Ed. Note: With the start of Spring Training a month away, and most free agents signed up, it's time to look at the biggest stories and trends of the Hot Stove League as we prepare for the 2013 season. These are the teams and players expected to have an impact next season. First up - the team across the border, the Toronto Blue Jays.
Perhaps Alex Anthopoulos smelled blood in the water. Or perhaps he was sick of being upstaged.
Amazingly, in the division widely considered to be the least competitively balanced in all of baseball, four out of the five teams made the playoffs in the past four years. The only AL East team that didn't? The Blue Jays, of course.
(By the way, the 80% mark is equalled only by the National League West, home of famous yo-yo teams the Rockies and Diamondbacks.)
With the Red Sox in the toilet, and Yankees in self-imposed fiscal responsibility mode, the Rays perpetually so, and the Orioles ready for some serious regression to the mean, this represents Toronto's best chance of a playoff appearance since - wait for it - 1993!
Yeah, the year this happened.
And, just because you can never have enough catching, the Jays adding approximately 28 catchers to their roster this year. But that's okay, because they've already traded away or released 23 of them.
So what does this all mean? Well, for starters, be wary of teams that are anointed champions during Spring Training, or before. Exhibit A: the 2012 Miami Marlins. This is especially problematic when you consider how many of those Marlins now have key roles on the 2013 Toronto Blue Jays. However, Toronto's off-season acquisitions all seemed to have a purpose and fit in as part of a greater plan. With the Marlins, the feeling was more a case of "we've got this shiny new stadium, we better fill it with stars."
"We whiffed on C.J. Wilson? Who's the best available starter? Buehrle? Well, Buehrle it is, then."
(By the way, the Angels are another cautionary tale about Spring Training favorites. But at least they doubled down with Josh Hamilton, instead of punting after one season like the Marlins)
Anthopoulos came into the off-season with a plan, and he was fortunate enough to have bosses that endorsed and supported the plan. MLBDepthCharts listed the Blue Jays five biggest off-season needs as "Starter/Starter/2B/Left Field/Reliever." Mission accomplished:
Starter - Josh Johnson
Starter - R.A. Dickey
2B - Emilio Bonafacio/Macier Izturis
LF - Melky Cabrera
Reliever - Esmil Rogers
All that, plus another front-line starter (Buehrle), a massive upgrade at shortstop (Reyes) and the aforementioned catching surplus. True, they effectively swapped Travis d'Arnaud for Josh Thole, thus cementing J.P. Arencebia behind the plate, but all in all, the Blue Jays have built a lineup and pitching staff that should contend for the AL East crown.