With Spring Training drawing to a close and opening day growing ever near, I thought it was high time I take a look at some of the questions the Jays face after an offseason unlike any Blue Jays fans have ever seen. Everyone knows the story. 2012 was a season that started with high expectations and a lot of hope, but was one that ended with a dizzying amount of injuries, poor performances, unmet expectations, and the worst win/loss record since 2004. While many Blue Jays fans expected an offseason that focused on improvements, none could anticipate what lie ahead.
While most fans believed we still had the core to field a team that could bring post-season baseball back to Toronto, many expected the Jays to continue to build the team as they had been since AA took over as GM, but Alex Anthopoulos took things to a whole new level acquiring Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, and Emilio Bonifacio from the Marlins in a trade that still makes me smile as I write this. Already heralded as THE move of the offseason, and a successful offseason at that, AA wasted no time and quickly inked Melky Cabrera to the offseason’s most controversial deal and then really got people talking when he went out and acquired the NL Cy Young winner in RA Dickey and just like that, the Blue Jays became the easy favorite to win the 2013 World Series. Vegas odds-makers and baseball experts united in the belief that this was the Blue Jays year to not only make it to the World Series, but to win it all, and it’s easy to see why. No team in the MLB so clearly addressed their problems as the Jays did and still managed to keep their MLB level core intact.
I’m not going to sit here and boast about how things will look if everything goes right, because it’s easy to see. The team has the potential if all goes right to win more games than any Jays team in history and to win the World Series for the first time in 20 years. But what if it doesn’t all go right? How much can the Jays really endure and still be successful? I say this because with heightened expectations comes increased attention and scrutiny. Suddenly every misstep will put the Jays on doom’s doorstep, one injury to our rotation and all goes awry and suddenly the Jays enviable position as the favorite brings with it a whole new bag of worms.
This has become increasingly obvious to me as I listen to MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM Satellite Radio. I’ve been a subscriber for a while and one of the most glaring changes after the Jays offseason is how much additional coverage the Jays receive now. Before the Jays might be brought up once or twice a day, but now, it’s three or four times an hour! As a Jays fan, it’s been a delight or at least it was. Before anytime the Jays were mentioned, it was usually a Jays fan calling in, and starting an intelligent conversation about some aspect of the Jays roster or season, and then after the trade, it was all positive pie-in-the-sky excitement. But lately, things have become much different. It seems the Jays offseason has attracted the attention of every baseball fan, and many are hoping the Jays will fail. But with a roster like the one that Alex has assembled, how could that happen?
It seems their “concerns” shake down to three main things. Chemistry, Injuries, and Handling the Spotlight (pressure). So let’s look at them.
I think this is something most Blue Jays fans either breezed over or only briefly considered, because I know I didn’t give it a second thought. There are really two groups of players in the Jays clubhouse now, you have the Blue Jays from 2012, and the Marlins and where does Dickey fit in to all this? While most would believe the team would assimilate and become one unit, there is always the “new kid” situation. Of all the problems people could mention, I think this is one of the least significant. All you have to do is look at the World Baseball Classic, and you can see that the Jays will have no problem becoming one team.
JP Arencibia and RA Dickey worked well together for Team USA, and the eventual WBC Champions, Dominican Republic featured no less than 4 Blue Jays as Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnación, Melky Cabrera, and Esmil Rogers all would play for their home country. While many people believe locker room’s can be very clique-y and perhaps unwelcoming to some newcomers, baseball is still these people’s business. They are paid huge sums of money to be professional and to work as a solid unit toward a common goal, and I don’t see any problems with this team meshing under the leadership of John Gibbons.
Clearly this isn’t Jays specific, but the Blue Jays do have a nasty history with injuries, especially with how they decimated the roster in 2012. We are all aware that many of the Jays players, especially some of their latest additions, have a greater injury history than most. Josh Johnson and Jose Reyes are two of the most glaring cases having spent extended amounts of time over the last few seasons on the disabled list, but then there is also the question of how many of the players who spent a lot of time on the disabled list last year can come back. Guys like Brandon Morrow and Jose Bautista both have more question marks going into opening day this year than they did last year. I have a bit of a problem with people saying the Jays are going to fall apart like they will last year for a couple reasons.
Firstly, last year was an aberration. Most teams don’t have as many injuries across their whole organization in a year that the Jays had on just their MLB roster. So to expect a repeat of last year is illogical. Even with the additional players with injury history, to expect a collapse of last year’s degree is just not going to happen. Secondly, these players are professionals and have the best doctors and medical staff at their disposal. I don’t think I need to elaborate on all that because injuries still happen, but they happen to every team. The Jays will have injuries, there is no question, but so will every team. That is where the team’s depth comes into play. The Blue Jays have enviable depth in most positions, and have a bench/roster with players who can move around the field, so the Jays are better equipped this year to deal with the inevitability of injury.
Handling the Spotlight
This is mostly laughable, but I suppose there is something to it. One of the things the Jays roster as a whole lacks when stacked up against the rest of the AL, and specifically the AL East, is playoff experience. I think this is a team that when they start winning, they will win a lot. I think this is a team that will feed on momentum and will be very tough to keep down.
The Jays have more natural leaders this year than in the past, both in the rotation and in the lineup, and if things start to go sour, I believe the Jays have the talent and the ability to get back on track, especially with the leadership of the Jays veteran players and John Gibbons. The other part of this is that when the Jays do start winning, all of baseball will be on notice.
The Jays aren’t necessarily an underdog anymore, so missteps will be blown out of proportion and success will be treated as if it’s routine. I am sure most won’t be affected by this, but my gut tells me some of the younger players like Brett Lawrie and JP Arencibia might be. Both have a tendency to take things more personally than they need to, and I think if it happens on a grand enough scale, it could potentially affect their play. However, circling back to the veteran leadership the Blue Jays now possess, I think the possibility of this really affecting the success of the team is insignificant.
Spring Training continues to draw to a close, and opening day is almost here. I personally cannot wait. I’ve made my bets and April 2nd can’t come soon enough because damn, I #LoveThisTeam.