Feb 28, 2013; Tampa, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays shortstop Jose Reyes (7) waits to bat against the New York Yankees during the top of the first inning of a spring training game at George Steinbrenner Field. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Toronto Blue Jays Open 2013 as Top Birds in the AL East

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The Toronto Blue Jays went from perennial fourth place finisher to front runner with two bold trades by GM Alex Anthopoulos this offseason. The Blue Jays acquired a superstar infielder and three solid starting pitchers while parting with a number of promising young players in the deals. The additions, added to an already formidable lineup, make the Jays an early American League favorite.

In November Toronto and the Miami Marlins completed a 12 player trade that brought Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Emilio Bonifacio to the Rogers Centre in exchange for shortstop Yunel Escobar and highly regarded prospects Adeiny Hechavarria and Jake Marisnick.

Reyes is a unique offensive weapon who combines a lifetime stat line of .291 BA/.347 OBP/.433 SLG with the ability to steal 50 bases. He is also a gold glove caliber defender at a premium defensive position. Manager John Gibbons sums up the complete nature of his game.

Once he gets on, you can’t stop him really. He’s got game-changing speed. And look at his defense, man. He can go get them with anybody and the arm he’s got.

Reyes is still in his prime and is under Toronto’s control through 2017.

Starting pitcher Josh Johnson is an enigma. If Johnson is healthy, he is one of the top pitchers in baseball with a lifetime 3.15 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. However Johnson has missed extensive time in the past with a number of injuries. Last year he did manage to pitch 191.1 innings with a 3.81 ERA.

Mark Buehrle is a master of consistency, a perfect number three or four starter. He has pitched at least 200 innings every season since 2001 with numbers that are usually consistent with his lifetime ratios of 3.82 ERA/1.27 WHIP.

Anthopoulos wasn’t finished, in December he acquired the reigning NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey from the New York Mets. The price to get Dickey was steep as the Jays had to part with their top two prospects Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard.

The rags to riches story of the mountain climbing knuckleballer Dickey is one of the best stories in baseball. A former first round pick who transformed his career with the floater, Dickey led the NL with 230 strikeouts while posting a 20-6 record with a 2.73 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. Not a one year wonder, Dickey has been impressive since his 2010 Mets debut.

Anthopoulos took a 2 year $16 million chance on outfielder Melky Cabrera. Cabrera was on his way to the NL batting crown and possible MVP consideration when his PED suspension was announced in August. Is the “Melk Man” closer to his pre-2011 numbers or is he the .850 OPS All-Star he has been since the 2011 season? Cabrera is slated to start in LF for Toronto.

Middle infielder Maicer Izturis was signed to a $10 million 3 year deal to form a  gold glove caliber double play combination with Jose Reyes. His main competition for playing time will come from fellow utilityman Bonifacio.

The presence of new leadoff man Reyes plus the established offensive cornerstones of Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion give the Toronto Blue Jays one of the top lineups in the American League. Center fielder Colby Rasmus hit 23 HR in 2012 but will have to battle speedsters Rajai Davis and Anthony Gose for playing time. Third baseman Brett Lawrie and catcher J.P. Arencibia are underrated offensive contributors in the lower part of the order.

The rotation led by Dickey and Johnson has the potential to be elite, if Johnson can remain healthy. The Achilles heel of the Blue Jays could be their bullpen. Casey Janssen will serve as the closer and the ageless lefty Darren Oliver will need to play a major role.

Anthopoulos has given the Toronto Blue Jays a realistic shot at winning the AL East. The additions of Reyes and Dickey make them the favorite in baseball’s most competitive division and they should be viewed as a legitimate World Series threat.

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