Let's Go Tribe's American League Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

Tom Szczerbowski

Our look at the Tribe's competition around the American League continues with the Blue Jays, who were somewhat quieter this offseason than they were last winter.

Between now and Opening Day, we'll be taking a look at each of the other American League teams, to see what they've done during the offseason, and what their outlook is for 2014.

Previous entries: Yankees

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Toronto Blue Jays

2013 Record: 74-88 (5th in A.L. East), 2-4 vs. Cleveland

712 runs scored (8th of 15 in AL), 756 runs allowed (13th of 15 in AL)

The Blue Jays were the busiest team in baseball last offseason, adding a number of pieces in a massive trade with Miami, and also adding 2012 NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. They were a popular pick to contend in the AL East in 2013, but four weeks unto the season, they were already 9.5 games back, and though an 11-game winning streak in June briefly got them back above .500, they quickly resumed their losing ways, ultimately finishing 23 games out of 1st place.

R.A. Dickey went from Cy Young winner to league-average pitcher, as his knuckleball went from nearly unhittable to very hittable. Fellow new acquisitions Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson weren't any better. In fact, in the 16 starts he was able to make, Johnson was much, much worse, with a 6.20 ERA, his worst walk rate in 6 years, and a brutal home run rate to go with it. All told, Toronto's starting rotation was one of the 3 or 4 worst in baseball, which is not what the the team was expecting from a group it paid more than $50 million last year.

The offense was better, but basically only average. Edwin Encarnacion was one of the best hitters in baseball for the second year in a row (his 78 home runs during the last two seasons rank behind only Miguel Cabrera and Chris Davis), and Jose Bautista, Adam Lind, and Colby Rasmus all put up good numbers as well, but catcher and second base were offensive black holes, about as close to automatic outs as an MLB starter can get.

Perhaps last season's expenditures used up all the money ownership was willing to spend, or perhaps the lack of return on that investment made them gun-shy. Whatever the case, Toronto had one of the quietest offseason of any team in baseball, with few significant players coming or going.

Key offseason additions:

Dioner Navarro (C), Erik Kratz (C)

Key offseason departures:

Josh Johnson (SP), Rajai Davis (OF), Darren Oliver (RP)

Like I said, it was a quiet offseason.

2014 Payroll: ~$135 million (That is not money well spent.)

Projected 2014 Starting Lineup (with ZiPS fWAR projection):

Pos

Player

Projected WAR

C

Dioner Navarro

3

1B

Edwin Encarnacion

3

2B

Ryan Goines

0

3B

Brett Lawrie

3

SS

Jose Reyes

3

LF

Melky Cabrera

1

CF

Colby Rasmus

3

RF

Jose Bautista

4

DH

Adam Lind

1

TOTAL

21

Indians who have killed the Blue Jays:

Carlos Santana - .329/.486/.537, 1.023 OPS, 3 HR in 109 PA

Michael Brantley - .397/.484/.538, 1.022 OPS, 1 HR, in 91 PA

Blue Jay who has killed the Indians:

Jose Bautista - .275/.389/.573, .961 OPS, 10 HR in 158 PA

Projected 2014 Starting Rotation/Bullpen (with ZiPS fWAR projection):

Pos

Player

Projected WAR

1

R.A. Dickey

3

2

Mark Buehrle

2

3

Brandon Morrow

2

4

J.A. Happ

1

5

Drew Hutchison

1

RP

Bullpen

3

TOTAL

12

2014 Outlook:

The big gamble the team took last offseason did not pay off, and unless the team is willing to up its payroll even further, they're stuck with what they've got for a couple more years, because there isn't serious money coming off the books until after 2015.

The lineup should score a good amount of runs. They've filled one of their two block holes (catcher), and will just have to hope for the best from second base. If Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes are both healthy all year, I'd expect this to be one of the top five runs-scoring teams in the American League.

Pitching is another story, as the starting rotation seems likely to be a weak spot again, as 2012 now looks like quite an outlier for Dickey. The Blue Jays are said to have a 1-year, $14-million offer out to Ervin Santana, and given whom he'd be replacing in the rotation, signing him out to be worth at least a couple extra wins, but I'm not sure those couple extra wins are really worth pushing the payroll to $150 million for, because I don't see a couple extra wins really putting them into serious contention.

In the AL East, baseball's toughest division, I don't envision this roster winning more than 80 games, and I'd pick them for fewer than that. Bautista and Encarnacion are each signed to reasonable deals through 2016. Bautista will be 35 for that season, probably no longer a particularly strong contributor. If I were Toronto, I'd consider moving him at the deadline this year, and maybe Encarnacion too. If either is hitting as well as they have the last couple years, they'd bring back a solid return with 2.5 years of team control remaining, and allow the Blue Jays to restock a farm system they left pretty barren when they rolled the dice last winter.

PECOTA Projection: 80-82 (4th in East), 742 runs scored, 760 runs allowed

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