A season that started promising went down the tubes in the second half, but not everything is a lost cause north of the border…next up in our End of the Season Post-Mortem series is the Toronto Blue Jays.
If you're new here (which about 90% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from the playoffs, we're going to put their season under a microscope and look at just what the hell went wrong, what went right, and so on and so forth. The goal is to post these the day after a team is eliminated. Also, for the first ten teams eliminated, we're going to post a series called "Hope for the Hopeless", which is going to be an expanded version of the "What Went Right" portion of the Post-Mortem series pieces.
What Went Right: Splitting his time between first base and DH (where defense isn't nearly as important as at third base, his former position), Edwin Encarnacion blossomed into one of the best sluggers in the American League, drawing comparisons to teammate Jose Bautista. Toronto's bullpen was pretty good, led by Darren Oliver, Casey Janssen, Aaron Loup, and mid-season acquisitions Brad Lincoln, Brandon Lyon (seriously), and Steve Delabar.
What Went Wrong: Pretty much…everything else. Toronto's pitching staff was destroyed by injuries, with Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison, and Luis Perez all needing Tommy John surgery. Newly acquired closer Sergio Santos threw just five innings, dealing with shoulder issues all year and eventually geting surgery. Brandon Morrow missed a good chunk of the year with an oblique injury, but was still an effective (albeit different) pitcher all year. The free agent signing of Francisco Cordero was a complete and utter disaster. Henderson Alvarez allowed three times as many hits as strikeouts recorded…and is still in the rotation. On offense, it was a lost year for Jose Bautista due to a wrist injury, but he was a damn good hitter (still) while healthy. The reunited middle infield duo of Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson was terrible offensively, and Escobar created distractions unrelated to his play, as usual. Brett Lawrie's bat took a step back after his stellar 2011 debut. Colby Rasmus showed great power, but not much else in his first full year in Toronto. The same went for JP Arencibia, who dealt with injuries in addition to his offensive slogging. The team got nothing out of first base when Encarnacion wasn't there. Oh, and Ricky Romero…he didn't just take a step backwards, he took a leap backwards.
Most Surprising Player: Edwin Encarnacion is the choice here, due to the fact that he was one of the few players that did well all year in Toronto. His power has always been awesome, but after being taken off of third base, it really shined. Due to his defense, Encarnacion was worth just 5.0 fWAR from 2008 to 2011 despite 77 homers. This year, he's belted 40 homers (and counting) and has amassed four wins for the Blue Jays while also walking nearly as much as he's struck out. Just like Jose Bautista a couple of seasons ago…it's all clicked for him, and in typical Blue Jays fashion, they locked him up to an affordable contract extension.
Most Disappointing Player: That would be Mr Romero, the former sixth overall pick signed through 2015. He was always solidly consistent throughout his career, but this year…yeah. His strikeout rate dropped by a full batter per inning and his walk rate increased by nearly two batters per nine compared to 2011. His ERA spiked by nearly three full runs, and his FIP and xFIP both jumped as well. That's just…putrid. A lot of it had to do with the spike in walk rate and a pathetic 65.5% strand rate, but this year from Romero was a definite red flag.
Prospects Up: Drew Hutchison pitched very well in AA, enough so to earn a callup to the majors, where he held his own before blowing his elbow out. Noah Syndergaard struck out 122 in 103 1/3 innings in A-ball and continues to look like an absolute beast. His teammate in Lansing, Aaron Sanchez, also struck out a batter per inning and was downright unhittable at times.18-year old Adonys Cardona continues to get nurtured by the team, and held his own in the GCL. Jake Marisnick hit well in the Florida State League, but slightly struggled in the Eastern League at just 21.
Prospects Down: Deck McGuire's strikeout rate took a huge drop and his homer rate jumped, leading to an ugly looking 5.88 ERA. Travis d'Arnaud was beating the hell out of the ball in Las Vegas (yeah, I know, it's just Las Vegas) and was about to be called up to the majors…until he hurt his knee at the end of June, ending his year. Adeiny Hechavarria looked to have improved with the bat in Las Vegas (but again…Vegas, baby), but struggled in the majors once getting called up in August. Anthony Gose progressed nicely at age 22 in the PCL, but struggled in the majors. 2011 second round pick Daniel Norris got obliterated in short-season ball, but still struck out a batter per inning.
The Future: The only "significant" free agent that the Blue Jays have this offseason is Kelly Johnson…perhaps Carlos Villanueva too. Those two are joined by a pair of overpaid relievers (Lyon and Jason Frasor) and catcher Yorvit Torrealba. Toronto really isn't losing anyone significant from their team, but the injuries suffered by the pitching staff will hurt them for the first half of the year. Morrow, Romero, and JA Happ would be locks to be in the Opening Day rotation, with (I'd assume) Henderson Alvarez and Brett Cecil joining them. If Bautista, Escobar (if he's still around), and Rasmus can all rebound, and a healthy d'Arnaud starts behind the plate, this team could be pretty solid…or it could be another "wait til next year" plan for the Jays.