It has been a momentous off-season for the Toronto Blue Jays as general manager Alex Anthopoulos made several big moves and raided the prospects cupboard to restock the team with proven veterans. Now, however, it would appear that the heightened expectations may be weighing on the perception of the team.
When Anthopoulos essentially rebuilt the pitching rotation with the acquisition of R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, along with shortstop Jose Reyes and outfielder Melky Cabrera, the Jays went from pretenders to sudden contenders and even favorites for the World Series. Many oddsmakers, including Sports Interaction, made Toronto the outright favorite to win it all in 2013. Now the line seems to be moving: the L.A. Angels and Detroit Tigers are seeing more action and narrowing the gap between themselves and the Jays.
What happened to cause this shift? Well, the Angels signed All-Star outfielder and occasional pain in the neck Josh Hamilton, and he’s a game-changer when firing on all cylinders. L.A. also sharpened their rotation by getting Jason Vargas, Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson. Detroit signed outfielder Torii Hunter, and he should fit nicely into the second spot in the batting order. The Tigers also expect to get a full season from sweet-swinging DH/1B Victor Martinez, whose high batting average and clutch hitting can also help get them more wins.
The past performance of some of the Jays’ newest members has been called into question. Some don’t like that it took so long for Dickey to become a reliable starter, and it’s always a concern when the knuckleball is the main weapon in any pitcher’s arsenal. There’s also the issue of whether the club might have acquired Dickey too late: he’s 38, after all, and far past the “peak years” of a player’s perceived maximum effectiveness. Being a knuckleballer, though, means that Dickey can contribute for many years to come — as long as he can maintain control of that notoriously elusive, mercurial pitch.
Cabrera, of course, infamous threw away last season’s National League batting title as a member of the major-league champion San Francisco Giants after being revealed as a user of performance-enhancing drugs. (Despite his 50-game suspension and subsequent removal from the playoff roster, at this point it’s expected Cabrera will get a World Series ring.)
There are other worries, most notably the injury histories of Johnson and Reyes along with the presence of so many new faces (including former-now-current-again manager John Gibbons) affecting team cohesion, and the pressure to win. For now the bloom might be off the rose somewhat, but the questions will begin to be answered in earnest once the regular season begins.