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Toronto Blue Jays 2014 Preview

<p>Following a winter of upheaval that saw Toronto bring in R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle among others, the Blue Jays stumbled out of the gates and never got themselves righted en route to a 74-88 record.</p>

Following a winter of upheaval that saw Toronto bring in R.A. Dickey, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle among others, the Blue Jays stumbled out of the gates and never got themselves righted en route to a 74-88 record.

Injuries, of course, were the main culprit, but John Gibbons' team just wasn't that good.

And the bad news is that general manager Alex Anthopoulos did little this offseason after going "all-in" last winter.

There was no Cy Young Award winner to be had this offseason. Instead catcher Dioner Navarro was the team's biggest free agent pickup. In other words, it could be another long year north of the border.

2013 FINISH (74-88) - Fifth Place (AL East)

KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Dioner Navarro (C); Erik Kratz (C)

KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: J.P. Arencibia (C); Rajai Davis (OF); Josh Johnson (RHP)

PROJECTED LINEUP: Jose Reyes (SS); Jose Bautista (RF); Edwin Encarnacion (1B); Adam Lind (DH); Colby Rasmus (CF); Melky Cabrera (LF); Brett Lawrie (3B); Dioner Navarro (C); Ryan Goins (2B)

PROJECTED ROTATION: R.A. Dickey (RHP); Mark Buehrle (LHP); J.A. Happ (LHP); Drew Hutchison (RHP); Brandon Morrow (RHP)

PROJECTED CLOSER: Casey Janssen (RHP)

MANAGER: John Gibbons

WILL JOSE BAUTISTA STAY HEALTHY?

Nobody questions whether or not Jose Bautista's 2010 breakout season was a fluke anymore. Bautista has blossomed into one of the best right-handed hitters in the league.

His only problem has been staying on the field.

After the outfielder missed a combined 14 games in 2010-11, the wrist injury that required surgery limited Bautista to just 90 games in 2012.

Bautista has played in just 210 games over the past two years and last season was limited to 118 games because of a hip injury late in the year. In fact, he's finished each of his last two seasons on the DL.

Even with missing the last month of the season the four-time All-Star still hit 28 home runs and drove in 73 runs, while batting .259. Now he's hoping to get back to being the player who led the league in home runs in two straight years and set a team record with 54 blasts in 2010.

Bautista spent time working out this winter with teammate Melky Cabrera, who is looking to bounce back from his own injury problems. Cabrera missed time late in the season after a benign tumor was discovered in his spine.

CAN R.A. DICKEY BE AN ACE AGAIN?

Toronto's pitching staff was a mess in 2013 and that started at the top with former National League Cy Young Award winner Dickey, who was a flop in his first year north of the border.

On the heels of his amazing 2012 campaign, Dickey struggled with the Blue Jays, particularly at the outset, as he was 4-7 with a 5.18 ERA in April and May, while allowing an uncharacteristically high 3.86 walks per nine innings.

Dickey seemed to get better as the season wore on, but his 3.72 ERA in 150 innings from June through September was still almost a full run higher than his entire 2012 season with the Mets. He also allowed 23 home runs over the final four months.

If the Jays have any intentions on breaking through what should be a very tough American League East they will need Dickey to be an ace.

IS COLBY RASMUS READY TO BREAK OUT?

Colby Rasmus was as highly touted a prospect as there was back in 2009 when he broke in with the St. Louis Cardinals. But after a few years of moderate success, Rasmus started to butt heads with manager Tony La Russa and hit the skids in 2011.

Eventually, he was shipped to Toronto in 2011 and batted just .173 in 35 games following the deal after hitting a mere .246 in 94 games with the Cards. It didn't get any better for him in 2012, as he managed just a .223 clip, but did hit 23 home runs with a career high 75 RBI.

Rasmus, though, started to show signs of being that blue chip prospect he was in the Cardinals organization in 2013.

A slight change in his batting stance worked wonders and the former first round pick hit .298 over his final 59 games with an OPS of .928. He also hit 13 home runs over that span and ended the year batting .276 with 22 home runs and 66 RBI in 118 games.

Now Rasmus enters 2014 admittedly in a better place and ready to take his game to another level. Not to mention he is a free agent after the season.

X-FACTOR: BRANDON MORROW: It seems like we say this every year, but this could be the season Jays righty Brandon Morrow becomes a big star. It wasn't that long ago that the 29-year-old righty struck out 17 Tampa Bay batters, leaving many to believe that Morrow could in fact be the "next big thing". Well, actually it was kind of long ago. In fact it will be four years in August. And the burgeoning "star" has racked up just 23 wins in the three seasons since that near no-hit outing. As has been the case for most of his career, injuries played a big of his 2013 season, as he went just 2-3 with a 5.63 ERA in only 10 starts. He was pitching with an entrapped radial nerve which could explain part of his struggles. When truly healthy, Morrow has proved he can be dominant. This spring he showed up 25 pounds heavier with the hope that makes him more durable. Given the state of this rotation, it's not inconceivable to think that if Morrow can find a way to pitch at least 180 innings that he becomes the best starter on the team. At this point the Jays would settle for a solid No. 2 option behind Dickey.

OUTLOOK

The Blue Jays are essentially the same team that everyone loved at the start of last year. But that team had severe pitching issues and this team may have those same problems. Dickey should be better, though, but everything after him is a question mark. If you could tell me that Bautista and Reyes are going to play 150 games I'd be more inclined to like them. However, we all know better. Actually it would not be a shock if one of or both of them are shopped near the trade deadline. It doesn't help that the Jays play in maybe the best division in baseball. If they finish .500 that would be an accomplishment.

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