Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 2/20/13
A year ago, Toronto Blue Jays fans looked at the season ahead with optimism. Coming off of a .500 season in 2011, the expectation was that with its young talent and returning superstars, the Jays would continue to improve. They didn’t. Instead, Toronto finished eight games under .500 and only avoided a last-place finish in the AL East because the Red Sox managed their worst record since 1965. Despite the disappointing season, GM Alex Anthopoulos looked around at season’s end and decided the time had come to push all his chips to the middle of the table. Who can blame him?  The Yankees won the division last year but seem more vulnerable than they have in years, the Orioles felt like over-achievers with their Wild Card bid in 2012, and the Red Sox seem to be in rebuilding mode. The offseason has never been as exciting for Jays fans as it was this year.  In November, Toronto pulled off a huge trade with the Marlins to acquire Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, and Emilio Bonifacio.  They followed that performance by signing last year’s All-Star-turned-PED-laughing-stock Melky Cabrera and trading for NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey. Toronto’s prospect pool has been drained but for the first time in a long time, the Blue Jays have a legitimate shot at a first place finish in the AL East. 3 Up                                                                      Best Case Scenario for 2012 The Blue Jays have not returned to the playoffs since being World Series champs in 1993. As the team celebrates 20 years since that great season, fans may finally get to see the Jays return to the postseason.  A World Series appearance certainly seems possible given the offseason acquisitions and vastly improved rotation. Most Important Blue Jays Jose Bautista Jose Bautista is without question the heart of the team and the Jays’ biggest offensive threat even with Edwin Encarnacion’s career year in 2012.  Add to it that Bautista missed half of last season with a wrist injury and his return to 40 home run, 100 RBI form is critical but not guaranteed.  Early indications are that Bautista’s wrist is healed and he is swinging at full strength.  That’s good news for the Jays who desperately need his bat hitting behind Jose Reyes and whoever hits second (likely Lawrie, Cabrera or Bonifacio). R.A. Dickey is obviously a huge addition to the Jays rotation and is considered the ace going into the season. However, Josh Johnson might be more important to the ultimate success of this year’s team. Johnson is just 29 years old and it wasn’t too long ago he was considered one of the top pitchers in baseball.  An injury-shortened 2011 season and unspectacular 2012 have fans wondering if Johnson will regain his ace-level status, be a perennial injury concern, or simply be a mid-level starter going forward.  If he is able to regain some of his pre-2011 magic, Johnson will be the ace of this staff come playoff time. Potential Breakout Players Anthony Gose can no longer be considered a prospect since he had 166 at-bats last season but he’s still only 22 and will be on the short-list of call-ups if Colby Rasmus or Melky Cabrera struggle or if Jose Bautista suffers an injury.  Gose is a speedster and is strong defensively.  He has struggled with plate discipline in the minors but has made strides and should continue to progress.  The Jays are deep this year so Gose may not get much opportunity but if he does, this could be the year he starts to make a name for himself. Aaron Loup is a lefty that should win a spot in the Jays bullpen coming out of Spring Training.  Loup pitched in 33 games last season and posted a 2.64 ERA and 0.91 WHIP so he has proven that he can do it at the major league level.  He doesn’t have one knock-out pitch but his above-average slider, solid control, and deceptive motion should make him a reliable option against lefties and make him a mainstay in the Jays bullpen in 2013. 3 Down Worst Case Scenario With high expectations often comes disappointment.  What makes the Jays an exciting and predictable pick this season also feels eerily similar to the 2012 Florida Marlins and 2011 Boston Red Sox.  Toronto had the loudest offseason which could quickly make them the season’s biggest disappointment if they don’t get off to a fast start.  For teams in the AL East, the difference between a third-place finish and postseason berth is often one or two wins.  If playoffs or even the World Series is the best case scenario for this year’s team, a third place finish in the AL East is probably a realistic basement and would certainly disappoint Jays fans. Areas of Concern Ricky Romero Toronto’s bullpen struggles last season were largely the result of being overworked because of an underperforming starting rotation.  While the rest of the team saw a fairly large overhaul this offseason, the bullpen will consist primarily of familiar faces.  Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos, Brad Lincoln, Darren Oliver, and JA Happ will have prominent roles again with a fairly deep list of other options capable of rounding out the remaining spots.  Still, there are no sexy names on this list and if one or two of these guys fail to emerge as consistent or even dominant relievers, expect some wins to turn into losses in the later innings when John Gibbons struggles to find his go-to guy. Who Needs to Bounce Back From a Down 2012 Brett Lawrie followed a 2011 breakout campaign with a disappointing 2012 season.  The edgy, risk-taking, cocky third baseman is fun to watch when he’s hitting well and the team is winning.  Lawrie will quickly become the player everyone loves to hate if he gets off to a slow start in 2013. Ricky Romero entered 2012 as the Blue Jays undisputed ace and will enter 2013 as the fifth man in the rotation.  That has a lot to do with the acquisitions of Dickey, Johnson, and Buehrle but Romero’s 5.77 ERA, 1.67 WHIP and -1.7 WAR in 2012 didn’t help matters.  Hopefully Romero benefits from the new faces in the rotation taking much of the pressure off of his shoulders and is able to return to form this season. I’m not even sure Colby Rasmus fits here considering his down 2012 followed a down 2011 but suffice it to say, if Rasmus doesn’t get off to a solid start in 2013, Emilio Bonifacio, Anthony Gose, or Rajai Davis will be more than happy to fill in for him.  
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