December 6, 2013
Fantasy Team Preview
Toronto Blue Jays
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
Player to Avoid: Brandon Morrow
Deep Sleeper: Sean Nolin