Editor’s Note: This was a guest post submitted by BJP commenter Jeff Woo. If you would like to submit a guest post of your own for consideration you can do so by emailing us through our contact page.
I’m not kidding, I actually do believe that 2013 might have been one of the better possible outcomes for the 2014 Blue Jays and franchise as a whole. Egos got checked, bubbles were burst, and expectations have lowered to such lows that there exists very little pressure going into 2014. Just ask the 2013 Red Sox how much easier it is to play as a 30-1 underdog than it is to play as favourites, especially when most of that pressure is built on hype. Every team will bring their best vs. Boston next year, while expectations for the Blue Jays seemingly are at an all-time low (a natural regression from all-time highs). This could work in our favour.
Now I’m not saying that I would rather be 30-1 longshots than 8-1 favourites to win the World Series; But there is something to be said for the pressure of expectations. The 2012 Red Sox set expectations quite low for 2013, considering they were a talented team. In 2012, the Red Sox vastly underperformed, and the only way to go was up. Similarly, the 2014 Blue Jays are heading into the season with unrealistically low expectations after such a disheartening season in 2013, despite having just as much reason to hope in 2014 and there was in 2013.
Pray tell, where could there be improvements from 2013? Let’s review:
In 2013 the Blue Jays were anointed as winners of the off-season & were the most widely selected team to finish on top of the AL East. This year we have just as talented a roster, even without Josh Johnson, and with much more depth. Early in 2013 the Jays suffered significant injuries to key players such as Brett Lawrie, Brandon Morrow, J.A. Happ, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, and later on Jose Bautista. That’s 4 / 9 starting position players and 2 / 5 starting pitchers. We had the whole Emilio Bonifacio / Maicer Izturis debacle, R.A. Dickey with a tight back, and some league-worst catching from Henry Blanco, JPA, and a poor Josh Thole. Towards the end of the season we lost Delabar, Cecil and Rasmus. And oh yeah, Sergio Santos missed the first half as well, but our bullpen was still quite stellar and one of the strongest in the majors.
None of these injuries/misfortunes are expected to carry over into 2014 (although who can tell for sure), but I expect almost all of these players to be fully recovered next season. We have improved our catching position (we hope) and we know that we have to improve at 2nd base (or concede offense); We still have a formidable team.
Even though we haven’t significantly improved ON PAPER so far this off-season, due to health factors alone we have reasons to be optimistic.
The 2014 Blue Jays also have more certainty with both Adam Lind and Colby Rasmus, after being bigger question marks going into last season. Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle lived up to their reputations and performed consistent with their career lines. Melky Cabrera got a tumour removed from his freakin’ spine for goodness sake.
Brandon Morrow looks to bounce back after being a non-factor last season, and Josh Johnson performed about as badly as he could possibly could. These two factors alone were enough to sink the Jays in 2013, so if things were going to go wrong, at least we got it out of the way, and hit a rocky bottom.
Maybe it was precisely because last season was so bad that we were able to explore so many options (hello Esmil Rogers) and have a very clear idea of what we have, and where we need to improve. There are no illusions going into 2014.
Goodbye Josh Johnson, and good riddance J.P. Arencibia. We know the Bullpen is very strong. We know 2nd base is very weak. We got a year of growth & maturity from younger players like Lawrie, Rasmus, Rogers, Goins, etc. And even some of the older guys like Bautista and Reyes got a chance to rest up a bit, and are poised for big seasons.
Familiarity and continuity are under-rated when it comes to consistently winning teams, as seldom does a team with many new faces win in their first year. There’s a lot of figuring out where each person fits in, and forging an identity, and that takes time & tribulations. Learning what each person’s strengths are, figuring out roles, proving yourself to new teammates, coaches & fans, and getting comfortable on and off the field all factor in to becoming a team. Mark De Rosa and Munenori Kawasaki helped immensely with that in 2013, and accelerated the growth and helped team chemistry going into 2014. They will be missed but they made their marks.
