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For a franchise that’s relatively young compared to others, the Toronto Blue Jays certainly have a great deal of history and have a lot to be proud of; namely two World Series trophies.
But as great as it is to reminisce about the Blue Jays glory days from the 80’s and 90’s, it’s time to create new memories.
As the odds-on favourites going into this season, there are a slew of reasons to be excited about the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays. Here are just 10 of them.
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It's not every day that a team has the opportunity to acquire a reigning Cy Young Award winner like R.A. Dickey. But the Toronto Blue Jays did exactly that on December 17th, effectively putting the cherry on top of their newly overhauled starting rotation.
From the moment he took the mic at his press conference back in January, it was quite evident that R.A. Dickey isn't your average baseball player ... he truly is something much more.
As a 38 year old knuckleballer born without an ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, R.A. Dickey truly is a freak of nature. Doctors said Dickey shouldn’t be able to turn a doorknob without feeling pain, and yet that doesn't stop him from throwing one of the most unique pitches in all of baseball.
Despite that quirk, Dickey is entering the prime of his career and continues to be one of the most fascinating players in the Major Leagues.
It's not just Dickey's story that's enthralling, but he was a revelation with the Mets last season and was rewarded handsomely with a Cy Young Award. And now he's set to take the mound in the Home Opener for the Toronto Blue Jays.
The acquisition of R.A. Dickey hearkens back to the early nineties when the Blue Jays went out and bolstered their starting rotation by signing the best arms on the market; Jack Morris in 1992 and Dave Stewart in 1993.
The R.A. Dickey trade with the New York Mets truly was the tipping point of this offseason for the Blue Jays. After years of building up the farm system, the Blue Jays finally had the prospects and payroll flexibility to go after a player like Dickey.
R.A. Dickey is the kind of pitcher who captures headlines, and rightfully so. As only one of a few to master the art of the knuckleball, every R.A. Dickey start essentially becomes "must watch television" for Blue Jays fans.
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He’s an All-Star shortstop. He’s a stolen base and triples machine. He has a career on base percentage of .342. And now he’s the everyday shortstop for the Toronto Blue Jays.
Jose Reyes is a premium talent at a premium position. He is the true leadoff hitter the Blue Jays have lacked for many years, and not to mention … he does it all with a huge smile on his face.
For me, it’s still a little surreal to see Jose Reyes in a Blue Jays uniform simply because he’s a once in a lifetime talent. Reyes has received gushing reviews from the top down; from Alex Anthopoulos to John Gibbons and even his teammates.
But the man who spoke most highly about Jose Reyes was his former and once again teammate R.A. Dickey. He gave about as glowing a review as anyone could write in his autobiography “Wherever I Wind Up.”
Here’s how R.A. Dickey best described the unique talent that is Jose Reyes:
“He’s not only a terrific teammate and one of the most gifted players I’ve ever been around, but he’s also probably the game’s single greatest energy source.R.A. Dickey called Jose Reyes the game’s single greatest energy source.
His exuberance and energy are unmatched, and so is his ability to win games with his glove, his bat, and his legs.”
Hey ... I’m sold.
Joey Bats is Back
Boy, isn’t Jose Bautista a sight for sore eyes. After missing most of the second half, Jose Bautista will be welcomed with open arms back to the heart of this lineup and in right field.
More than any other player on the roster, Jose Bautista is the lynchpin for the Toronto Blue Jays. When Bautista suffers, the Blue Jays suffer. So it’s no coincidence that the Blue Jays run production took a nosedive after Jose Bautista sustained a wrist injury just after the All-Star break and his subsequent season-ending surgery in August.
Without Jose Bautista in the lineup, the Blue Jays scored an average of 1.15 less runs per game. The Blue Jays also posted a 28-44 record the remainder of the season with Joey Bats absent on the lineup card.
Even though they have a much more balanced lineup this year, the Blue Jays will still rely heavily upon the offensive contributions of Jose Bautista. They’ll be hoping that Joey Bats won’t feel any ill effects of his wrist injury, and frankly the team can’t afford to.
