Tom Dakers of Bluebird Banter was kind enough to preview his team for us -
It was a pretty boring off-season for the Blue Jays. They were linked to just about every free agent out there, from Yu Darvish to Prince Fielder, but, to the dismay of much of their fanbase, they didn't make any really big moves. The only changes they made were to the bullpen, where changes were badly needed, and some of the spots on the bench. They traded for Sergio Santos, to take the closer role, and Jason Frasor and signed free agents Darren Oliver and Francisco Cordero to join holdovers Casey Janssen, Carlos Villanueva and Jesse Litsch in the bullpen. Hopefully they will manage to cut down on the 25 blown saves from last year. The only other additions to the team were Jeff Mathis (a move I can't figure out), to back up catcher J.P. Arencibia, and Omar Vizquel (because it is really important to have someone that remembers the Beatles playing on Ed Sullivan).
The starting rotation looks to be the same guys we finished the season with: Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Henderson Alvarez, Brett Cecil and Dustin McGowan. Cecil is our player that ‘came into camp in the best shape ever,' losing 33 pounds over the winter. McGowan pitched a few innings for us last year, three years after he last pitched in MLB, after having various arm troubles. The Jays are treating him carefully this spring but he should come north with the team and fill the fifth starter spot. If one of them were to run into problems, Kyle Drabek is waiting in the wings for another chance.
The starting line up also looks to be the same as the group that ended last season. The only spot up for grabs is left field, where Travis Snider and Eric Thames will be battling it out. Thames seems to have the upper hand at the moment. The offense, as always, revolves around Jose Bautista, but they are hoping for a bounce back year from Adam Lind and for good seasons from mid-season pickups Kelly Johnson and Colby Rasmus, who seems very happy to be a Blue Jay after not getting along with Tony LaRussa in St. Louis. The best news for our offense is that we will get a whole season of Canadian Brett Lawrie. Brett hit .293/.373/.580 with nine home runs in 43 games in his first look in the majors. Last year, third base was a revolving door of lousy players until Brett was finally called up from the minors.
So we have pretty much the same team with which we finished last season, which isn't too bad. And we have a lot of reinforcements coming up through the minors. John Sickels ranks the Jays minor league system as the best in baseball. Top prospects C Travis d'Arnaud, OF Jake Marisnick, OF Anthony Gose, RHP Noah Syndergaard, LHP Justin Nicolino and RHP Drew Hutchison, as well as others, are very close to being ready to help the Jays.
The Jays seem to be the trendy pick for the team most helped by the extra wild card, but a lot of things would have to go right for them to improve enough upon their 81-81 record to make the playoffs. I'd think the team should be fun to watch, with a lot of good, young, exciting players. I'm figuring we'll end up in the 86-88 win range, maybe not quite enough to grab one of the wild card spots, but I think we are moving in the right direction.