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Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons smiles back at the crowd during the second inning of their MLB baseball spring training game against the Boston Red Sox in Dunedin, Florida February 25, 2013. (FRED THORNHILL/REUTERS)
Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons smiles back at the crowd during the second inning of their MLB baseball spring training game against the Boston Red Sox in Dunedin, Florida February 25, 2013. (FRED THORNHILL/REUTERS)

2013 Season Preview

On paper, it means nothing for the Jays Add to ...

Johnson, 29, after losing much of 2011 with a shoulder problem, rebounded by logging 1911/3 innings. While his 3.81 ERA represented a career high and 7.8 strikeouts/nine innings his lowest ratio since 2006, John Buck, the former Marlins catcher, said Johnson had all-star-calibre stuff for much of the summer. Johnson’s in the last year of his contract.

Buehrle, 34, averaged 85 miles an hour with his fastball last season and he’s topped 13 wins only once in the past seven seasons, but he’s produced 12 consecutive 200-plus inning seasons with discipline mechanics, sharp control and ability to change speeds. Buehrle did give up 1.2 homers/nine innings last year, a number that figures to rise in the cozy AL East parks.

Returnee Brandon Morrow, 29, was one of only four AL pitchers with an ERA under 3.00 with at least 120 innings (10-7, 2.96).

If nothing else, adding lefty J.A. Happ and dropping Ricky Romero to Class-A Dunedin showed the Jays mean business – they can’t afford to give away games in a tight division while nurturing a lost soul. Happ, 30, now three seasons removed from his best in the game (12-4, 2.83 with Philadelphia in 2009) looked sharp in the spring.

 

Bullpen

 

Gibbons will be tested to demonstrate his reputation as a deft handler of relief pitchers, as the huge X-factor is the back end of a bullpen temporarily crammed with eight pitchers. Casey Janssen broke out last year (22 of 25 saves, 0.86 WHIP, 6:1 walk/strikeout ratio) but followed November shoulder surgery with a hesitant spring. Sergio Santos arrived from the White Sox in December of 2011 as the closer, but pitched all of five innings before undergoing shoulder surgery at the end of July. The third option is Steve Delabar (12.55 strikeouts/nine innings), in his third season back from a broken elbow, struggled in back-to-back outings. Lefty specialist Darren Oliver, 42, is maturing like fine wine; he rebuffed retirement for the chance to win a ring.

 

Infield

 

Reyes, the 29-year-old leadoff hitter, has $96-million remaining on his contract through 2017. In 160 games with Miami last season, he had a.347 on-base percentage vs. the .294 cumulative OBP produced by Toronto’s leadoff hitters, adding 11 homers and 40 stolen bases. As he missed most of 2009 with a hamstring injury, there’s concern about his ability to handle the Rogers Centre artificial turf.

Gibbons can cushion the impact by using Caesar Izturis or Emilio Bonifacio at shortstop, moving Reyes into the DH role on occasion. They’ll be sharing second base, with Izturis getting the call routinely with a ground-ball pitcher on the mound. Reyes has stolen 410 bases, Bonifacio 110, Izturis 91 – they should be popular with Rogers Centre crowds who adore hustle. Bonifacio missed most of last season with injuries (torn thumb ligaments; knee sprain) but stole 30 bases against three caught-stealings in his 64 games.

First baseman Encarnacion, 30, broke out last year (42 HR, 110 RBIs).

DH/1B Adam Lind hit .202 against lefties last season and Gibbons wants him to use all fields as he once did, rather than pulling the ball.

Third baseman Lawrie’s slugging (.580 to .405) and on-base (.373 to .324) percentages dropped dramatically last year, and the falloff was punctuated by erratic base running. He missed nearly five weeks with an oblique injury last August/September and starts the season on the disabled list with the same problem. Veteran Mark DeRosa, 38, is the backup.

Many thought catcher J.P. Arencibia would be shipped out but the Mets deemed prospect Travis D’Arnaud to have greater upside, especially as a hitter – Arencibia struck out 108 times vs. 18 walks. The challenge for Arencibia, who threw out near 30 per cent of base stealers, is to handle a new, diverse rotation.

 

Outfield

 

Bautista was strapping an ice pack to his left wrist after spring training games, the fallout from surgery to repair a tendon injured in mid-July. He had 27 home runs and 65 RBIs in only 92 games; now with Reyes and Cabrera in front of him in the batting order and protection from Encarnacion, Bautista could have a MVP-calibre season.

With Bautista in right and Cabrera in left, the Jays have two strong and accurate arms flanking Colby Rasmus in centre. Cabrera was hitting .346 for the Giants when suspended 50 games by MLB for a performance-enhancing drug in August. Rasmus has top-flight range in centre with a gliding style of running; at age 26, the Jays are looking for him to break out at the plate; he hit 23 homers but struck out 149 times and averaged only .223.

Given a meagre .554 on-base plus slugging percentage against lefties, compounded by a weak spring, look for Bonifacio to get some time in centre. Speedy Rajai Davis is the backup, and Anthony Gose awaits his opportunity at Triple-A Buffalo.

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