The Blue Jays are vastly improved, but their work isn't completed just yet
The Toronto Blue Jays of November 14, 2012, look a whole lot different than the team from November 13. Thanks to a mega-trade with the Miami Marlins, the Blue Jays now have a deeper rotation, a quality shortstop, and they even have a better utility option in Emilio Bonifacio. The AL East, already a tough division, is that much more difficult because of this trade. The rest of the division doesn't have to worry just yet, though as the Jays, while improved, are not a finished product.
The 2012 Blue Jays were undone by injuries. Jose Bautista appeared in just 92 games thanks to a wrist injury and subsequent surgery, while the rotation featured 12 different starting pitchers. Losing pitchers to injuries is always difficult, but even if Toronto had remained healthy, it's not as if they rostered five great starters. Adding Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle would have been a good plan even if Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison had not undergone Tommy John surgeries in June, as the club's best starter, Brandon Morrow, has thrown over 150 innings just once, and it's hard to know what Ricky Romero can be relied on for.
Johnson gives the Jays a legitimate rotation topper, one they've been missing since Shaun Marcum was traded to the Brewers. While Romero did a decent impression of one in 2011, for his career, he's been a little above-average. Combined with Morrow and Buehrle, there are the makings of a solid rotation here. The optimist says that Johnson and Morrow give the Jays two legitimate stars in the rotation, as well as a bounce-back season for Romero, and more of the middle-rotation value that has been Buehrle's specialty.
The more pessimistic -- or some might say, realistic -- realize that Johnson and Morrow are both candidates to miss considerable time with injury, regardless of how talented they are. They could point out that Romero's issues are so significant that he can't even be penciled in as a reliable fifth starter today, not until he proves his command and control issues are no more. They could also mention that Buehrle, for all of his success, has been much, much worse against the AL East than other divisions, especially against the Yankees and Red Sox. If that sounds familiar to Jays fans, it's because Romero has the same problem.
There is a ton of upside in this rotation, but it's also one with plenty of season-breaking question marks in it, too. Given the Jays lack a reliable fifth option, their work in the rotation isn't finished. That is, unless Toronto decides that they're going to go with an all-lottery ticket rotation, and just hand the last spot to Brett Cecil, J.A. Happ, or the like. This is probably unwise, and the free agent market should be explored further to bring a reliable, inning-eating insurance policy in.
The lineup has far fewer question marks, and is undoubtedly better today than it was yesterday. Bautista will be back in 2013, shortstop has been upgraded with Reyes, and Emilio Bonifacio's acquisition allows them to use Maicer Izturis as the starting second baseman. Out from under the offense-depleting Angels of Anaheim Stadium, Izturis will likely thrive, as he's a .304/.368/.424 hitter on the road over the last three seasons. That would be an upgrade on the departed Kelly Johnson, and along with Reyes and Brett Lawrie, gives the Jays an excellent three-fourths of an infield.
Designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion might not replicate his 2012 season exactly, but he's shown steady growth in his approach and production over the last few seasons. He's an important piece of the lineup, and his bat along with those of Reyes, Bautista, and Lawrie makes for an excellent top and middle of the order. The issues are at first base, where Adam Lind led in games played in 93 games and batted .255/.314/.414, and in left, where multiple Jays combined to hit .245/.297/.359, or about 25 percent worse than the average left fielder. That's not all, as Colby Rasmus is a good defender, but he also posted a sub-.300 on-base percentage with little power to make up for it in 2012, and catcher J.P. Arencibia, who does have some pop, is yet another hitter with an OBP under .300.
Those are problems that need to be solved, especially in a lineup where a lot of things could go wrong. If Reyes is injured -- he's averaged 114 games over the last four seasons -- or if he has one of his slower seasons at the plate, then the lineup will be weaker. If Encarnacion slides back a bit, if J.P. Arencibia doesn't take a step forward offensively, if Rasmus continues to stagnate... there are a lot of realistic "if" scenarios here that could take a toll on Toronto's offense. There's the flip side, too, where Rasmus and Arencibia play better and Reyes stays healthy, and that view is valid. But, even on paper, there's plenty to be wary of.
The Jays are a better team after this trade, but they aren't a perfect or even complete one yet. It's early, of course, as we're about two weeks in to the official off-season proceedings. Toronto has plenty of time to find another starter, upgrade at first and in left, and maybe even to move some of their now extraneous parts to do so. This trade is a huge step in the right direction, for an organization that has held on to their vast resources for maybe too long. Whether or not it's the last step is what's important now, both for the Jays and their opponents.