To no fault of his own, what hurt Jose Bautista’s MVP bid in 2010 and 2011 was that he didn’t play for a contending team. Not only that, but Bautista was virtually on an island all by himself in the Blue Jays lineup.
So just imagine what kind of MVP-esque numbers a healthy Jose Bautista could put up with this impressive supporting cast surrounding him.
|Courtesy of SI|
Time and time again the pundits say the same thing regarding starting rotations; “pitching wins championships”. And while the Blue Jays have had some championship calibre pitchers before, they haven’t had a championship calibre starting rotation for a very long time.
The Blue Jays essentially overhauled their entire starting rotation this season; acquiring the reigning Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, a former National League ERA champ in Josh Johnson, and a perennial workhorse with 12 consecutive seasons of 200 plus innings in Mark Buehrle.
Just as a comparison, last year’s Opening Day starting rotation comprised of Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Joel Carreno, Henderson Alvarez and Kyle Drabek. Not surprisingly, the Blue Jays starting pitchers had the 6th highest ERA among all 30 teams in baseball.
Since the departure of Roy Halladay, the Blue Jays starting rotation has lacked that true “ace”. The way this starting five is constructed, one could argue there are two or even three aces up their sleeve now.
Needless to say, the 2013 starting rotation is a huge upgrade compared to last year. No longer does the skill level fall completely off a cliff after the second or third starters. This rotation has a great balance of power pitchers in Morrow and Johnson, and soft-tossing R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle.
Throw in the crafty lefty J.A. Happ, and the Blue Jays no longer have a glaring weakness when it comes to starting pitching.
By nature, baseball is an extremely slow sport. That is until a player like Jose Reyes gets on base. Just make sure you don't blink, because you might miss some blazing speed on the base paths.
Last season, the Blue Jays possessed a lot of speed, but clearly John Farrell did not know how to harness it properly. Players constantly ran into outs and there were numerous baserunning gaffes, despite having players with the natural ability to steal bases.
John Gibbons has already stated that Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio and Rajai Davis have the green light to run at any time. Including those three guys, the Blue Jays have five or even six legitimate threats to steal 15 or more bases each this season.
There’s another unique opportunity all these speedsters provide John Gibbons, and that's the ability to have speed at both the top and the bottom of the lineup in Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio.
So that makes a stolen base bookend, which I can’t ever recall the Blue Jays having speed in both the 1 and 9 spots in the lineup.
One weapon the Blue Jays have which many teams do not is a professional pinch runner. The man who had the second most stolen bases in the AL last season , Rajai Davis, is the Blue Jays pinch-runner/fifth outfielder.
That is a huge ace in the hole for the Blue Jays to have games which are late and close. No longer does Rajai Davis have the daunting task of getting on base; John Gibbons can simply have Davis pinch-run late in a game and let him run wild.
The Return of John Gibbons
Some would say that at best, even the best manager only has a negligible impact on the game. There is no man who’s more aware of this than the man affectionately known as "Gibby", Blue Jays manager John Gibbons.
Even Gibby himself noted that his job this season as the new skipper will essentially be to just let his players play:
“That's our number one job; get the most out of these guys and get out of the way, to be honest with you.”John Gibbons is a true southern gentleman; he isn’t trying to prove his worth and he certainly doesn’t manage with a chip on his shoulder, unlike his predecessor.
Overall, Gibbons seems like a very likable and relatable person; a quality which much be very beneficial when managing 25 different personalities in the clubhouse.
Gibbons returns to the Blue Jays with a reputation of being a bullpen savvy manager, as well as a man who enjoys employing the occasional platoon.
Let’s be honest … for the most part, this team is going to run itself. But it will require an astute manager to get the most out of certain players and determine which roles fit them best in order to maximize their performance.
In addition to the return of John Gibbons, the coaching staff also boasts new names like the highly touted DeMarlo Hale and Chad Mattola, and old faces Dwayne Murphy, Luis Rivera, Pete Walker and Pat Hentgen in new roles with the club.
