There’s still snow on the ground here, but today in one ball park in North America the 2013 Major League Baseball season gets underway. That’s in Houston where the Astros make their American League debut against what are now their cross-state rivals the Texas Rangers.
That’s one intriguing story-line for 2013. Another is how will the Toronto Blue Jays fare? In the off-season, GM Alex Anthopoulos made a ton of moves. To begin with, the team parted ways with manager John Farrell who returned to Boston to manage the Red Sox. To replace him, Anthopoulos turned to former Jay manager John Gibbons. During his first stint in Toronto from 2004-2008 he had a rep for being a bit of a hot-head who got into scrapes with players.
In 2012, the Jays had a strong preseason and were being touted by their fans as possible contenders. Overall, though, the season turned out to be a bust. There were some positives, like Colby Rasmus’ performance in centre field and Edwin Encarnacion’s big bat, but some major disappointments too (highlighted by left-handed ace Ricky Romero going 9-14 with a 5.77 ERA).
In fairness, the Jays were hard hit by injuries, and that definitely contributed to their 73-89 fourth place finish in the AL East. But rather than tinker to make the team better, Anthopoulos opted for a major overhaul, executing a blockbuster trade on Nov. 14 with the Miami Marlins which saw the Jays give up a number of prospects for five legit major leaguers including Josh Johnson (pitcher), Mark Buehrle (pitcher) and Jose Reyes (shortstop). Short-term, the advantage to the Jays was so extreme that the commissioner’s office felt compelled to review the trade. And Marlins’ owner Jeffrey Loria (who presided over the demise of the Expos in Montreal) was raked over the coals for conducting a fire-sale. But the Marlins did get some decent prospects from the Jays, so the commissioner ultimately approved the deal.
Having signaled his intention to go for the brass ring this year, Anthopoulos shipped some more prospects to the New York Mets on Dec. 17 to acquire last season’s National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey. Anthopoulos subsequently signed Dickey to a three year $29 million contract. A so-so pitcher for most of his career, Dickey started throwing the knuckleball in 2006. It took him a few seasons to work out the kinks, but in 2012 he enjoyed a dominant season, compiling a 20-6 record with 233 innings pitched and a 2.73 ERA. Playing in the AL, with generally smaller, more home-run friendly ball parks and the DH, Dickey won’t post the same numbers with the Jays. But if he enjoys a solid season, he could be a real asset, eating up a lot of innings as a starter and throwing a wrench into the timing of opposition batters when they face the Jays’ rotation. But if he turns out to be a one-season wonder, it will be a real hit for the Jays to absorb.
Other off-season moves could blow up too. But if a good chunk of them pan out, and veterans like Jose Bautista, Brett Lawrie, Encarnacion, Rasmus and others have good seasons, the Jays will definitely contend in the AL East. And it all starts April 2 when the Jays open at home against the Cleveland Indians.