by Jason Martinez
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TORONTO BLUE JAYS OFFSEASON PREVIEW
Before the season, MLBDC contributor Joe Giglio wrote about the Blue Jays being a "sleeping giant" and on the verge of being a force in the American League. He may have been right on, but then this happened: Staff ace Ricky Romero finished 2012 with an ERA near 6.00, #2 starter Brandon Morrow missed nearly three months with an oblique injury, young starters Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison were lost for the season with torn elbow ligaments in mid-June, closer Sergio Santos only made six appearances before being shut down for the year with a shoulder injury, and Jose Bautista missed all but a couple games in the 2nd half because of a wrist injury.
Injuries play a huge part in the game and roster depth is becoming more important than ever. But it's hard to argue that the Jays were hit harder than most teams in the majors with injuries. They weren't 8-to-10 deep in starting pitching and most teams can't replace an MVP candidate in the middle of their lineup. Expectations heading into the offseason won't be as high for this group after a rough 2012 season so maybe they can surprise some people in 2013. They still have a very talented team but General Manager Alex Anthopoulos will have to figure out a way to strengthen their starting rotation in an offseason where a majority of teams in baseball will be looking to do the same.
STARTING LINEUP ANALYSIS
Bautista and first baseman Edwin Encarnarcion combined to hit 50 HR and 123 RBI in the 1st half of the season. As long as those two are healthy, the middle of the lineup is in good hands. Adam Lind was sent to the minors and eventually removed from the 40-man roster after struggling badly in the 1st half. But he came back strong after returning to the team in late June. Although he missed a month with strained back, he hit .296 with 8 HR and 34 RBI over his last 203 at-bats.
Third baseman Brett Lawrie didn't have the season many had expected after 43 games of greatness during his rookie season (.293 BA, 9 HR, 25 RBI, 8 2B, 4 3B, 16 BB, 7 SB). The 22 year-old, who spent most of the season as the leadoff hitter, finished 2012 with a .273 BA, 11 HR, and 13 SB in 125 games. Center fielder Colby Rasmus is another talented player who hasn't come close to reaching his potential, at least not consistently over a full season. After posting an .822 OPS in the 1st half, he had a .516 OPS in the 2nd half. If Lawrie and Rasmus have strong seasons hitting in front of Bautista and Encarnacion, the top of the Jays' lineup could be quite a force.
Yunel Escobar's days may be numbered in Toronto with Adeiny Hechavarria ready to take over as the starting shortstop. Trading Escobar would be tough, however, considering his questionable character and his regression from 2011 to 2012 (.782 OPS in 2011, .644 OPS in 2012). Hechavarria, a defensive whiz who hit .287 over his last 94 at-bats in his rookie season, could also take over at second base for free agent Kelly Johnson.
Left field is also unsettled with Anthony Gose the leading candidate for the job. After a slow start, the 22 year-old finished strong with a .265 BA, 1 HR, 4 2B, 2 3B, 11 BB, and 5 SB over the last month of the season. Gose has plus speed and, like Hechavarria, gives the team plus defense but might not be ready to offer enough offensively. The team could pick up free agent Rajai Davis' $3 million club option, which would put him into the mix for the spot, or they can pursue an upgrade through free agency or trade. Correction: Davis does have a club option but if it's declined, he does not have enough service time to qualify for free agency. He'd be eligible for arbitration.
Unlike Escobar, Anthopoulos might not have as hard of a time trading catcher J.P. Arencibia, which is a strong possibility with top prospect Travis d'Arnaud likely ready to take over in 2013. Backup Jeff Mathis signed a two-year contract extension so there won't be an opportunity to carry Arencibia and d'Arnaud on the roster.
STARTING PITCHING ANALYSIS
Morrow is ready to assume the role of "staff ace" after Romero's disaster of a season. In 21 starts, the 28 year-old posted a 2.96 ERA with 41 BB, and 108 K in 124.2 innings. Opponents hit just .214 against him. Things get ugly after that. Carlos Villanueva was the team's next most reliable starter but he's a free agent. Romero, who is under contract for another $22.5 million through 2015, will have to bounce back with no one else on the roster capable of filling the #2 spot anytime in the near future. Henderson Alvarez (4.85 ERA in 187.1 IP) and J.A. Happ (4.79 ERA in 144.2 IP) will compete for spots, as will former 1st Round pick Chad Jenkins, who allowed 6 ER over 13.2 innings in three late-season starts.
If Dustin McGowan can ever stay healthy, which has to be a long shot at this point, he'll be in the mix for a rotation spot. The Jays signed him to a three-year contract extension for $4.1 million in March but he started the season on the DL with plantar fascitis and never returned after experiencing shoulder soreness and eventually undergoing arthroscopic shoulder surgery. The former top prospect has pitched just 21 major league innings over the last four seasons.
The Jays have a wealth of good young pitching prospects, including Aaron Sanchez and Noah Syndergaard, but none are close to the majors. If the Jays can't upgrade the 2013 rotation via free agency, Anthopoulos might have to trade one or two of his really good pitching prospects in order to do so.
RELIEF PITCHING ANALYSIS
Casey Janssen, who had nine career saves in five big league seasons, stepped in for Santos and had a terrific season. While posting a 2.54 ERA and holding opponents to a .195 batting average, Janssen saved 22 games in 25 chances. Santos is expected to be ready for Spring Training after July shoulder surgery but he may not get the closer's gig back from Janssen, at least not right away. If he can regain his prior form, having Santos in a setup role with mid-season acquisitions Steve Delabar and Brad Lincoln will give the team a solid bullpen foundation. Lefty Aaron Loup also had a good rookie year (2.64 ERA, 2 BB, 21 K in 30.2 IP) and Darren Oliver's $3 million club option could be a no-brainer after the 42 year-old lefty showed no signs of regressing. He gave the Jays 62 appearances while posting a 2.06 ERA.
After he finishes serving a 50-game suspension for a positive PED test, 2012 1st Round pick Marcus Stroman is expected to be on the fast track to the big leagues. The hard-throwing reliever should return to the minors in early May and could be an option for the Jays' bullpen in the second half.
TOP OFFSEASON PRIORITIES
1 Starting Pitcher
2 Starting Pitcher
5 Setup Man
10/21/12 - Manager John Farrell and reliever David Carpenter were traded to the Red Sox for Mike Aviles, who will be in the mix for the starting second base job.
2012 HITTING STATS
2012 PITCHING STATS