Brett Lawrie at the Hot Corner
Offensively speaking, the Toronto Blue Jays shouldn’t have any trouble at all scoring runs this year. Defense however, is a different story.
While the starting lineup is virtually stacked from top to bottom, one thing the Blue Jays are sorely lacking is any Gold Glove calibre defenders. That is with one exception: Brett Lawrie (and to a lesser extent, Mark Buehrle).
Lawrie has shown that he’s willing to do anything for an out, almost to a fault. Whether he’s diving into a camera well or careening off a wall in foul territory, one thing most people can agree on is Brett Lawrie plays some incredible defense at the hot corner.
In 2012, Brett Lawrie saved 20 runs with his glove alone, which was the most by any third baseman in baseball. Couple that with the 14 runs he saved in 2011, Lawrie has saved 34 runs the past two seasons, which is the second most in all of baseball.
Just imagine how a healthy Brett Lawrie could be poised to produce a continuous highlight reel of miraculous plays at the hot corner this season.
|Courtesy of National Post|
Without a doubt, the most exciting part about the World Baseball Classic was watching the Dominican Republic team play their energetic style of baseball. And to think, the Blue Jays have six players from the D.R. on their roster.
One only hopes that some of that energy Jose Reyes and Edwin Encarnacion displayed at the WBC will not only carry over to the Blue Jays, but that it will also rub off on fellow Dominicans Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Emilio Bonifacio and Esmil Rogers.
Judging by some of the photos the players posted on their trip back to Toronto, it seems like there is a real kinship between the Dominican players on the Blue Jays roster … something that can only be beneficial to the performance of this team.
The Dominican contingent is something that’s always been prevalent with the Toronto Blue Jays, dating back to the 80’s when George Bell, Tony Fernandez and Alfredo Griffin all hailed from the D.R.
And now that Jose Reyes and Edwin Encarnacion have tasted success at the World Baseball Classic, surely they’ll be looking to add another trophy to their case this year: a World Series ring.
|Courtesy of Toronto Sun|
One thing became very evident after the Blue Jays decided to send Ricky Romero to Dunedin and opted to choose J.A. Happ as the fifth starter; they aren’t messing around this year.
In previous seasons, Anthopoulos might have been inclined to stick with certain players and let them dig themselves out of their slumps. Not any longer. With the amount of talent this team has for a relatively short period, time is not a luxury the Blue Jays have any more.
One thing AA has preached numerous times over the past few months is the importance of "depth". By depth, he really means options; now the Blue Jays have options at who to play at centre field,and they have options at who to play at third base.
The rope will definitely be very short on questionable players like Colby Rasmus and Adam Lind. Now that reinforcements are in place, the Blue Jays should not hesitate to adjust those players' roles if need be.
The wheels have already been set in motion, as John Gibbons announced Adam Lind will not face left-handed starters to start the season.
On the flip-side, as quickly as Alex Anthopoulos might be possessed to subtract players from the roster, he could also add them. Come July if the Blue Jays need some help at the trade deadline, they could become buyers when in previous years they have been sellers.
It's the Beginning of a New Era
Think back to how long it’s been since people were this excited about the Blue Jays.
Think back to when the Blue Jays looked this good on paper. It’s been 20 years.
Sure, there's always been a sense of optimism for the Blue Jays on Opening Day, but the way this roster is constructed, the excitement will last well beyond the Home Opener.
This year, it isn’t going to take an inordinate amount of things to break right for the Blue Jays to have a shot. It isn’t going to take career years from the majority of the players for them to have a contender. All these guys need to do is simply do what is expected of them to put forth a winner.
The great thing is the Blue Jays don’t have all their eggs in one basket so to speak this year. 2013 is not one last-ditch Hail Mary pass by Alex Anthopoulos to save his job. This team is built to be a sustainable winner. Not just this year, not just 2014, but 2015 as well.
The Blue Jays aren’t just built to contend, they’re built to win.
Regardless of what happens this year, one thing’s for sure; 2013 is going to be a very exciting season for the Toronto Blue Jays and their fans. And it all begins tonight … at the Blue Jays Home Opener.