The Blue Jays, the designated bridesmaid of the AL East, almost got Yu Darvish. Their bid ended up falling just behind the Texas Rangers. They are coming off a thoroughly average 81-win campaign with a young, promising team, while the Yankees and Red Sox haven’t made significant upgrades this season. Is this their year?
Since the summer, the Blue Jays have made some pretty significant moves. They brought in Colby Rasmus, Ben Francisco and Kelly Johnson via trade. They have lost backup catcher Jose Molina. Brett Lawrie, acquired in the Shaun Marcum trade, hit .413 wOBP after being called up last year, and will hold down 3rd base in 2011.
They’re going to have to deal with some potential regression from their best hitter. Jose Batista provided 8.3 WAR last season. That’s probably not going to happen again. However, the news is brighter for them with their other hitters, as the duo of Travis Snider and Adam Lind were pretty terrible last season, but have big-time hitting potential. The Jays scored the 5th most runs (743) in baseball last year, and they at least have the talent to score even more in 2012. Kelly Johnson and Brett Lawrie are pretty big upgrades at their respective positions, and a Francisco/Snider platoon has a lot of potential too. Colby Rasmus has big time breakout potential too.
As far as pitching, Darvish would have looked pretty good alongside Brendan Morrow and Ricky Romero. As far as a top-3. that’s a solid rotation. Without Darvish, they will need to fill the back end of their rotation with uncertain, if talented, pitchers like Brett Cecil and Dustin McGowen. Their bullpen got gutted too. Pitching won’t be the vehicle that carries them to the playoffs, but regression alone should help them improve their terrible 4.33 team ERA in 2011.
The Jays demonstrated with Darvish that they have money to spend. Obviously, pitching is a major priority for them. With a weak free agent market for pitching right now, they could end up turning to hitters. Carlos Beltran would be an improvement over Edwin Encanarcion at designated hitter, and they’ve been connected to him recently. Prince Fielder is an intriguing option that I wouldn’t want to see in the AL East. A hitter like that and someone like Edwin Jackson could make the Blue Jays pretty intimidating.
Overall, I think I’m pretty confident saying the following: while not probable, a playoff push by the Blue Jays is highly plausible next season, especially with the second wildcard. The Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays aren’t going anywhere, but the Blue Jays certainly have gotten better since the trade deadline last season. They are a young team. They managed to buy low on a lot of very talented players, including Colby Rasmus, who could be major contributors in 2012. And, to top it all off, they have the best hitter in the division patrolling right field. They’ll need a lot of things to get right for them – one of Rasmus, Lind, or Snider to have a big year, another free agent acquisition, and better pitching from the bottom of their rotation. They’ll need Yunel Escobar and Jose Batista to keep being awesome.