Hope for the 2014 Blue Jays

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:

Reyes
Cabrera
Bautista
Encarnacion
Lind
Lawrie
Rasmus
Navarro
2B,

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?

Picture courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr.

  • ArkLand

    Best article I’ve read this off season. Thanks for the balanced and optimistic piece.

    • Delabar’s Weighted Balls

      Thanks bro I appreciate that.
      -Jeff

  • Gary Kimbrel

    I agree, although many dismiss it as a “narrative”, as if that somehow invalidates an idea. You could see the team was not properly prepared. The amount of errors, infield and outfield, that led to runs and made the pitching staff look worse than it was, inflating their stats, was not acceptable for a team looking to contend. Then, when those innings finally did end, the players would often celebrate with their hand flips and hip bumps. It looked to me like those moves were very well prepared. Then, when I heard stories about spring training being lax and ending at 2pm, I started to see that the team was not to be taken seriously. From where I stand, it was as if they thought all the on-paper talent would come together and everything would gel without constant hard work. Anyone in a performance based industry will tell you that that’s crazy. That’s how likely sure things go totally wrong. All in all, the on-field performance made the organization look like it wasn’t a well oiled machine with hungry, driven players. Let me be clear, that’s not a judgement of individuals; I’m certain every player wanted to win badly. This is a team sport, especially when it comes to defense, everyones performance affects everyone else’s. There won’t be any playoff contention without constant focus on how your actions affect everyone else, in the “fundamental baseball” sense. That said, starting pitching is still the biggest problem.

    • JefQ27BlueJayz

      Yes I agree that Gibby expected a LOT more professionalism from the staff and THAT will change. Personally I was always concerned with 2B last spring. Dickey said it best, ” The Team has to still find it’s identity”.

      There was a lot of new people and the Domenican WBC had a bit of a divisive influence. I still think there is that. I was one guy who wasn’t too hurt last year. It was good for character to lose like that. Bring ‘em down a notch, nothing comes easy.
      As a squad they learned they have to earn it. Gibby is a ball players manager that is a good thing in my eyes. As the Frico series on this site proves well. He is well liked and admired by the players. An A hole wouldn’t bring folks in to this market. Or keep them here. AA knows this. There is a lot of politics we don’t know. And I can’t repeat. But we are far better off with the manager we have now, than we were. Butter was great though. Huge.
      Gibby learned last season as much as the players, square one is the Home Opener. I sat beside the dugout in row one last year for that, and seriously, we never recovered.

      But we will. Big Time.

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  • ficklefingeroffate

    Yankees will finish in 4th or 5th place.This is from Jays blogger that doesn’t realize The Yankees treated The Jays like a rented goalie.

  • Aron

    This is pretty much what Ive been preaching all off season. With the horrible defence in LF, 2B, and C last year that really cost us a lot of games, a lot more than most people realize. With improvements in all three areas thats already a huge improvement. If the starting rotation can stop from imploding we should be set. (Knowingly optimistic) I expect Dickey to pitch closer to a 3 ERA than 4 and hopefully (hopefully hopefully) Morrow will be able to piece an a full strong year together. Buerlhe should stay consistent and our depth at 5th starter is really good with Happ and the return of Drabek and Hutchison and maybe some mid season call ups of Nolin, Stroman and Sanchez. If we do add a Garza, Tanaka, or Jimenez and they can stay consistent, replacing JJs 5+ ERA will already prove to add a handful of extra wins.

    Only thing, you mention the Orioles can never get both pitching and hitting together… we are the EXACT same way lol

  • Calgary Skeptic

    Completely out to lunch. You could field the American League All Star Team at every other position and still come in 5th with this rotation. Dickey is not a legitimate #1. He’s very effective in a big outdoor stadium but in a small indoor stadium he’s a #4. Morrow is a legit #2 with a 25% chance of remaining healthy for a full year. Buehrle is a #5 being asked to go in the #3 slot, Happ is a left handed reliever on any competitive team and a rushed minor leaguer will be forced into the #5 spot. Compound this by the fact that their division is made up by Bal, NY, Bos & TB and all 5 play in Little League ballparks. I love the Blue Jays but they’re dead. It’s going to look like batting practice more times than it won’t. With this rotation we’re out of it on April 5th.

