Tuesday, March 24, 2015

2015 Pre-Season Profile: Toronto Blue Jays

Slowly but surely, the Toronto Blue Jays have been working their way up the most competitive division in baseball.  Will this year lead to their first playoff since their World Series win in 1993?

Last Season
83-79, 3rd in AL East

The Orioles may have run away with the division last year, but the Blue Jays made the biggest strides, finishing with a record above .500 for the first time since 2010.  More than almost any other team in baseball, Toronto has been actively working to improve their team any way they can, and it all finally started to pay off.  Finishing only a game out of 2nd place, there is a lot of optimism that they will be able to take the next step and make the playoffs.

2015 Additions / Subtractions

As has become expected, the Blue Jays were once again active this offseason in improving their team.  Snatching up some solid pieces like Michael Saunders, Justin Smoak, and Dayan Viciedo will add to the depth of their roster, but the biggest acquisitions were definitely Josh Donaldson and Russell Martin.  Donaldson is widely regarded as one of the best third basemen in the game, balancing power with Gold Glove caliber defense.  With Russell Martin, the Blue Jays not only acquired a solid offensive threat, but one of the best game managers behind the plate.  Martin strikes me as one of those future managers once he retires.  Having Russell Martin makes every pitcher on their team instantly better.  As far as subtractions go, Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus were players that needed to see if a change of scenery would actually help them achieve the potential they once had.  Melky Cabrera will be missed, but seems to have been replaced.  On the pitching side, losing JA Happ and Brandon Morrow are hardly devastating.  The biggest loss is actually Marcus Stroman, who tore his ACL recently and will miss the season.

Most Important Hitter
Jose Reyes

The Blue Jays definitely have some pop in the middle of their lineup with Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and now Josh Donaldson.  The success of their offense will depend on if there is anyone on base for the heart of their lineup to drive in.  It is hard to believe Jose Reyes will be turning 32 this season.  He has been a solid lead-off hitter his entire career.  However, due to a myriad of injuries throughout his career, he has never emerged as one of the best in the game like everyone thought he would when he was a prospect for the Mets.  The Blue Jays, although they wouldn't complain, do not need Reyes to be the superstar.  They simply need him to be consistent and healthy.  In 2014, he played 143 games, hit .287, and stole 30 bases.  In 2013, he was limited to just 93 games.  He seems to miss significant time about every other year.  Toronto needs that trend to break.

Most Important Pitcher
Brett Cecil

If last year taught us anything, it taught us that a bullpen can make or break a team.  There is no way the Kansas City Royals make the World Series without the best bullpen in baseball.  This is partially why it was so surprising the Blue Jays make no moves to better their bullpen this offseason.  Last year's closer, Casey Janssen, has moved on, and wasn't that successful for them to begin with.  Instead of going out and finding a closer, the Blue Jays have decided to go with what they have, promoting Brett Cecil to the position.  For this season to be successful, they have to have consistency in the 9th inning.  Cecil is the guy that will start the year as the closer.  If he ends the year as the closer, the Blue Jays made the right move by not making a move.

Player to Watch
Daniel Norris

With the injury to Marcus Stroman, there is a hole in a rotation that wasn't elite to begin with.  That hole might be filled by top prospect Daniel Norris.  Known more right now for living in his van throughout the offseason, Norris is actually the Blue Jays top prospect and ranked #18 on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects in baseball.  Given the opportunity, he may prove this year why he is so highly thought of.

1st in AL East, lose in ALDS
(Sorry, I couldn't go an article about the Blue Jays without mentioning Munenori Kawasaki.)

For being one of the most competitive divisions in baseball, the AL East might be leading the spring in question marks.  Will the Red Sox bounce back?  Can the Orioles repeat without replacing what they lost?  Do the aging Yankees have another run in them?  Can the Rays still be competitive without Joe Maddon?  The Blue Jays may have the fewest question marks entering the season.  They have no problem scoring runs, which is rare in today's game.  They have adequate pitching.  It is time for them to end their postseason drought.  They will not make it far (like I said, pitching wins in the playoffs), but they will revitalize a fan base that has been yearning for winner for over 20 years.

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