Not one new face -- how can we hope for anything different
One of the biggest off-season failures for Alex Anthopolous was his complete inability to replace Josh Johnson with someone who would put some serenity back into the rotation, instead electing to go with the (lack of) talent already existing on the team.
While the 'pen is seemingly loaded with talent, the starting rotation seems completely iffy, at best, with big question marks around Brandon Morrow, Drew Hutchinson, and Dustin McGowan. Meanwhile, RA Dickey's knuckler will continue to be inconsistently baffling while Mark Buehrle will be his usual #3 innings eater self.
It is this lack of a starting rotation featuring no true "ace", a decent #3, the potential of greatness never realized, and two number five starters, both of which are injury prone, will do in the Jays. Its insurance policy, once again, is the relief core, who I predict will be overtaxed and overburdened by short starts combined with Gibbons propensity to pull pitchers from games way too early.
And it will cost the Jays the season, and the only person you can fault for that is Alex. If last year wasn't going to be the year for the Jays to make the playoffs, this year is. Next year is the last year of the core of the team to be together, and they are not getting younger.
As Paul Beeston promised to its season ticket holders in 2012, "In the next five years, I would expect that we would be in it two to three times," Beeston said.
The problem is that it will take a miracle for this rotation to hold up this year.
RA Dickey (14-13, 224.2 IP, 4.21 ERA, 1.217 WHIP in 2013) needs to have a much better year as the ace of this club. And with a knuckler, it is really difficult to know if this year will be any better than last. The Home Run was his enemy, 23 of 35 of them at Rogers Centre, and this is what truly killed him. With the WHIP being the same as they were during his 2012 year, it is the home run at home (that should be routine fly balls) that is hurting him. We will see if he makes an adjustment, but how do you adjust a knuckleball?
Mark Buehrle (12-10, 203.2 IP, 4.15 ERA, 1.315 WHIP in 2013) was consistent. There was fear that the AL East opponents would hurt him coming over from the NL, and that fear was realized. In 16 starts against the AL east, he went 2-8 with a 5.42 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP. This number must improve if the Jays wish to compete. Against the rest, he went 10-2 with a 3.56 ERA and a WHIP of 1.25 -- very different numbers indeed.
Brandon Morrow (2-3, 54.1 IP, 5.63 ERA, injured in 2013) is one question mark for this team. After being sidelined last year by a entrapped radial nerve, his spring didn't look all that well either until his appearance against the Mets in Montreal. We all remember his potential with his incredible one hitter on August 8, 2010 when he threw 137 pitches. And we know this guy has incredible stuff. From last year and the year before, I also see that he is a very smart pitcher, using different pitches to get outs especially when he knows that one of his pitches isn't working. And that's what I love about Brandon Morrow. I actually think that if he remains healthy, that he will have an incredible year. Just remember 2012, when, before his left oblique strain in early June, he had pitched three shutouts in 10 starts. He is more than capable.
Drew Hutchison (no action in 2013) is another question mark for the Jays. In 2012, before his Tommy John surgery, he featured #5 starter skills, going 5-3 with a 4.60 ERA. He has had a standout spring but he cannot possibly throw a full season as a SP. Still, I see some beginner's luck for Drew and a decent first half before his arm wears and the league figures him out. I expect that JA Happ or another AAA person will replace him around the all-star break.
Dustin McGowan (no meaningful action in 2013) is the final question mark for the Jays. The question mark is "why is he starting? With 4 innings of work in spring training and a maximum of 32 pitches pitched in an outing last year? For the Jays, it's a sentimental outing, a welcome back. Given the failures of Happ, Drabek, Romero, Stroman, and Rogers, I think this might be McGowan's ONLY start. Despite the obvious sentimental heartstrings being pulled, is it the best baseball move for the Jays? No. I predict Dusty to be relegated back to the 'pen (or to Buffalo) after two-three starts with a promotion from one of the Bison crews.
Casey Janssen -- the closer. Janssen is not a hard thrower, but he's crafty and will continue to be the team's very capable closer. Going 34 for 36 in saves, he established himself as the closer in 2012 and will continue to shine.
Brett Cecil, with last year's all-star appearance completed his transformation from starter to reliever is complete. This lefty dumfounds lefties while right-handers tend to get big hits against him but he is still effective. Brett will be used later in games against left-handed batters and will be particularly effective in games when right-handers are starting and the starting lineups of the opposition are filled with left handed bats.
Steve Delabar, now in his third year with the Jays, is a capable right handed reliever with very nasty stuff.
Jeremy Jeffress has a 100mph fastball and only remains on the roster because he it out of options. Expect to see him in Jays where the Jays are not competing in a game (win or lose) or as a situational hitter against a right hand threat.
Aaron Loup -- the wiley left-hander and his eclectic side-arm delivery continues to throw off hitters and with his 2.45 ERA last year, he will be an important part of a bridge between the starters and the closers and the relievers or when the team is down.
Todd Redmond -- (long relief / spot starter) will likely be the #5 starter after the home opener. He started 14 games last year with 77 IP and a 4.32 ERA and did not have a terrible spring to demote him to long relief. The only reason I think Todd is not the #5 starter is because of the sentimentality of McGowan.
Esmil Rogers -- (long relief / spot starter) did not earn a starting role this spring with terrible performance. He will start in the bullpen and may return back to a starter role replacing either Dustin McGowan or Drew Hutchinson as a mid-season starter.
Sergio Santos is to be Casey's setup man with an impressive repertoire and the ability to strike out players.
The outliersLook for JA Happ's return in mid-season. Kyle Drabek and Rickey Romero will need to have a string of excellent games in AAA to be promoted, and only in case of injuries to one or more of the starters. I expect Romero's return to be slow and will need to prove himself over a string of starts in Buffalo.
Chad Jenkins, Neil Wagner, Deck McGuire, and Sean Nolin are all relievers who right now are on the outside looking in. With the relief core being as strong as they are, I don't see them advancing to the majors unless there's many injuries.