2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Toronto Blue Jays
After almost 20 years of continually building up and tearing down, all the while settling for a middle-of-the-division finish, the Blue Jays finally made their move in 2013, selling the farm for what appeared to be a mass influx of high-end talent. But while adding R.A. Dickey , Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle to the starting rotation and Jose Reyes and Melky Cabrera to the starting lineup looked good on paper, the Blue Jays finished in last place for just the fourth time in 32 years.
With their hand already played, they've mostly stood pat this offseason. Johnson is the Padres' problem now, and J.P. Arencibia will do his swinging and missing for the Rangers. But the Blue Jays' only notable acquisition so far is Dioner Navarro , a former All-Star catcher who appeared to rediscover his stroke in a part-time role for the Cubs last season. He'll play every day in Toronto, but outside of two-catcher leagues, you won't find too many Fantasy owners willing to bet on those numbers translating.
You'd think the lack of activity would give us a better idea what to expect from this bunch, and for the most part, that's true. Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista will offer early-round production, but with some risk given their injury histories. Colby Rasmus and Adam Lind will provide cheap power late while failing to meet the full extent of their potential. Brett Lawrie will tempt people with his top-prospect pedigree but most likely underwhelm with a middle-round pick. We've seen it all before.
A handful of Blue Jays still leave something to the imagination, though. Is Dickey the Cy Young contender he was in 2012, the underrated innings-eater he was in 2010 and 2011, or on the verge of collapse at age 39? Was Cabrera's decline simply a case of him going off "the juice," or did the tumor on his spinal cord have something to do with it? Is Brandon Morrow a lost cause? Most mixed-league drafts will end before the latter two enter the discussion, but both remain in the periphery.
So what if they falter? Does Anthony Gose , a former top prospect whose stock has fallen the last couple years, get his shot? What about Moises Sierra , who compiled an .827 OPS in 107 at-bats last year? Can any of Kyle Drabek , Drew Hutchison , Todd Redmond , Dustin McGowan and everyone else competing for the fifth starter role make a worthwhile contribution, or are they just placeholders until the Blue Jays find something better?
But again, outside of AL-only leagues, it's just a bunch of noise. Mixed-leaguers can limit their focus to the early rounds, where Encarnacion, Bautista and Reyes all have the potential to make or break their teams.
Head-to-Head hero ... Jose Bautista , outfield
Bautista has been a fixture at the top of drafts since breaking out with 54 homers in 2010, but his value has taken a hit with his season-ending injuries the last two years. In Rotisserie leagues, it's understandable. He doesn't help in batting average, and you could get similar power from players like Mark Trumbo and Brandon Moss later. But in Head-to-Head points leagues, where batting average doesn't have the direct impact that peripheral numbers like walks do, the reward still outweighs the risk. Only nine hitters averaged more Head-to-Head points per game than Bautista's 3.58 last year -- a group that includes Miguel Cabrera , Mike Trout , Hanley Ramirez , Edwin Encarnacion , Paul Goldschmidt , David Ortiz , Chris Davis , Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Gonzalez . Other than Ortiz, who limits lineup flexibility as a DH and is perpetually on the verge of collapse at age 38, Bautista is the only one not in the discussion for a first-round pick. Given the risk, a third-rounder is most appropriate, and a late second-rounder isn't so bad. But if you nab Bautista with a fourth- or fifth-rounder, you may have already won your league.
Buyer beware ... Jose Reyes , shortstop
For all the flak Troy Tulowitzki gets about injuries, Reyes is just as susceptible. Only once in the last five seasons has he played even 140 games, averaging 109.6 during that stretch. That alone should make you think twice about investing a third-round pick in him. But health isn't the only factor working against him. He's entering his age-30 season -- or what has become the danger zone for middle infielders in the post-steroids era. It hits hardest for players whose main attribute is speed, and it may have already begun for Reyes, who not only ran less last year, projecting for just 26.1 steals over a full 162 games, but succeeded on just 71.4 percent of his attempts, by far the lowest of his career. His Head-to-Head production was still among the best at his position on a per-game basis, but between the injury risk and the potential for another step back, he's scary. Considering you're guaranteed bunches of steals with Jean Segura a round or two later -- and with the potential for growth at that -- why take the chance on Reyes?
Injury-risk sleeper ... Brandon Morrow , starting pitcher
In truth, Morrow could fill this category every year. Now seven years into his big-league career, he still has yet to throw 180 innings in a season, mostly because he has only once held up long enough to make 30 starts. What makes this year different from previous years is that no one expects anything. Morrow was limited to 10 starts in 2013, none after May 28, and they weren't exactly his best. Most likely, the nerve issue in his right forearm that ended his season and ultimately required surgery had something to do with it. He also pitched with neck and back stiffness for that period he was "healthy." A couple months at less than his best doesn't negate the progress he made in 2012, when he went 10-7 with a 2.96 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 21 starts. The stuff that has made him a strikeout-per-inning guy for most of his career hasn't changed since then, but early results show Morrow going undrafted in mixed leagues. You may not need to draft him yourself, but don't forget about him on waivers.
The Blue Jays mostly depleted their farm system in the deals that landed them R.A. Dickey , Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle last offseason, but they do have at least two impact prospects in Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman . Sanchez is the safer bet long-term, profiling as an ace -- or close to it -- with his high-90s fastball and unquestioned aptitude, but Stroman is already on the verge of reaching the majors at age 22. He has good stuff as well -- averaging well more than a strikeout per inning at Double-A last year, and with fantastic control to boot -- but at 5-feet-9, he may not hold up in the starting role long-term. Still, he's a sleeper for AL-only leagues, given how close he is. About the only hitter worth mentioning in the Blue Jays system is D.J. Davis , the 17th overall pick in the 2012 draft. In a best-case scenario, he's a Carlos Gomez type, but maybe not until 2018. At age 19, he's too much of a project even for some dynasty league owners.