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December 6, 2013

Fantasy Team Preview

Toronto Blue Jays

by Ben Carsley

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The Blue Jays were crowned by many as the 2012-2013 offseason champions after emptying their farm system and adding four All-Star-caliber players to their roster last winter. As so often happens, the team that “won the offseason” underwhelmed during the regular season, and Toronto finished in last place in the AL East, winning just 74 games.

Injures—especially to the pitching staff—were partially to blame for Toronto’s collapse, with disappointing performances by some stars and young players contributing as well. But despite the bad taste that the 2013 Jays may have left in the collective mouths of fantasy players, there’s still plenty of talent in this organization, and that’s particularly true when it comes to hitting.

Projected Lineup

  1. SS Jose Reyes
  2. LF Melky Cabrera
  3. RF Jose Bautista
  4. 1B Edwin Encarnacion
  5. DH Adam Lind
  6. CF Colby Rasmus
  7. 3B Brett Lawrie
  8. C Dioner Navarro
  9. 2B Maicer Izturis

Don’t be dissuaded by the Jays’ lackluster 2013 campaign: This is a lineup that features five players who could finish among the top-10 performers at their respective positions, and seven players who could be rostered in just about every standard mixed league come April. Bautista is probably the most recognizable name and he remains one of the game’s more reliable sources of power, even if his 40-homer campaigns are behind him. Reyes and Encarnacion are probably the two best fantasy assets this team has to offer now, with Reyes possessing 40-steal speed and Encarnacion 35-homer power.

Rasmus, Lind, and Lawrie are tough players to peg: all have tantalizing upside, but none are sure bets to produce. Of the three, I’m still most attracted to Lawrie. Cabrera isn’t a great bet to ever repeat his outstanding 2011 and 2012 campaigns, but if he stays healthy he should be considerably better than he was in 2013. An average around .300 with double-digit homers and steals is within his reach. The recently signed Navarro will be more popular as a “sleeper” C2 option than you think. Izturis offers versatility and speed for those in AL Only leagues.

Projected Bench

As good as Toronto’s starting lineup is, their bench leaves plenty to be desired. Thole and Goins are total nonfactors, although the latter could see some fairly regular playing time at second base. Sierra doesn’t offer much in the way of speed or power, and while Gose still has tantalizing upside he shouldn’t be touched until he shows he can hit. He’s really the only player here worth putting on a watch list.

Kevin Pillar is the only player not listed above worth mentioning, and it’s not hard to see him making the roster over Sierra. J.P. Arencibia is conspicuously absent from the list after being non-tendered earlier this week.

Projected Rotation

This is about as eclectic a rotation as exists in baseball, but it has a better shot at yielding positive MLB results than it does a number of fantasy stalwarts. In fact, only Dickey and Morrow are particularly relevant for us here, and both are total wildcards. The “Dickey has only had one great year” crowd from a year ago looks a bit smarter now than it did in 2012, as baseball’s lone good knuckleballer reverted to his slightly above average form of 2010 and 2011 last season. I don’t see him as a potential top-30 option moving forward. You could argue that Morrow has the highest upside of any pitcher on this list, but betting on him to stay healthy is a fool’s errand, as I’ll address below.

Other than the top two, there’s some name recognition in Buehrle, but he doesn’t strike anyone out or come with an exceptionally strong ERA or WHIP. Happ misses more bats but has worse control than Buehrle, while Redmond lacks any semblance of upside but probably has the edge for Toronto’s fifth starter’s spot today. These three pitchers can be used sparingly as streamers in mixed leagues, but that’s it.

Projected Closer Candidates

There shouldn’t be much of a controversy to start the season. Janssen went 34-for-36 in save opportunities last year with a 2.56 ERA and an 8.54 K/9. He’ll probably go later in drafts than some flashier Proven Closers™, but he’s every bit as good as many of those in the non-elite closer division.

Should Janssen be injured, traded or falter, Santos has the most previous closing experience, but has thrown just 30 2/3 innings over the past two seasons combined. That being said, he did strike out over a batter per inning in 2013. Delabar has even more prominent swing-and-miss stuff, but it comes at the expense of his command and WHIP. Cecil finally found his place as a high-leverage reliever in 2013 and should be a source of holds next season.

Positional Battle to Watch:

Second Base: Maicer Izturis vs. Ryan Goins
What an inspiring battle! In one corner we have Izturis, who’s moderately capable of producing a respectable average and 15 steals. In the other corner we have Goins, who’s never demonstrated the ability to hit above the Double-A level, but who does possess a warm body and a glove. Odds are the Jays will look outside the organization to try and fill their hole at second base, but if they stay with the two players above Izturis is the better fantasy option given his positional versatility.

Starting Rotation: J.A. Happ vs. Todd Redmond vs. Esmil Rogers vs. Kyle Drabek vs. Ricky Romero vs. Drew Hutchison vs. Chad Jenkins vs. Deck McGuire
Oh boy. So many names, yet so few viable fantasy options. I touched on Happ and Redmond above, so no need to rehash here. Of the other options listed, I like Hutchison and Romero the best, which should tell you everything you need to know about this island of misfit starters.

I want to believe in Drabek but there’s little need to gamble on players with two Tommy John surgeries under their belts in fantasy. He’s probably ticketed for a future in relief, as is Jenkins. Rogers didn’t give us any reason for hope in 20 MLB starts last year, and McGuire has name value as a former first-round pick

I supposed the best-case scenario for fantasy owners would be for Hutchison to fully recover, Romero to regain some modicum of control and for Marcus Stroman to occupy a starting spot by mid-July. But, given Toronto’s recent run of luck with starting pitchers, all three probably have better odds of being struck by lightning. I blame John Farrell.

Player to Target: Edwin Encarnacion
There’s not a ton of analysis that needs to be done here. Encarnacion hit .272/.370/.534 with 36 homers and 104 RBI last season all while registering a .247 BABIP. The artist formerly known as “E5” put up a nearly identical stat line in 2012, and he might be baseball’s most unheralded premiere power hitter. Even though he’ll lose 3B eligibility, he shouldn’t make it past the third round in 12-team drafts.

Player to Avoid: Brandon Morrow
From his time as a prospect to his time as a young flame-thrower in Seattle to his elusive periods of dominance in Toronto, Morrow has tantalized fantasy owners for the better part of a decade. No more, I say. The talented right-hander has never thrown over 200 innings in one season, hasn’t matched that amount in the past two years combined and has more arm problems on his resume than James Franco in 127 hours (what a topical reference!). In some dark recess of the world, Morrow, Brett Anderson and Johan Santana conspire to ruin fantasy seasons every March. For every Scott Kazmir miracle comeback story, there are 10 Dustin McGowans. Stay away.

Deep Sleeper: Sean Nolin
The two Jays pitching prospects you’re going to hear most about this offseason are Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, and for good reason—they both have TOTR upside, and the former could reach the big leagues by mid-season. But lost in the glut of below average starting options and the intrigue of Toronto’s two powerful righties is Nolin, a 23-year-old southpaw who might stumble into some MLB starts thanks to all the rotation-based turmoil. He’s not an elite option but he’s posted strong strikeout numbers in the minors and could be a worthy streaming option at some point in 2014.

Ben Carsley is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Ben's other articles. You can contact Ben by clicking here

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