    • Josh

      Lol this comment is unsubstantiated garbage. Dickey and Buerhle are #4 and 5′s, really? What team has guys who are a lock for 200+ innings of sub 4 ERA ball in the back end of the rotation? Also this 25% chance of morrow being healthy is equally ridiculous, would you say the same thing about Clay Buchholz who has pitched almost exact same innings as Morrow since 2010?

      • Calgary Skeptic

        Their ERA’s were 4.21 & 4.15. Sub means below; neither of them can give you sub 4 pitching. Who has 2 starters at the back end of the rotation that can give you 200 innings and near (not sub) 4 ERA?? Here’s a few teams that have that: Boston, New York, Tampa, Oakland, Texas, Anaheim & Detroit. 32 starts is a full year for a starter; Morrow has made 30 starts once in his entire career. That’s right, he’s done it once in 5 tries as a starter.

  • rxbrgr

    You mean Wei-Yen Chen for the O’s, not Bruce Chen. Great article overall, though!

    • Ewan Ross

      Thanks. Fixed.

  • AnotherDub-L

    Your logic of this article is on par with my four year old son. I like your breakdown of the rest of the east (insert sarcastic tone). Only strength of the article is the concept of reduced pressure and more familiarity should be a positive.

  • Birdman

    It doesn’t matter. U said it urself that the bluejays injuries killed them last year. They will again this year. Theyr killed every year by injuries cuz their training staff sucks. How can a guy be hurt the entire year with leg soreness and the staff never look at his spine. Cabrera had leg problem since spring and they found the tumor in August? That’s ridiculous! I wouldn’t come to toronto just because I’d be afraid to be dieing and their staff tell me I have a cold. Also to compare to Boston would be apt if toronto follows their example and brought in a new manager. But no toronto still has the worst manager in the league. If they were in triple A I’d still probably be able to say that.

  • Gooch

    I agree with your overall premise that this year should be better just using the law of averages. That being said, too many things have to fall correctly with the same bunch of guys that severely dropped the ball last year either through injury or under-achieving. I think the offense and bullpen can remain the same but to go into 2014 without at least adding 1 top 3 established MLB pitcher is playing with fire and throwing a can of gas on it. If DIckey has to be our number one starter we can forget playoff talk right now. If we could get a guy who is currently a 2 or 3 but with the potential to be an ace and slot him in like this…eg NEW GUY, Healthy Morrow, Dickey, Buerhle and then a young guy like Hutchison and do not use Happ as a starter….either stick Happ in the bullpen or trade him to the NL for position player depth. I am hoping for the best this year and i still have faith that AA will do something before spring training.

  • JefQ27BlueJayz

    Please keep the trash talk to the Blue Jays site. There have been so many folks leave that site because of the poor quality of opinions and rampant idiocy. There is no need for being rude. This site was started by a student 3 years ago when he was in early highschool. The contributor of this article had the balls to take the time to write it in a proper format. The article was about hope for the 2014 Blue Jays. And RA Dickey was a Cy Young winner and Mark Buehrle is one of the most consistent pitchers in the MLB. Anyway, enough of that onto the article and the issues.

    One thing the Toronto Unfaithful is forgetting is that Rogers just signed a multi $Billion deal with the NHL.

    Rogers is the face of MLB in Canada, your viewership has just had an outstanding jump in ratings and your building has just had the biggest jump in overall attendance in the Major Leagues. You have stated publicly that it is you full intention to bring playoff and Championship baseball to Toronto. And your business is sports on TV.

    Speculation is running rampant, the 30 or so posters on the Blue Jay site are having a stress attack, the sports radio jocks are looking for fodder for the daily briefing on TBJ`s. Nothing has really happened as the entire field of GM`s waits on the Tanaka episode to complete.

    Whenever I speak with anyone in the organization either the Blue Jays or Rogers, they all mention the attendance. Well the money was spent, the attendance went up, AA spent a long time being thrifty. Moving forward Rogers wants more than a Team close but no cigar, they want the winner. It is in their best interest to program a winning product. They will. Last season was the best thing that could have happened to the Blue Jays. They found out they had to earn it. Even Paul Beeston thought they were headed to the playoffs. But, good things come to those who work for it.

