Yankees' AL East competition: Previewing the 2014 Toronto Blue Jays

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The "new-look" Jays were a flop in 2013 but they look to ride an undeniably talented core to better fortunes in 2014.

The Toronto Blue Jays seem to be the forgotten members of the American League East. It's been over 20 years since they last made the playoffs, and their anticipated resurgence in 2013 ended with a solid faceplant at 74-88 and a finish in the AL East cellar. Renewed optimism in tow, they've decided to not forfeit the 2014 season and have returned with a relatively unchanged roster. They were rumored to be interested in Stephen Drew and Matt Garza, among others, but mostly kept their wallets closed. The bet is that the team won't suffer nearly as many injuries and players that had down years will return to previous form. When looking at how this team projects on paper that bet might be a relatively safe one.

The Blue Jays lineup will once again be anchored by sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. Credit the Blue Jays scouting department or just good fortune, but both Bautista and Encarnacion underwent career renaissances to become two of the premier sluggers in all of baseball. Centerfielder Colby Rasmus seems to have similarly tapped into his latent potential by posting a 130 wRC+ of his own in 2013. Add in DH masher Adam Lind, new catching acquisition Dioner Navarro and shortstop Jose Reyes and this lineup should, health permitting, boast six regulars that posted a wRC+ above 110 in 2013. The Yankees, for reference's sake, will have four. Toronto mashed the fourth-most homers in baseball in 2013 and should do very well in that department again this year.

Finishing out the Jays' lineup, former top prospect Brett Lawrie will man third base, second-year player Ryan Goins will be at second and enigmatic former Yankee Melky Cabrera will be in felt field. Lawrie might still have some untapped potential and "The Melkman" could have a bounce-back season, but those three players should make up the weak portions of the Jays lineup. Defensively, the Blue Jays finished 22nd in UZR/150 in 2013 and aren't remarkable in that regard. Lawrie has a great reputation as a playmaker and Rasmus rated well, but defense is unlikely to be this team's calling card in 2014.

The Blue Jays starting rotation is much closer to adequate than good (ranked 18th in MLB by Fangraphs, which seems optimistic) and was the second-worst in the majors by ERA last season . One of the key acquisitions of 2013, Josh Johnson, has departed for San Diego but most of the same players remain. R.A. Dickey was not the ace he was acquired to be in 2013, and at age 39 and a knuckleballer, it's hard to predict if he will resemble anything similar to his 2012 Cy Young self again. Mark Buerhle has been about as consistent as you can get, but is 35 himself and has a lot of mileage on him. Brandon Morrow has always had excellent stuff, but turned in a brief 2013 campaign that sported 5.63 ERA (5.42 FIP) for as long as it lasted before ending due to injury. At the moment, Drew Hutchison and Dustin McGowan will get the nod for the final two spots in the rotation, but only the top three spots appear set in stone.The Blue Jays bullpen is anchored by their very good closer Casey Janssen, who has been one of the better relievers in baseball over the last three years, and setup man Brett Cecil and his 10.38 K/9 in 2013. So they should be in good shape when in comes to finishing out games.

The Blue Jays strike me as similar to the Yankees in a lot of ways. Both teams have quite a lot of talent but there are some real glaring concerns that could threaten to hold them back from making the playoffs. For both squads one of those concerns is second base, but the Blue Jays' failure to address their rotation in the offseason looks like every bit the potential albatross the Yankees' infield is. They should be better with good health, but how much better is very much in question. Interestingly enough, Fangraphs is forecasting both the Yankees and Blue Jays for 83 wins this season. It's pretty simple: the Blue Jays are going to have to hit and hit like crazy if they're going to fight their way back into the playoffs. They have a good enough lineup to get them close, but they might need to pull the trigger on upgrading that rotation if they're going to get over the hump. But if they have better luck in the injury department, they should be more than improved enough to be a real pain in the sides of the rest of the AL East.

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