2013 Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The Toronto Blue Jays.

The Big Question: The Blue Jays went for it this offseason. They gonna get it?

There’s every reason to think so. Look, normally I don’t look too kindly on assuming 20-win swings by any given team from year to year, but in 2013, in the AL East as currently constructed, and with all of the moves the Blue Jays made, I don’t think it’s irrational to think they can do it.

You don’t need me to recap the dramatic changes the Jays made this offseason, but I will anyway: They picked up Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Melky Cabrera and R.A. Dickey and gave up little if anything that would have helped the 2013 team. What’s more, they will be getting Jose Bautista back for a full season and can expect improvement from young players like Brett Lawrie and (maybe, because we’ve been saying this for years) Colby Rasmus. The rotation went from a flaming crater to a team strength and everyone else who was already there save Edwin Encarnacion can be expected to either be healthier or to improve. Most things went wrong for this team in 2012. It won’t take miracles for most things to improve. Even cautiously optimistic projections for this roster make them a strong, strong team. If some things break right, well, it’s a darn good team.

But the biggest reason why I think the Jays have a good shot at taking the AL East is that there simply is no alpha team in this division at the moment.  The Yankees are probably gonna be better than the current gloom-and-doom surrounding them would have you believe, but they are not the 2012 Yankees and, for the first month or two of the season before they get some injured players back, they may be way worse than that.  The Red Sox are in transition. The Rays lost James Shields and always operate on thin margins. The Orioles are no longer doormats, but they got an awful lot of good luck last year.

The Blue Jays can win this division because they got a lot better over the winter. But they can also win this division because no one else did, and because anyone can win this division. And anyone can probably finish fifth, with the spread between first place and fifth place being a relatively small number of games compared to the way these things usually go. Any person who tells you that they have some certainty about that to the contrary is full of it.

So what else is going on?

  • Not that there is reason for unbridled optimism. All of the additions contain some bit of risk. We probably saw the best R.A. Dickey will ever pitch last year. He’s 38. It’s possible that he found some new kung-fu that will help him be an elite pitcher well into his 40s, but it’s more likely that he takes a step back. Buehrle is still only 34, but he has a lot more mileage on the odometer than most 34 year-olds. Josh Johnson has been a mess of injuries for year. Rickey Romero is way better off being a back of the rotation risk than a front of the rotation risk but he’s been a hot mess this spring. On paper the Jays really turned that rotation over, but in practice there is risk here.
  • The back end of the bullpen is something of a question mark. Casey Janssen is just now getting game action in Dunedin thanks to collar bone surgery in the offseason and Sergio Santos’ 2012 season ended early due to shoulder surgery.  Darren Oliver is 146 years-old. Again, good on paper — I like Janssen a lot — but  it could go sideways in practice. Which doesn’t make it a liability. It’s an uncertainty, the kind of which goes to why one does not hand the Jays the AL East now.
  • Melky Cabrera has a lot to prove. He had two great seasons at an age when you can expect a player with promise to take a step forward, but then he tested positive for testosterone last year. Now everyone wants to forget that Cabrera had such promise when he broke in, claiming he was a marginal-at-best talent then and a PED-fueled fraud now. In the public relations arena Cabrera can’t win. If he hits again people will just claim he’s on PEDs and continue to believe he’s a fraud. If he falters, even a little, people will nod their heads in a self-satisfying fashion. Thing is, though, the public relations arena doesn’t matter. Cabrera could be the bargain pickup of the offseason if even approaches the production he provided in San Francisco and Kansas City.
  • John Gibbons is back. I always find it weird when a guy manages a team, leaves, and then comes back and manages the same team. The Blue Jays have done that twice now, with Cito Gaston and now Gibbons. If Gibbons screws up I predict either Jimmy Williams or Bobby Cox to return. And that’s just because Bobby Mattick and Roy Hartsfield are dead.

So how are they gonna do?

First place, American League East. Because fewer things have to break just right for that to happen to this bunch than for any other team in the division.

If 2020 season is cancelled, which teams would be hurt the most?

Mookie Betts
Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images
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MLB commissioner Rob Manfred recently expressed his optimistic outlook, saying that he hoped the league would begin “gearing back up” in May. That would put a regular season return potentially at the end of June or at some point in July. He expressed that the league may have to get creative, likely referring to ideas like playing doubleheaders, extending the season deep into fall, and playing some games at neutral parks in warm-weather areas.

