” will tell, but with the Jays “starting arms” will probably have more to say about their success.

  8. proudlycanadian - Mar 28, 2014 at 5:35 PM

    Craig’s analysis was born of abject ignorance. The Jays were done in by injuries last season. Bautista, Cabrerra, Lawrie and Reyes are all healthy. The infield of Lawrie, Reyes, Goins and Encarnacion / Lind is very good. This is a team that can field and hit much better than the Evil Empire can. Both Dickey and Buehrle will win a lot more games if the hitters remain healthy. Morrow should be available for the entire season. Hutchinson has pitched very well this spring. In his last outing yesterday, he said that he was not sharp even though he only gave up 1 hit in 5.3 innings. The 5th starter is McGowan. McGowan has always had talent, but has often been injured. If he falters, the pitcher who would be called up in June is Sanchez. Sanchez had a wonderful spring, but the 21 year old has been sent back to the minors for more seasoning.

    • themanytoolsofignorance - Mar 28, 2014 at 5:46 PM

      I’m a Dodger fan, so all this AL East analysis is exhausting for me. I haven’t much interest in it but I’m sort of stuck with it since I made (foolishly) a prediction about the AL East that I can’t just abandon. I think your team has a better chance than any other of challenging The Rays this season but they need some luck to break back in their favor. Last season it all went wrong. They are due for that to regress. They hit very well but need Cabrera and Reyes to be themselves and turn into RBIs. Shoring up that infield defence and improving catcher defence with more knuckleball work was exceptionally good planning. The overhauled what they were really bad at last season and didn’t panic and try to buy their way into contention. For all this smart work they are getting ignored. I think this is foolish and ignores a sound strategy. I really want to revisit all of this at the All Star Break. I think we’ll see some crow eating (or be it’ll be us with 4 and 20 blackbirds, you never know!).

      • proudlycanadian - Mar 28, 2014 at 6:30 PM

        Agreed!

      • motleytrap - Mar 29, 2014 at 2:27 AM

        I don’t know what you’re babbling about, but New York has finished ahead of Toronto in the standings 20 years running, and even if that comes to an end this season, so what? 4th place, 5th place, it doesn’t make any difference. The idea is to get to the playoffs, and that’s not happening with one of the worst starting rotations in the AL.

      • themanytoolsofignorance - Mar 29, 2014 at 2:37 AM

        I admire how you boldly go out on a limb like this. Without acknowledging the Twins, or even naming the Jays rotation, thus indicating that you know who the starting 5 is.

        The point I made is that the analysis lacked depth. It did. It ignored a host of moves made in the offseason to correct what went wrong the previous season.

        But whatever. You clearly are on here to pick a fight with a random stranger. Please carry on with your pointless attacks. I’ll be ignoring it.

      • motleytrap - Mar 29, 2014 at 2:59 AM

        The Jays didn’t make a host of moves in the offseason. That is you blowing hot air.

        Talk about pointless, you’re sniping at people for saying Toronto finishes fifth instead of fourth. I asked a simple question, which you couldn’t come up with the answer for.

        Hats off to ignoring this post.

  9. 461deep - Mar 28, 2014 at 5:51 PM

    Jays can be much better but need Bautista, Lawrie & Reyes to play 140 plus games, & their pitching improve to half decent. Jays pitching cannot match Yankees so Yanks should win more games but Jays will not be their doormats this year like last. When all are healthy, the Jays line-up one of baseballs best. Jays 82-80.

  10. nbjays - Mar 28, 2014 at 9:29 PM

    Sorry, Church, but you lost all credibility with your first rebuttal to Manytools… If you think last year was Adam Lind’s career year, you either haven’t been paying attention, you have a very skewed definition of “career year” or you are just pulling stuff out of your ass in order to make a point.

    2013 – .288/.357/.497, 23 HR, 67 RBI, 26 doubles
    2009 – .305/.370/.562, 35 HR, 114 RBI, 46 doubles

    And I tend to agree with PC and Tools… you say the Jays may are old, injury prone, and have a bad infield (which is simply your opinion), but the Yankees are older, even more injury prone, and have an infinitely worse infield… (and those are facts). Yet somehow the Yankees are contenders and the Jays are not. Mmm’kay, whatever.

  11. j0esixpack - Mar 28, 2014 at 11:04 PM

    This team sounds a lot stronger than last year’s Red Sox team did on paper last year

    Toronto may surprise people

  12. dirtyharry1971 - Mar 28, 2014 at 11:22 PM

    LAST LAST LAST LAST THAT IS WHERE THE JAYS WILL BE!! But really is anyone surprised by that? They shouldn’t be unless they took as many drugs as pc and the bigtimetool or old time gator lol

    • Old Gator - Mar 29, 2014 at 12:47 AM

      And once again, only you find yourself amusing. We’ve waited all month for the Feather Lice analysis, and the best you could come up with when we got it was another warmed-over version of the same old same old tired excrement you’ve been presenting rearwards here ever since you entered this blog through some unknown wound. Luck for you that you’re too dimwitted to draw any inferences from all the other expressions of boredom and disgust for your imbecilic comments, or that horrible inferiority complex of yours might blossom into a full blown psychosis.

    • nbjays - Mar 29, 2014 at 8:49 AM

      OK, harry, you keep telling us that you are the most knowledgeable baseball mind on this site, so now is the time for you to put up or shut up. (wishful thinking, I know)

      I’d like you to apply your towering baseball intellect to the following task: Give us a detailed position-by-position breakdown of the Yankees versus the Blue Jays, both offensively and defensively, and show us lowly peons where we have gone astray in our thinking and why the Yankees are so much better than the Jays this year. Oh, and during your analysis, please stick to facts and true stats, rather than your usual made-up tripe.

      Personally, I don’t think you have either the brains or the stones to do it (without your usual shrill anti-Jays BS).

      Well?

      • Old Gator - Mar 29, 2014 at 10:29 AM

        If he does put up something that sounds coherent, block-copy it, paste it into your Google window, and track down the sports page – ESPN, Faux Sports, some local newspaper, whatever, where he copied it. I’ve done that a couple of times. Being exposed as a fraud as well as a homophobe, lowlife and dimwit doesn’t seem to faze him much. Must be a comfort to be so stupid that you’re inadvertently at peace with yourself.

  13. moogro - Mar 28, 2014 at 9:44 PM

    I don’t know why there isn’t a story about it on HBT, but the Jays are playing the Mets in the first of 2 games right now in Montreal and it’s awesome.

  14. moogro - Mar 28, 2014 at 11:20 PM

    Most entertaining preseason game I have ever seen.

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