I hate to paraphrase bad 1980′s television, but to quote the theme song from one particular show, “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life.”
Well, the facts of life were awfully brutal to the Toronto Blue Jays in 2012.
The Toronto Blue Jays were always touted as that team that was in the wrong division, handicapped by having to constantly overcome the free-spending Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, not to mention the operationally smart Tampa Bay Rays. 2012 was meant to be different. The great and powerful Bud Selig had seen to that, implementing a second wild card for each league, opening the door for the possibility of three teams from one division qualifying for the postseason. All the Blue Jays had to do was put the pieces together on the field and everything would work itself out.
Sounds like a simple formula right?
Things started inauspiciously enough for Toronto, as they raced to a 12-11 record in April. However, the first seeds of impending doom were planted before the month would end. The one major offseason acquisition, closer Sergio Santos, was placed on the disabled list on April 21, 2012 with a shoulder injury. Santos had appeared in just six games for the Blue Jays, blowing two saves. Additionally, slugger Jose Bautista had a horrendous month, hitting just .181 with 3 home runs, 10 RBI, and a .634 OPS in the opening month of the season.
Despite the loss of their closer and Bautista’s continued struggles, Toronto managed to enjoy another winning month, sporting a 15-13 record in May and staying within ear shot of a playoff spot. They would start May similiarly, going 7-5 through the first twelve days of the month. However, things would start to spiral out of control on that twelfth day, when starter Brandon Morrow would leave the game early and be placed on the 15-day disabled list with an oblique strain. The next day, starter Kyle Drabek is pulled from his start after feeling a pop in his elbow. Drabek would require season-ending Tommy John surgery, the second of his career, to repair his elbow and is likely out until late 2013. Just to make matters worse, on June 16th rookie starer Drew Hutchison lasted just nine pitches against the Philadelphia Phillies before leaving the game, also finding himself at the mercy of Dr. James Andrews and the aforementioned Tommy John. In four days, three-fifths of the starting rotation is lost to the disabled list. The SS Blue Jays had officially run aground.
July did not get much better. On July 8th, the Blue Jays lost left-handed specialist Luis Perez to another bout of Tommy John surgery. To make matters even worse, what seemed like a minor wrist injury for team leader Jose Bautista resulted in the slugger going to the disabled list and never coming back. He would have season-ending surgery in September to fully correct the issue for 2013.
In the months that followed, Brett Lawrie, Jason Frasor, J.P. Arencibia, J.A. Happ, and David Cooper would all take a tour of duty on the disabled list. Overall, only the Boston Red Sox lost more days to the disabled list than the Toronto Blue Jays. Still, the injuries took their toll on the team, as Toronto struggled to a fourth place finish in the American League East with a 73-89 record.
But while the news seems all bad, a few bright spots did wash up throughout the year.
First and foremost, first baseman/designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion finally evolved into a legitimate slugger. For the season, Encarnacion would must a stellar campaign with a .280 batting line, 42 home runs, 110 RBI, .941 OPS, and a 4.4 WAR. The player that was once given his outright walking papers was then inked to a three-year extension by the club, with Toronto hoping that Encarnacion can follow in the steps of Bautista as a late bloomer.
Another major bright spot was the emergence of Casey Janssen. With Santos out for the year and Francisco Cordero washing out before being jettisoned to Houston, Janssen became the club’s closer, saving 22 games in 25 opportunities. Even with a healthy Santos in play, Janssen will likely enter spring training as the anointed closer. Janssen had some solid help in the bullpen as well, with Darren Oliver, Aaron Loup, and Brandon Lyon all contributing solid overall seasons.
The rotation was another story altogether. The losses of Drabek and Hutchison for the season we tough to deal with, but with the struggles of ace Ricky Romero weighing on the team, it made it worse. Romero would at one point lose 13 consecutive decisions, finishing the season with a 9-14 record, a 5.77 ERA, and a FIP of 5.14. The rotations struggles were so vast, that the only pitcher to register 10 wins on the season was Morrow, who returned in August and actually took a major step forward in 2012 despite the time on the DL.
For this team to be competitive in 2013, a few things need to happen.
First, they need to get healthy. Yes, Drabek and Hutchison cannot be counted on to contribute much next season, but a full year of Morrow, the return of Santos to add another weapon to the bullpen, and the return of their best hitter, Bautista, will answer a lot of questions.
Secondly, this team needs an ace. Even if Romero bounces back and gets back to form, he has proven that he is not cut out to be the staff stopper. Whether the Blue Jays change form and aggressively pursue Zack Greinke or pull off a trade for a Matt Garza or Josh Johnson, Toronto needs to add a top of the rotation starter. After failing to snatch Yu Darvish last season and with the fan base growing restless to see this team spend some money, this is the chance for Alex Anthopoulos and Paul Beeston to show that they are interested in winning now, and not just developing for a future that never seems to come.
Third, Toronto needs to add a second baseman and a left fielder, but this option needs to be done on the cheaper side so as to not prevent the Blue Jays from filling their obvious pitching needs. Guys like Marco Scutaro, Melky Cabrera, Jeff Keppinger, et al could all figure prominently in Toronto’s search for these roles. There will not be a Josh Hamilton sighting in Toronto in 2013.
Finally, the Blue Jays need to make some tough decisions on prospects. Travis d’Arnaud is poised to take over from Arencibia at some point in 2013, Anthony Gose could figure into the left field situation if Toronto decides to keep things in house, and Adeiny Hechavarria showed that he may have a future in the big leagues. Outside of those three, the remainder of the Blue Jays top prospects are years away, especially at the pace Anthopoulos is allowing them to proceed. Noah Syndegaard, Justin Nicolino, Daniel Norris, Deck McGuire, and Aaron Sanchez will all serve some role to the Blue Jays, but Toronto has to determine which one(s) are destined to be aces and which ones are destined to be trade bait.
2013 will be an important season for Toronto and its fan base. The Blue Jays want to build from within, but it is taking decidedly longer than anticipated and wearing thin on the fans, who have been hearing about how good the system is, but with little to show at the highest level.
2013 may very well be put up or shut up time for the Blue Jays, or fans could revolt.