Even Alex Anthopoulos is under-appreciated going into next year, as fewer fans believe that A.A. can/will suitably address the rotation with a #3 or better starter while hopefully keeping prized prospects Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman. AA has been a smart & shrewd G.M. so far, with his finger on the pulse of the team. Even after a disappointing ’13, AA has kept his cool and is practicing patience and discipline. Looking forward to next year With a rotation of:
Dickey, Morrow, __#3__, Buehrle, Happ or better, followed by Stroman, Hutchison, Drabek, Nolin, Sanchez,
and a projected lineup of:
that looks to be one of the top 3-5 scoring offences in the American League,
and with a bullpen that is even deeper than last year, with the return of Luis Perez and the emergence of Jeremy Jeffress adding to Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos, Steve Delabar, Brett Cecil, Esmil Rogers (who learned a new pitch), Aaron Loup, & Dustin McGowan, not to mention Neil Wagner and John Stilson in AAA, and the Jays promise to be able to win a lot of (close) games in 2014.
If our Starters can keep us in it into the 6th or 7th inning on a regular basis, I have reason to believe that the Jays are just as competitive as any other team in the A.L. East.
In 2013, Boston got off to the best possible start & had the best possible season they could have had. In 2014 they will probably not have the same Clay Buchholz who started 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA before going down with injury, nor the same CF and leadoff production with Jackie Bradley Jr.. replacing Jacoby Ellsbury. David Ortiz is one year older (38), and Stephen Drew is a free agent. Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Jonny Goms, and Daniel Nava played as well as could be expected; Everything worked out for them last year. Even with Jake Peavy stepping into the rotation, and Edward Mujica into the bullpen, the Red Sox cannot count on repeat above-par performaces from so many players, and will also now be counting on full season production from Will Middlebrooks and Xander Bogaerts at 3B and SS. Boston is strong, but not invincible.
Tampa Bay also looks fairly strong, with Wil Myers really emerging for them last year, but Ben Zobrist is trending downwards and the Rays offense is still a weakness. With David Price rumoured to be traded this offseason, that could really bring the Rays back to the pack in 2014, with 4 young, unproven starters after Matt Moore (Chris Archer,Alex Cobb, Jeremy Hellickson, Jake Odorizzi), and a bullpen that has some question marks as well.
The Yankees, even with all their FA signings, are still projected to be 4th or 5th in the East, as their pitching is clearly a weak point both in the rotation and bullpen. Their offence projects to be good but not great, and is lacking the home run power we’re used to seeing on display in New York. Right now there are too many holes at 2B, 3B, the Rotation, Bullpen, and maybe even SS, to seriously consider the Yankees as contenders next year. Injuries could derail them very quickly.
That leaves the Orioles to round out the division, and although they have the #14 and #15 prospects in all of baseball, according to MLB.COM in starting pitchers Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy soon to join the rotation, Baltimore never seems to be able to hit and pitch at the same time. With the underwhelming Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Tommy Hunter and Wei-Yin Chen as their top 4 starters right now, the pitching might not be enough to support the closing window of a high-perfomrance offence currently boasted in Baltimore. I predict a finish of no higher than 3rd in the AL East in 2014.
For all of these reasons and more, Toronto projects to be at least 3rd in the AL East, with a legitimate shot at a Wild Card spot if not the Division. The American League is full of competitive teams, but if AA can find a way to get a solid starter or two, and keep making astute moves in regards to the rest of the franchise, there’s a lot to look forward to in 2014 and even beyond, especially now that the pressure is off, and guys are free to go out and be themselves, and play the game without the weight of unrealistic and feverish expectations that virtually doomed the 2013 Blue Jays from the start. With a proper attitude adjustment (humility and hunger), the 2014 Jays might even be better off for all that happened in 2013. We’ll have to work and play hard to win the 2014 World Series, but at least the Blue Jays know who they are and what they need to do to contend in 2014. The only question is: Are they up for it?