Philadelphia, PA – It's been a long time since fans in Toronto have anticipated a baseball season more than this one.
Manager John Gibbons isn't the only new face in the Blue Jays' dugout this year, as general manager Alex Anthopoulos completely changed the landscape of the club with a monster deal with the Miami Marlins that saw them pick up shortstop Jose Reyes, second baseman Emilio Bonifacio, lefty Mark Buehrle and righty Josh Johnson.
That deal came on the heels of Toronto signing outfielder Melky Cabrera to a 2-year, $16 million deal. Of course, Cabrera comes with some baggage, as he sat out most of the final two months serving a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.
And if that wasn't enough, the Jays went out and acquired the National League's reigning Cy Young Award winner in R.A. Dickey.
All that equals some high expectations north of the border, as the Jays eye their first postseason spot since 1993.
Below we take a capsule look at the 2013 edition of the Blue Jays, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis included therein:
2012 FINISH (73-89) - Fourth Place (AL East)
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: R.A. Dickey (RHP), Jose Reyes (SS), Josh Johnson (RHP), Mark Buehrle (LHP), Emilio Bonifacio (INF), Melky Cabrera (OF)
KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: John Buck (C); Jeff Mathis (C); Kelly Johnson (2B); Henderson Alvarez (LHP); Carlos Villanueva (RHP); Jason Frasor (RHP); Yunel Escobar (3B); Yan Gomes (C)
PROJECTED LINEUP: Jose Reyes (SS); Melky Cabrera (LF); Jose Bautista (RF); Edwin Encarnacion (1B); Colby Rasmus (CF); Adam Lind (DH); J.P. Arencibia (C); Emilio Bonifacio (2B); Maicer Izturis (3B)
PROJECTED ROTATION: R.A. Dickey (RHP); Brandon Morrow (RHP); Mark Buehrle (LHP); Josh Johnson (RHP); Ricky Romero (LHP)
PROJECTED CLOSER: Casey Janssen (RHP)
MANAGER: John Gibbons
WHAT IS GOING ON WITH RICKY ROMERO?
A lot of the high hopes in Toronto centers around the rotation. And rightfully so, but there are some concerns too.
And No. 1 on that list is Ricky Romero.
An All-Star in 2011 and considered one of the best young lefties in the game at that point, Romero struggled mightily a year ago, going 9-14 with a 5.77 ERA. Things were so bad for Romero that he lost seven straight starts and was 0-13 over a 15 start stretch. In fact he one just one time over his final 17 outings.
Minor elbow surgery, plasma injections in both knees, and mechanical adjustments were supposed to get him right, but it hasn't worked, as Romero has a 7.27 ERA with more walks (7) than strikeouts (6) in four exhibition game starts this spring.
Luckily, he's no longer the ace of the staff. In fact, he's likely a fifth starter behind R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle. But, that also means the Blue Jays will be less inclined to stay with him should his struggles continue.
IS JOSE BAUTISTA HEALTHY?
Above anything else the biggest question surrounding this team is can Jose Bautista stay healthy? Despite a roster overhaul that netted multiple All- Stars, the Blue Jays will only go as far as Bautista will take them.
Bautista became the premier slugger in the American League with 97 home runs from 2010-11, but last year he only belted 27. Of course, he only played in 92 games and was limited to just six contests after the All-Star break.
The three-time All-Star underwent wrist surgery in September after being shut down last season to repair a torn sheath around his Extensor carpi ulnaris (ECU) tendon. However, he appears to be all the way back, as he has five home runs through 18 exhibition games.
With Reyes and Cabrera in front of him, Bautista should have no problem driving in runs. In fact he may be the one guy who stands in the way of another Triple Crown for Miguel Cabrera.
CAN MELKY DO IT AGAIN?
Melky Cabrera has something to prove to everyone in Major League Baseball.
The 28-year-old native of the Dominican Republic was on his way to a career year, leading the NL in batting at .346 with 11 home runs, 25 doubles, 10 triples and 60 RBI in 113 games. He was also named MVP of the All-Star Game.
Cabrera, though, did not did not play after Aug. 14, having been hit with a 50-game suspension for violating MLB's drug policy.
So not only did he cost himself in the neighborhood of $50 million because of the suspension, people are of course wondering if Cabrera leans more towards the player who was designated for assignment by the Atlanta Braves a couple of years ago rather than the one who was an MVP candidate last season.
The answer is probably somewhere in the middle, as Cabrera has been terrific this spring. While he's traditionally been an underachiever, Cabrera did have 44 doubles and 18 home runs for the Kansas City Royals in 2011.
If Cabrera continues to be the player he was last year, the Blue Jays may have gotten the biggest bargain in baseball this offseason.
X-FACTOR: CASEY JANSSEN: There are not many concerns with the Toronto Blue Jays this year. One of them, though, is in the bullpen where the Blue Jays don't have anyone who has closed games for an entire season. Righty Casey Janssen will get the call at the start of the year, but he's already been bothered this spring by some soreness in the collarbone area where he had a surgical procedure performed in the offseason. Janssen isn't your typical blow-it-by-you closer, but what he lacks in velocity, he makes up for with location, movement and fearlessness. Janssen was thrust into a closer's role last season when Sergio Santos' season was cut short in April. Janssen thrived, as he made good on 22 of 25 chances. He also only issued 11 walks as opposed to 67 strikeouts. The bullpen, though, as a whole should be a strength for the Blue Jays, as Santos is expected back and the ageless Darren Oliver continues to find a way to get lefties out.
The knock on Toronto the past few years was that the pitching never equaled up to the potent offense. Well, that can't be said anymore. Even if Romero struggles. Of course, it's never easy in the American League East. The Tampa Bay Rays will once again be a top team and the Baltimore Orioles were a playoff team a year ago. However, the two traditional powerhouses - the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees - could both be headed for a rough season. The bottom line is if the Blue Jays can't compete this year, they never will.