10 Key Questions As Spring Training Nears

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Believe it or not, the 2013 baseball season is nearly upon us.  Pitchers and catchers report to Dunedin to open the Blue Jays Spring camp in a mere 13 days, with the first Spring training game set for February 23.  We are under a month away!

While the Jays appear to be done after a very busy offseason of wheeling and dealing, it doesn’t mean that they’ll arrive at camp without questions.  Here is a list of 10 key questions facing the team heading into 2013.

1. How will Jose Bautista fare after his wrist injury?

The two-time defending HR King once again found himself at the top of the leaderboard last season.  He had  27 HR when he went down with a wrist injury in Yankee Stadium on July 16th, and aside from a brief two game return in August, never played again.  The biggest fear with wrist injuries is that they have a tendency to diminish a player’s power.  This is especially daunting for Joey Bats, as a) he is Toronto’s biggest offensive threat, and b)he possesses an especially violent and ferocious swing.  The good news is that many players miss a few months and then return with limited power.  Bautista, other than the aforementioned two game return,will have had 8 1/2 months of rest by Opening Day.  Let’s hope that’s enough.

2. How well will R.A. Dickey and Josh Johnson adjust to the AL East?

Sports Illustrated answered this question from a fantasy perspective earlier this week about Dickey, and I tend to agree with them – Dickey should be just fine.  Though the Rogers Centre and the other AL East ballparks are a little more hitter friendly than both the Mets and Marlins home stadiums, the AL East is no longer the big, bad division it used to be.  It used to feature two giants, but with the decline of Boston and New York, it now features five decent to good teams.  One might even argue that the NL East, with Washington, Atlanta, and Philadelphia (and also where Johnson and Dickey pitched last year) is better.  I don’t think the adjustment will be as difficult as many think.

3. Can Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson, and Brandon Morrow stay healthy?

Reyes, who missed 126 games in 2009, 29 games in 2010, and 36 games in 2011 before a healthy 2012, now brings his tender hamstrings to turf.   Johnson missed most of 2011, and Morrow has been oft-injured his whole career.  If the two pitchers can combine for 60+ starts and Reyes plays over 150 games, the Jays could find themselves near the top of the East.  Anything less than that?  There could be issues.

4. Who plays second base?

Maicer Izturis, signed by Toronto as a free agent on November 8th, played 29 games at 2B with the Angels last year, posting a +3 Total Zone rating as per Baseball Reference.  Emilio Bonifacio, acquired in the Marlins trade, started 14 games at 2B last year, posting a 0 Total Zone rating.  However, Bonifacio’s speed and versatility (since 2010 he has played 2B, SS, 3B, LF, RF, CF) make him an ideal bench player.  I expect both to play a significant number of games at second, but the edge should go to Izturis.

5. Who is Colby Rasmus?

Is he the player that was rated the third best prospect in baseball in 2009 and posted an .859 OPS with 23 HR in 2010?  Or is he the player that hit .225 with a .688 OPS and found himself shipped out of St. Louis?  Is he the guy who slugged 17 bombs in the first half for Toronto last year, or the guy who slumped to a second half .176 average and woeful .515 OPS?  For his sake, he has to be better, because with the Jays expected to contend, and with Anthony Gose waiting in the wings, there figures to be a much shorter leash on Colby in 2013.

6. What side of Brett Lawrie will we see?

There seems to be two sides to Lawrie.  There is the all-world talent, who is an elite defender at third, can hit for power and can get on base (evidenced by a .371 OBP, .884 OPS, 4 HR June).  Then there is the guy who lets his emotions get the better of him, makes baserunning blunders, injures himself by diving into concrete camera wells, and throws his helmet at a home plate umpire.  If he can bring more of the former and less of the latter to the 2013 season, it could result in a huge breakout year.

7. Ricky Romero’s 2012 season was just an outlier.  Wasn’t it?

There were 88 starting pitchers in all of baseball who threw enough innings to qualify for the ERA title.  Ricky Romero ranked 88th with a 5.71 ERA.  He ranked 88th with a 1.67 WHIP.  He ranked 88th in walks with 105.  According to Baseball Reference, there 662 pitchers used in the majors in 2012.  In terms of WAR, Romero ranked T-656 with a -1.7.  In other words, it was a horrendous year.  It was also fully unexpected, what with Romero looking like one of baseball’s best and brightest in 2011.  Maybe the drop from staff ace to fifth man in the rotation will take the pressure off and relax him, because with plenty of starting candidates (J.A. Happ, Brad Lincoln, Brett Cecil) presumably starting the year in AAA, he won’t have as many chances to fail.

8. Will a presumably clean Melky Cabrera still produce?

Cabrera was the 2012 All-Star game MVP and lead the NL in hitting when he was promptly banned for 50-games for testing positive for testosterone.  Assuming he’s clean (we’ll wait and see what the latest reports linking him to PEDs mean), will he be able to provide similar production for Toronto in 2013?  The Jays signed him at a relative discount, so the risk isn’t as high as it might have been, and the potential for reward is great.  It might be unreasonable to expect massive fantasy baseball numbers again, but hopefully he still has a solid season left in hm.

9. How will the closer situation pan out?

Sergio Santos was acquired prior to the 2012 season, and promptly blew out his shoulder after five innings.  In his absence, Casey Janssen took over and had an outstanding season, posting a 2.54 ERA and 22 saves.  Janssen enters 2013 as the closer, but with a healthy Santos, his competition should be intense.  If we’re lucky, maybe we’ll be treated to shades of 1992, when Toronto had a beast of a back-end.  Tom Henke (2.26 ERA, 34 saves, 2.09 K/BB) and Duane Ward (1.95 ERA, 12 saves, 2.64 K/BB) were lights out for the World Series champions.  Can Santos / Janssen be just as good?

10. Can the Jays live up to the hype?

It’s one thing to be a trendy pick to contend for a Wild Card spot (as Toronto was in 2012).  It’s another thing entirely to be the Vegas odds-on-favourite to win the World Series (as Toronto is now).  With higher expectations comes added pressure.  Every loss will be more meaningful, and every losing streak will bring heavy scrutiny.  Of the key acquisitions, only Reyes (2006) and Mark Buehrle (2000, 2005, 2008) have postseason experience, so the heat of a pennant race will be a new feeling to everybody.  A good start is essential to this team, because the Jays are carrying the weight of a city on their backs.  Disappointment is not an option.

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