The 2014 baseball season is nearly upon us. Pitchers and catchers have already arrived in Florida and Arizona as teams gear up for an annual run at the World Series.
Unlike last year, when the Jays arrived at spring camp with a boat load of new players and a sense of renewed optimism, this year the team is coming off a very quiet winter. All of which has left a lot of questions in the minds of fans. Here is a list of 10 key questions facing the team heading into 2014.
1. Who will round out the starting rotation?
The top three appear set: R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, and Brandon Morrow. After that the competition is wide open. You can almost split everybody else up into six groups:
The Fill-Ins from 2013, including Todd Redmond, Esmil Rogers, and J.A. Happ.
Guys returning from Tommy John surgery – Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison.
Young pitchers who had a cup of coffee in the majors last year – Sean Nolin and Chad Jenkins.
Young pitchers with no major league experience – Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez.
The long shots, including old friend Ricky Romero and newly converted knuckleballer Toma Ohka.
Then the final category, the one that most fans hope becomes a reality – the free agents. The two at the top of the list are Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez, but there are a few others who might be brought in as well.
Time will tell.
2. Who plays second base?
This is the same question that was asked last year. Currently it looks like a combination of Maicer Izturis, Ryan Goins, and possibly Chris Getz – none of whom really excite the masses. Izturis was awful in his first season with the Jays, Goins showed great defensive ability but is weak with the bat, and Getz is a 30-year old player with 3 career home runs and a .619 career OPS. It doesn’t look like any external moves will be made, so it will be up to one of those three to stand up and excel.
3. Can anybody stay healthy?
Toronto was awful last season for many reasons other than injuries, but looking at the injured list makes one wonder what may have happened if the team stayed healthy. Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Colby Rasmus, Brett Lawrie, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Adam Lind, Maicer Izturis, Brandon Morrow, J.A. Happ, Josh Johnson, Sergio Santos, Steve Delabar, and Brett Cecil all missed time due to injury, a staggering number of everyday players. The Jays need better health in 2014 to even consider competing in the AL East.
4. Will the catcher position be improved without J.P. Arencibia?
J.P. Arencibia by all accounts was a nice guy. He was great with fans, signed tons of autographs, made a lot of public appearances around the city, and always seemed to be smiling. He also hit a lot of home runs – 21 last year and 64 in his 3+ years as a Blue Jay. But other than that he was terrible. His defense was below average, he put up a sub .200 average, his OBP was laughably poor, and he struck out over 8x more than he walked. Arencibia will be replaced by Dioner Navarro this season, a player who posted an impressive .856 OPS last season, but who hasn’t appeared in 90 games or more since 2009. He is an unknown quantity.
5. What can we make of Brett Lawrie?
Lawrie was one baseball’s potential breakout stars last season, and he badly disappointed. Twice he was placed on the disabled list, and when he played he was maddeningly inconsistent. There were stretches where he would tear the cover off the ball, but they would be immediately followed by stretches where he couldn’t put the ball in play. With only 11 HR, his power has not developed the way everybody thought it would. Known for his high energy, the Jays brought in Mark DeRosa to mentor him, and his influence seemed to pay off. But with DeRosa now retired, Lawrie needs to move forward on his own.
6. Will Colby Rasmus finish the season in Toronto?
With an .840 OPS and 22 HR, Colby Rasmus finally put it all together last season and emerged as one of the AL’s best CF. But he comes into 2014 on a one-year deal, leading to speculation as to whether the Jays will offer him an extension or try to move him. The answer might very well lie with Anthony Gose. Gose was always expected to be Toronto’s CF of the future, but with each passing year the future seems to be slipping away. A dynamo on the basepaths with a rocket of an arm in the outfield, Gose is currently held back by his bat, a bat that seems to be regressing. If he gets off to a great start in AAA, Colby’s time in Toronto might be over sooner rather than later.
7. Can the bullpen possibly repeat 2013′s performance?
Casey Janssen – 2.56 ERA, 0.99 WHIP. Brett Cecil – 2.82 ERA, All-Star. Steve Delabar – 3.22 ERA, 12.6 K/9, All-Star. Dustin McGowan – 2.45 ERA. Sergio Santos – 1.75 ERA, 0.58 WHIP. Aaron Loup – 2.47 ERA. Neil Wagner – 3.79 ERA. It was one of baseball’s best units in 2013 and was a pleasant surprise for Toronto. But bullpens are notorious for their ups and downs, and it’s not uncommon for last year’s darlings to be this years ducks. Hopefully there is still plenty left in the tank for 2014.
8. Will any young players make an impact in the big leagues?
The Jays no longer have many of their top level prospects, but there are still many players in the system who can make an impact in 2014 and beyond. We mentioned Anthony Gose above, and he along with Moises Sierra and Ryan Goins might have the biggest opportunity to produce. But don’t count out guys like pitcher Marcus Stroman who is a long-shot to make the team out of spring training but could very well make an appearance mid-season. Or catcher A.J. Jimenez, who will get plenty of practice catching a knuckleball from Toma Ohka and might cement himself as Toronto’s backup catcher at some point during the season.
9. Is Melky Cabrera finished as a solid player?
Coming off a PED suspension, everybody expected Cabrera’s power numbers to go down last year. But I don’t think anybody expected 3 HR, 30 RBI, and only 15 doubles. Cabrera looked terrible in all aspects of the game, and was often painful to watch as he limped around the outfield. After it was revealed that he had a tumour removed from his back a few months ago, his miserable performance starts to make sense. Now presumably healthy, will Cabrera revert to his old form and start hitting the ball to all fields? Or is he just a washed up player playing out the string?
10. Can Toronto put 2013 behind them?
The Blue Jays entered 2013 as one of the favourites to win it all, and slumped to a last place finish. Such crushing disapointment can be hard to shake, and can have a tendency to linger. 2014 is a new year with new hope. With each losing streak that is bound to happen, it’s important for players and coaches to not think “here we go again”. But this also applies to the fans. Yes last year was hard, but stuff like that happens. Favourites lose and underdogs win. 2013 wasn’t the right time for the Blue Jays . With some faith and a little luck, maybe 2014 will be.