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American League Two-a-Days: Toronto Blue Jays

LiveBall Sports previews the American League this week.

Team Synopsis: Toronto Blue Jays

2013 record: 74-88
2013 runs scored: 712
2013 runs against: 756
2013 pythag. record: 77-85

Toronto moved “all-in” in 2013, acquiring SS Jose Reyes and pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buerhle from the Miami Marlins, before turning around and acquiring R.A. Dickey from the Mets.  It didn’t exactly work out for the Jays, who finished last in the AL East in 2014.  For an encore, Toronto is more or less the same team in 2014 that they were supposed to be in 2013.  Johnson has moved on, but the rest of the Blue Jays are back to give it another go, and there should be a lot of positive regression to help this team.

Toronto could have made a move or two to improve on last year’s team, but mostly stood pat in the offseason.  As such, they are a fringe contender for the AL East crown, and a mild contender for an AL Wild Spot in 2014.

Who is having a good spring?

Outfielders Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista, with the former having a team leading 13 hits and the latter leading the team with 3 spring homers.  1B/DH types Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind have combined for 36 total bases this spring.  Top pitching prospect Drew Hutchinson is having a sensational spring, striking out 16 while walking run.  He is in the mix for a spot in the rotation.

Reasons to be optimistic about the 2014 Blue Jays

This can’t go as badly as last year did for the Jays.  The rotation figures to be a strength, with RHP Brandon Morrow joining Buerhle and Dickey as a nice front three.  The key is for this group to stay healthy and in rotation, as depth is limited.  The Blue Jays ran out a fantastic bullpen a year ago and figure to produce something similar in 2014.

All of those players who are hitting in the spring make up the middle of the lineup for the Jays, and every one of them hit last season.  Toronto’s lineup offers a variety of power and patience.  They will work a lot of walks, drive the ball for extra base hits, and they are a strong baserunning team.

The starting lineup is fairly versatile and gives manager John Gibbons a lot of flexibility to get the best players in the lineup.

Reasons to be realistic about the 2014 Blue Jays

The trades with the Mets and Marlins drained the organization of it’s depth and the Blue Jays have had a real issue keeping the players on the 25-man roster healthy for a full season, ranking at the top of the league in DL days the last two seasons.  At some point, Toronto is going to have to lean on injury prone pitchers like Kyle Drabek and Morrow to win games.   They’ll have to rely on injury prone SS Jose Reyes to give them a full season.

Beyond Reyes, the infield is an area of weakness.  Brett Lawrie had a fantastic rookie year in 2011, but hasn’t managed to improve since then.  He plays 2nd and 3rd if necessary.  The options to play second are Ryan Goins, and Maicer Izturis, the latter is on the second of a three year contract.  The Jays may need to upgrade at second base, and should consider working out a deal with the Royals for Johnny Giavotella, who is crushing the ball in spring training, but will be passed on the organizational depth chart by Christian Colon shortly.

Defensively, the Blue Jays are a bad team.  This will not help very much with the high rates of contact allowed by Buerhle and Dickey, even though both field their own positions fantastically.

The Projections

The Fangraphs projected team WAR for the 2014 Blue Jays is 37.5, 9th in the American League.  Their 23.2 Batters WAR projection is 5th in the AL. Their 14.3 Pitchers WAR projection is 9th in the AL.  Cool Standings projects the 2014 Blue Jays to win 82 games, an 8 win improvement over last season.  Jose Bautista is the Blue Jay with the best 2014 projection with an average WAR projection of 4.4.  R.A. Dickey is the pitcher with the best average projection at 2.6 WAR.

The Blue Jays vs the rest of the AL East

The AL East is baseball’s strongest division in 2014.  The Rays and Red Sox are top seven teams, in the elite class of baseball teams, and the Yankees and Blue Jays are anticipated to be top-half teams.  The Orioles are probably the best team expected to finish in fifth this season.  The Blue Jays are a longshot contender, because the Red Sox and the Rays are the class of the AL East this year.

LiveBall Sports Projection for the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays

The Blue Jays didn’t quite get it correct last season, but might get some better fortune this year on the way to an 84-78 record, and a third place finish in the AL East.  This is right on the fringe of being able to run with Boston the most of the year.  That’s going to be a tall task.  But they’ll be in the ballpark of teams like Kansas City, Cleveland, Seattle, Texas, Oakland and the Angels for the second wild card.  When they dealt for all those established veterans a year ago, they didn’t do so with the idea that they might be able to scrap together a single playoff game in two seasons, but that’s one of the better case scenarios for a team that won only 74 games a year ago.

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