Wait ‘Til Next Year: Toronto Blue Jays
While so much of our day-to-day attention in this space is devoted to the teams still battling for playoff spots, we feel as though it’s only fitting to acknowledge the teams that have been mathematically eliminated from contention, giving them a brief sendoff that should suffice until Hot Stove season. Thus, the Wait ‘Til Next Year series.
Current record: 69-81 (.460, fifth place in AL East)
Mathematically eliminated: Sept. 17
What went right in 2013:
Before being shut down for season-ending wrist surgery in mid-September, Edwin Encarnacion came very close to repeating his career year from 2012. He hit .272/.370/.534 with 36 home runs (third in the majors) and 104 RBIs (fourth in the majors), ranking sixth in the American League and 10th in the majors in OPS+ and made his first All-Star team. Adam Lind posted a career high walk rate and hit for more power than in any season since 2009. Colby Rasmus has had his best season since 2010 and established career highs for batting average and slugging percentage.
The bullpen posted the fifth-best relief ERA in the AL despite Toronto’s hitting-friendly home ballpark and sent two set-up men, lefty Brett Cecil, who pitched exclusively in relief for the first time in his career, and late-blooming righty Steve Delabar, to the All-Star Game.
What went wrong in 2013:
Nearly all of their big-splash acquisitions from the winter were a bust. Josh Johnson was healthy enough to make just 16 starts in which he went 2-8 with a 6.20 ERA. Jose Reyes sprained his ankle on April 12 and missed 66 games, while the man he replaced, Yunel Escobar, rebounded from his poor 2012 season to help put the division-rival Rays in the wild-card mix. Mark Buehlre posted a 4.89 ERA in the first half, though he has been far better in the second half. R.A. Dickey’s season followed a similar pattern: 5.15 ERA in his first 16 starts, 3.36 in his last 16. The result for both pitchers has been a league-average overall performance. That wasn’t unexpected from Buehrle, but the Blue Jays paid for an ace when they traded elite prospects Travis d’Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard to the Mets for the 38-year-old Dickey, last year’s NL Cy Young winner. That trade looks bad now and could look worse by the end of Dickey’s contract in 2015.
Melky Cabrera, in the wake of his performance-enhancing drug suspension, looked a lot like the player the Braves released in October 2010 and had surgery to remove a benign tumor from his spine in September. Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio contributed heavily to the fact that the Blue Jays’ second basemen have hit just .214/.260/.289 on the season. Bonifacio didn’t provide much value until after he was traded to Kansas City in mid-August.
Among the incumbents, Rickey Romero not only failed to bounce back from his disastrous 2012 season, he failed to make the team out of camp, allowed six runs in 4 1/3 innings across two early-May starts, and was ultimately outrighted off the 40-man roster entirely (though he returned to the majors in a relief role when rosters expanded). Brandon Morrow posted a 5.63 ERA in 10 starts before a nerve issue in his pitching elbow effectively ended his season. Brett Lawrie missed 54 games due to a pair of injuries. Jose Bautista again suffered a season-ending injury, being shut down on Aug. 20 with a bone bruise in his left hip. Sergio Santos was shut down just a day after Reyes’ injury in April with a triceps injury that kept him shelved until August and elbow problems ended Cecil’s season in September.
Catcher J.P Arencibia stayed healthy and has thus far posted a .236 on-base percentage, the fifth-worst mark by a hitter with at least 450 plate appearances in the live-ball era, and was the primary reason that the Blue Jays’ backstops have hit .194/.238/.351.
With everyone mentioned above except Johnson (who is sure to depart via free agency), Lind and Ortiz under contract or team control for 2014, the Blue Jays don’t have much recourse but to hope for better outcomes from the same basic group. Being able to replace Johnson should help in that regard, but given the hyper-competitive AL East, there’s little reason to expect a radically different result next year.