With the Blue Jays Opening Day roster now set its time to look a little more in-depth at their strengths and weaknesses heading into the start of the 2014 season.
Starting Lineup – Grade A : The starting lineup overall is pretty solid, nearly every spot has an above average MLB contributor with the exception of 2B and maybe C. The combination of Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion makes up one of the toughest top of the lineups around and most of the lineup is filled with power threats along the way. If healthy this lineup will be a top run producer in the AL and is competitive against its AL East counterparts. Health has been an issue for this team which leads to one of its weaknesses with most players seeing the DL in 2013.
Bench – Grade C- : Maicer Izturis is coming off a terrible 2013 and should see some improvement, he is a decent backup if he plays to his past performance. Moises Sierra is a decent offensive option but is still unproven, he also has terrible base running instincts and is prone to mental mistakes but does have a cannon of an arm. Josh Thole only gets the job to be R.A Dickey’s personal catcher, if not for that he is not on the team. With Dioner Navarro expected to make a major jump from part-time player to full-time catcher you would hope for a solid backup option and Thole might not be up to the task offensively. Overall the bench is a weakness that can not support a major injury loss, depth in the minors is also not encouraging should a regular be off for an extended period.
Starting Pitching – Grade B: This rotation actually has some great potential if it can stay healthy. Brandon Morrow & Dustin McGowan are big injury risks and Drew Hutchison is returning from Tommy John. If intact the starting 5 is very competitive and gives a nice mix of power/crafty pitchers. R.A. Dickey & Mark Buehrle should provide 200 innings of respectable results while the remaining 3 all have high upside. Morrow has been considered one of the best arms in the AL when healthy and McGowan has always been praised for his outstanding “stuff”. It does have some question marks with health/durability but the Blue Jays do have some depth when the need arrives with J.A Happ recovering on the DL, Esmil Rogers & Todd Redmond in the pen and several depth options in Chad Jenkins, Marcus Storman, Sean Nolan, Aaron Sanchez and Kyle Drabek in the minors.
Bullpen – Grade A-: The Blue Jays had a fantastic bullpen in 2013 and it is mostly unchanged for 2014. If it gets reduced to a 7 man pen you are looking at 5-6 very solid options. Jeremy Jeffress while possessing an amazing arm is inconsistent and Rogers/Redmond also have question marks. The remain 5 guys Casey Janssen, Brett Cecil, Sergio Santos, Aaron Loup and Steve Delabar are a solid pen capable of taking most of the high leverage work. Overall its a good group.
Defense – Grade B-: In 2013 defense was an issue for the Blue Jays but 2014 looks to be much improved. Melky Cabrera is tumour less, J.P. Arencibia is gone, Ryan Goins is miles above Maicer Izturiz & Emilio Bonifacio defensively and Jose Reyes & Brett Lawrie look healthy which should tighten up the overall defense. It’s not a grade A defense but it should be much improved and there are no major liabilities unless Cabrera still has no range post tumour removal. However if you do look at the bench it yet again is a sore spot not offering much in defensive help.
Overall – Grade – B: The Blue Jays are a tough team to read, they were expected to be a World Series contending team in 2013 but finished in 5th place in the AL East due to injuries and several key players having disappointing seasons. The AL East is looking to be very tough yet again setting the stage for a tough 2014 for the Blue Jays. If healthy the Blue Jays have a good shot at being competitive but their margin of error is slim with few solid backups to step in when needed.
Players that could emerge/improve:
Drew Hutchison – Hutchison had an outstanding spring and appears to be healthy and ready to be a major contributor in the starting rotation. Remember that he is only 23 years old and could be a fixture in the rotation for years to come.
Dustin McGowan – It is a miracle that McGowan is able to still pitch and hit upwards of 95 MPH with his fastball after years of injury and countless surgeries. Its a fairytale story that could be a huge lift for the Blue Jays.
Melky Cabrera – As I mentioned previously Melky had a tumour removed from his spine at the end of last season which was believed to be the cause of his sluggish running and powerless batting line. He tore it up this spring and would be a huge lift near the top of the batting order along with Reyes setting the stage for Bautista and Encarnacion.
Players who could regress:
Dioner Navarro – Last year Navarro had an exceptional season with the cubs as a part-time player but in 2014 he will be playing full time. It would be hard to image he puts up another 132 OPS+ season which is 50 points ahead of his 82 OPS+ career average.
R.A. Dickey – Dickey was not even the Ace Toronto expected in 2013 but his success relies on his knuckleball and it just hasn’t been that great. If Dickey can not find the velocity of his hard knuckler and maintain some control of his pitch we could see another subpar season.
Colby Rasmus – All told 2013 was actually a solid year for Rasmus as he came into his own in 2013. He accumulated 4.6 WAR with a combination of offensive and defensive production. In a walk year Rasmus will hope to have another great year to land a huge contract but that might be difficult.