    For the exact reasons mentioned in this article the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays will be just fine. Yes I am hoping for Cubs numbers from the backstop. BUT, I do expect to be in the hunt as we build for the future. We are simply stacked in the maturation of players 4 years from now. We also have a 17 year old short stop that hit .300 last season between the Dominican and the Gulf Coast. And many many more within the growing organization being built to house a perennial competitive Team. This is Year 4 of AA`s process, he has done amazingly well. Rome wasn`t built in a day. Go Blue Jays.

    Oh and the GoTrain runs every half hour now, this will dramatically increase the people willing to go to the Dome.

    • Calgary Skeptic

      That may all be true but at the end of the day Toronto’s team ERA ranked 25th out of 30 teams. What has AA done to address this? Nothing. That isn’t an opinion; he’s added 0 pitchers. We want to be positive, we want to have hope, we’re willing to overlook last year but it’s hard to cling to nothing. We have the worst starting pitching in the league and we’ve added 0 starters. Is a healthy left fielder going to change that? No. Is a better defensive 2nd baseman going to change that? No. Is a full year from Bautista going to change that? No. Is a different catcher going to change that? No. I want to drink the kool aid as bad as you do but it’s hard to drink an empty glass.

      • JefQ27BlueJayz

        The season has’t started yet. The FA market is thin as it is and I am sure the Tanaka issue is creating a log jam.
        AA has the added problem of attracting guys to play here. Not everybody wants to play in Canada, Toronto, Artificial turf, non traditional market, yada yada.
        We both know he must be going nuts as well.
        I have heard the Rogers brass say out loud that they are fully committed to Championship ball. My guess is year 1 and 2 were set up years for a longer term plan. AA has said he was prepared for all scenarios. Well the worst happened. But it is only December. There’s a lot of time. Pitchers and catchers don’t report for about 54 days.
        Lots can happen. I am betting AA wants to work the best deal for the club, not get tipped off or be like the Maple Leafs and panic.

        • Calgary Skeptic

          I agree with everything you said but that doesn’t change the facts. We have the worst starting pitching in the League and until that’s addressed nothing else matters.

          • JefQ27BlueJayz

            New post up top.

  • JefQ27BlueJayz

    Great responses Boys! Personally I love this! I sm out of hydro, so this is iPhone response. OK. What has AA done? Well if you look at the scouting staff. You have to look at the bigger picture of where the organization has come from and gone to. Look at the base of talent in the minors, the talent we have 16 and up. The International signings.
    The growth of the overall franchise health starts from the minors, as a solid base. The product on the field is really, for us, the folks who study Blue Jay Ball like a science project, the product on the field is merely the initial offer to the GP fan base.

    FA’s aren’t particularly too thrilled with coming to Blue Jay World. Be it the turf, the politics, or the unknown. AA has to compete with guys wanting the Jankees Bosux or St Loo glamour.

    More Later. I gotta go help outside we have a lot of trees down.

    This is great!!!

    • Calgary Skeptic

      What has AA accomplished exactly? We unloaded the farm for a pitcher that’s gone and two that are ineffective in little league ball parks. We had the 5th best farm system in baseball two years ago and now we’re tied for 11th. What was the point? To finish in last?

  • JefQ27BlueJayz

    OK, myself. I look at it this way, AA has many pieces people want that are nowhere near ready. Their value is lower than their worth. If he trades away the wrong one then he has real mud on his face. If he deals in haste with a gun yo his head, he’s an idiot.

    Money does not matter in a non cap CBA. With the change in the Tanaka sweepstakes, and the big “when and if” question we are now a lot more unsure if he’ll even show up. That may very well kick start some movement.

    “IF” we do nothing then AA has been stumped. SP is his biggest priority for him. He has said that already. In the pool of fresh blood in AAA we need the likes of Stroman, Redmond and at least one more I agree with that.

    • JefQ27BlueJayz

      But it is still December, no panic yet.