Revamped roster has Blue Jays sitting pretty
By Gregor Chisholm /12/31/12 10:00 AM ET
TORONTO -- Following an unprecedented flurry of offseason activity, there's a renewed appetite for baseball in the city of Toronto.
The Blue Jays made waves in recent months by drastically increasing their payroll and parting ways with some of their top prospects in an effort to develop a win-now mentality.
The blockbuster multiplayer deal with Miami in November appeared to be the defining moment of Alex Anthopoulos' tenure as general manager in Toronto, but in reality, it was just the beginning.
Anthopoulos followed up the acquisitions of Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio with a series of other moves that suddenly has Toronto as one of the favorites to not only reach the postseason, but win the World Series.
The icing on the cake didn't come until a week before the holidays, when Anthopoulos proved he still had one trick up his sleeve by pulling the trigger on a deal that netted his ballclub 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey.
Dickey, along with the free agent signings of Melky Cabrera and Maicer Izturis, give the Blue Jays more depth than at any point in recent memory. There's more certainty and fewer jobs up for grabs than in the past, but that doesn't mean every question has been answered.
Here are the main issues that will have to be successfully resolved if the Blue Jays hope to make their way back into the postseason for the first time since 1993.
Who will be the starting second baseman?
Anthopoulos recently stated that Izturis is the favorite to win the everyday job. The 32-year-old signed a three-year contract with the Blue Jays, and his ability to also play shortstop and third base should prove to be a valuable asset in 2013.
But the job won't just be handed to the former utilityman. Bonifacio deserves to be in the lineup on a regular basis because of his versatility and game-changing speed on the basepaths. He was generally considered by most to be an overlooked component of the recent trade with Miami and should push Izturis every step of the way for playing time.
Do the Blue Jays have enough pitching depth?
Until a couple of weeks ago, the answer to that question was no, but all of that changed following the recent acquisition of Dickey. The veteran knuckleballer allows the Blue Jays to either stash left-hander J.A. Happ in the Minor Leagues or utilize him out of the bullpen as a potential swingman.
In addition to Happ, the Blue Jays also have Chad Jenkins, Ramon Ortiz and Justin Germano as replacement options in case one of the starting five gets hurt. Combine those names with prospects such as Sean Nolin and Deck McGuire, plus the eventual returns of Drew Hutchison and Kyle Drabek from Tommy John surgery, and there should be enough to get by.
Who will be the Blue Jays' starting catcher?
If there were any doubts regarding this question, they were cleared up when top catching prospect Travis d'Arnaud and veteran backup John Buck were sent to New York as part of the deal for Dickey. J.P. Arencibia maintained all offseason that he was never in danger of being traded away, and to some degree, he was proven right.
Arencibia is now set to begin his third full season in the Major Leagues. He'll have the daunting task of getting to know an almost entirely new pitching staff, but the 26-year-old has the added benefit of pairing up with Josh Thole, who worked with Dickey in New York.
There's no longer a question of who the catcher of the future is in Toronto. The job solely belongs to Arencibia, and he's now a clear piece of what appears to be a bright future for this ballclub.
Will Sergio Santos be able to re-establish himself in the Blue Jays' bullpen?
Santos has been somewhat of a forgotten man despite being the club's big offseason acquisition just one year ago. Santos arrived with high expectations, but he was limited to just six games because of a right shoulder injury.
The 29-year-old has the ability to become an overpowering arm in late-inning relief, but he'll need to prove his health before any job can be guaranteed. If Santos arrives in camp ready to go, he'll likely push right-hander Casey Janssen for the closer's role, and Santos' success will be crucial to the team's ability to win tight ballgames.
Which version of Cabrera will show up? The All-Star from 2012 or the struggling left fielder he was prior to '11?
Cabrera's signing went somewhat under the radar this offseason, because it occurred during the same week as Toronto's massive trade with Miami. Despite the lack of attention, Cabrera appears to be the perfect fit behind Reyes at the top of the Blue Jays' lineup.
But the two-year contract doesn't come without at least an element of risk. Cabrera was suspended 50 games last season after testing positive for a banned substance, and he'll need to prove that steroids weren't the sole reason for the elevated performance. That being said, the Blue Jays would be more than happy if Cabrera returned to his 2011 form. That year, the Dominican native hit .305 with an .809 OPS in 155 games with the Royals.
Will Ricky Romero be able to bounce back from a disappointing 2012 campaign?
Romero arguably can be considered the biggest wild card of the Blue Jays' starting rotation. He entered last year as the club's ace, but the recent acquisitions of Dickey, Johnson and Buehrle likely will allow him to slide all the way down to the No. 5 spot.
That should take a lot of pressure off Romero and allow him to escape the leadership role that was forced upon him too early in his career. In many ways, 2012 was a mystifying season in which Romero maintained his velocity but battled control problems all year long.
Romero might never return to his 2011 form, which saw him go 15-11 with a 2.92 ERA during an All-Star campaign, but then again, the Blue Jays don't need him to. They would be more than content with his '10 season, which included a 3.73 ERA in 210 innings of work.
Is John Gibbons the answer as John Farrell's replacement in the dugout?
Anthopoulos caught everyone off guard in November when he rehired Gibbons to replace the departing Farrell. Gibbons spent parts of five seasons in Toronto under former general manager J.P. Ricciardi, but Gibbons recently had been off the Major League radar while managing the Padres' Double-A affiliate in San Antonio.
Gibbons is known for his ability to manage a bullpen and is generally considered to be a players' manager. His ability to handle the running game will be one of his biggest hurdles next season. Gibbons isn't known to be a major proponent of stealing bases, but he also has never managed a team with this much overall speed.
Will Darren Oliver return in 2013?
The Blue Jays aren't expecting to hear a final decision from Oliver until January. As of right now, it appears as though the veteran left-hander is leaning towards retirement, but the club is holding out hope that stance will change in the coming weeks.
It's also possible that Oliver will request a trade to be closer to his family in Texas, but it's not known whether Toronto would be willing to accommodate that type of move.
Will Jose Bautista be able to recover from a left wrist injury that prematurely ended his 2012 season?
Bautista's rehab is going well and he is on pace to be ready for the start of Spring Training. The Dominican native reportedly was feeling so good this offseason that he wanted to take part in winter ball, but the club denied the slugger's request to play.
Even though Bautista feels great, it still remains to be seen whether he can regain his previous form. Wrist and hand injuries are notoriously tough for power hitters to overcome, but Bautista has quickly dismissed any skepticism whenever presented with those type of questions.
If Bautista is able to remain healthy, then he should be in line for a big year. The presence of Reyes and Cabrera at the top of the lineup should create plenty of opportunities for Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion to drive in a lot of runs. Despite all of the offseason changes, this is still Bautista's team, and the Blue Jays will need him to have a big year in order to compete.