Manfred isn’t the only one champing at the bit for a return to normalcy. President Trump recently said he wanted to “open” the economy back up by Easter, meaning that our social isolation plan could be done in two weeks. And, frankly, I’m sure many of us are starting to become a little stir-crazy as we attempt to flatten the curve.

It’s hard to imagine life returning to normal when Coronavirus (COVID-19) is really starting to spread in the United States. It would be ill-advised for us to go back to business as usual. This is a time when we need to put other interests ahead of business interests. Frankly, there’s a very real possibility that there is no MLB season in 2020. Or, at the very least, there may be a point when Manfred has to choose between starting a season or protecting the health of the players and coaches, journalists, fans, and all of the many people that would interact with them and potentially become vectors for the virus.

In the event the 2020 season is cancelled, which teams stand to lose the most? Let’s take a look at some contenders.

Los Angeles Dodgers

The most obvious of the bunch. The club swung a deal with the Red Sox a month and a half ago to acquire the 2018 AL MVP along with David Price in exchange for Alex Verdugo, Connor Wong, and Jeter Downs. Betts was a huge upgrade to an already potent Dodger roster, one which won 106 games during the regular season last year.

Betts, however, is a free agent after the 2020 season. MLB owners and the MLBPA reached an agreement last week stating that, if there is no season, players would still get credit for a full year of service time. If the season is canceled, the Dodgers very well may have given up three good young players and taken on a lot of salary for basically nothing. They’ll get to keep Price, who is under contract for two more years after this, but that’s no consolation.

The Dodgers also have some other important players potentially hitting free agency after the 2020 season: Justin Turner, Kiké Hernández, Joc Pederson, and Pedro Báez.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds had a better 2019 campaign than their 75-87 record indicated. They finished in fifth place from 2015-18 before last year’s fourth place finish. The club acquired Sonny Gray from the Yankees before the season and picked up Trevor Bauer from the Indians at the trade deadline. Eugenio Suárez, Aristides Aquino, and Michael Lorenzen were among a handful of players who shone brightly as well.

As a result of a roster on the come-up, the Reds bolstered the roster even more, picking up free agents Nick Castellanos and Mike Moustakas. The Reds signed both players to four-year deals, so they will still be around when baseball eventually resumes, even if it’s next year, but Moustakas will be 32 and Castellanos will be 29. It’s a pretty big deal to miss 25 percent of their contracts in what are, on average, the seasons likeliest to be their best.

Bauer, by the way, can become a free agent after the season. That’s a pretty big deal, too.

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies were supposed to be competitive last year, but they fell a bit flat, finishing exactly at .500 with an 81-81 record. GM Matt Klentak continued to bolster the roster a year after inking Bryce Harper to what was then the richest contract in baseball history (13 years, $330 million). This past offseason, he signed Zack Wheeler to a five-year, $118 million deal. They also added Didi Gregorius on a one-year deal.

This is a team meant to be an NL East contender in 2020, to finally reach the postseason which it hasn’t done since 2011. If the season is cancelled, that’s one very valuable year out of its window completely gone. That is even more the case upon realizing that catcher J.T. Realmuto, arguably the best player at his position in baseball right now, is a free agent going into 2021. The two sides have discussed a contract extension, but that was tabled as of two weeks ago.

The Phillies haven’t had stability at the catcher position since Carlos Ruiz in the early- to mid-2010’s. They do have some catchers among their top-30 prospects, according to MLB Pipeline, in Deivy Grullon, Rafael Marchan, and Rodolfo Duran, but none of them are J.T. Realmuto. Realmuto is a guy you want to keep around if possible, especially considering the scarcity of his caliber of talent at that position.

. . .

This is a partial list, so this is not to say that teams omitted would not suffer at all from a lost season. You can see the factors that determine whether or not a team has a lot at stake this year: splashy trades, free agent signings, stars potentially becoming free agents after the season, etc.

In general, every team would be devastated by a lost season not just due to the lost development time or the loss of an attempt to win a championship, but because of lost revenues. This is going to have a ripple effect through the baseball economy. Teams will likely become less active in the free agent market, to name one of many potential effects.