2012 Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

Unlike the Washington Nationals, the Toronto Blue Jays had a relatively quiet offseason. In fact, they only brought in two players via free agency (three if you count Rick Vanden Hurk's non-guaranteed split ML contract), signing a pair of relievers in Darren Oliver and Francisco Cordero. This doesn't necessarily come as much of a surprise though, as the Blue Jays didn't really lose much to free agency: Shawn Camp, Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch, Jose Molina. They were, however, active on the trade market, acquiring the likes of Trystan Magnuson, Luis Valbuena, Jeff Mathis, Sergio Santos, Ben Francisco, and Jason Frasor.

From top to bottom, the Blue Jays project to have a pretty formidable offense. The big bat, of course, is Jose Bautista, who's entering the second year of a bargain five-year extension he signed a year ago. Bautista proved his 2010 breakout was no fluke, leading the American League in a number of offensive categories (SLG, HR, OPS+, BB). He's still only 31, so it seems quite reasonable to expect another monster season out of him. ZiPS projects him to lead the majors in wOBA at .414; in fact, he's one of just two players (Miguel Cabrera, .402, being the other), projected by ZiPS to post a .400+ wOBA.

Brett Lawrie only appeared in 43 games in his rookie season for the Blue Jays, but he went on an absolute tear, hitting .293/.373/.580 -- good for a 163 wRC+. In that short span, he was worth 2.7 wins above replacement, which is astounding. While regression is inevitable, he'll still likely be a force at the plate. It's worth noting that ZiPS projects him to out-wOBA the likes of Pablo Sandoval, Alex Rodriguez, and Ryan Zimmerman (among many others).

The rest of the lineup doesn't have quite the same firepower, but make no mistake, it's deep. Nine of their hitters are projected by ZiPS for a 96 OPS+ or better, and a lot of those are premium positions. Yunel Escobar, who's been consistently above-average since breaking into the majors, is perfectly capable of being a four-to-five win player, and Colby Rasmus is due for some healthy resurgence. Don't forget Kelly Johnson either -- he's just one year removed from that .284/.370/.496 season with Arizona. Toronto isn't as much of an offensive juggernaut as the Yankees or Red Sox, but they'll still be one of the most productive lineups in all of baseball.

The rotation isn't stellar, but Toronto has solid depth. Ricky Romero, 27, has a career 3.60 ERA (119 ERA+) over nearly 100 starts, and while he likely won't be contending for another Cy Young award, he'll hold his own in the toughest division in baseball. Brandon Morrow has always flashed tons of potential, and as a matter of fact, he has the highest strikeout rate in baseball over the past two seasons. With some better luck, he'll become one of the best pitchers in the AL. The 21-year-old Henderson Alvarez made 10 starts in his rookie season, and thanks to superb control (1.13 BB/9), he was quite good (3.53 ERA/3.97 FIP/3.38 xFIP). It's reasonable to expect big things out of him this year. Now, Brett Cecil doesn't strike out a whole lot of hitters, his control is only slightly above-average, and he's not good at preventing home runs; he's ultimately a mediocre pitcher, but he's still only 25. The last spot will likely go to one of Kyle Drabek or Dustin McGowan, neither of whom projects to be all that good. It's worth noting, though, that each has considerable upside.

The Blue Jays roster hasn't undergone big changes, but the bullpen has certainly seen a lot of turnover. Sergio Santos, who was dominant in his first two seasons with the White Sox (130 ERA+, 11.6 K/9), will take over in the closer role. And of course, Oliver and Cordero are both in the mix. Interestingly enough, they will each earn the same amount of money: $4.5M on a one-year deal for 2012. I actually wrote about Oliver a while back, as he's an intriguing pitcher. Oliver, 41, is entering his nineteenth season; despite his age, he's shown no signs of slowing up these past couple years, as he's performed considerably well. Given the paucity of decent left-handed relievers on the free agent market, it's understandable that -- even at his age -- Oliver signed for this much. Cordero, meanwhile, has proven himself to be a solid reliever throughout his career, and he's posted a 142 ERA+ over ~350 innings since 2007. He's not going to be the same effective arm he was in the past, but he should do just fine in a lesser role.

The Blue Jays have a nice mix of quality hitting and pitching, but they're up against some unbelievably tough competition in the AL East, and it's just not their year yet. That said, they don't appear to be very far off from building a playoff contender, particularly with their farm system.

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