1:00 pm Nov. 16, 20122
There is little question that the Toronto Blue Jays managed to improve themselves dramatically in 2013 with the 12-player deal they completed with the Miami Marlins on Tuesday night.
The deal provided the Blue Jays with a pair of frontline starting pitchers in Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, an elite shortstop in Jose Reyes, a valuable speedster in Emilio Bonifacio, and catching depth in John Buck. The players the Blue Jays gave up are a collection unlikely to help them in 2013, with the exception of Yunel Escobar, who is made expendable by the acquisition of Reyes.
The change is so dramatic that David Cone, analyst for the Yankees on YES, believes the Blue Jays have now surpassed the Yankees.
“I would think they’d have to be the favorite, right now, in the American League East,” Cone said Thursday.
Let's not get hysterical now.
The Yankees in 2012, for all the abuse they took, won 95 games, most in the American League. The Blue Jays, though not devoid of talent by any means, finished 73-89. That's 22 games to make up.
On the Toronto end of things, adding Reyes, Johnson and Buehrle means about three wins apiece from each, if they play at their 2012 levels. Bonifacio and Buck, collectively, are worth about another win, though Buck isn't likely to play. And that is subtracting Escobar, worth about 2.5 wins last year.
Let's give them all the best of it, though, and say their new additions bring them up to 83 wins. How do they bridge the remaining gap?
Well, catcher prospect Travis D'Arnaud, should he come up and hit at the big league level immediately, should help, though incumbent J.P. Arencibia could have something to say about that. Jose Bautista, who had a monster 2011, played in just 92 games in 2012, while Brett Lawrie was limited to 125 games at third base, and most of the pitching staff seemingly fought injuries all season. Some good health could get them to, say, 88-90 wins, if everything goes right.
That also supposes that Edwin Encarnacion, who set a career high in games played and home runs in 2012 by relatively comfortable margins, is every bit as good in 2013.
But given all of that, the Yankees will still need to regress a good bit to be expected to finish below the Blue Jays. How could it happen?
Well, seeing Derek Jeter fail to equal his stellar 2012 campaign, a year older and coming back from ankle surgery, would be a start. As of right now, the drop from Jeter to his in-house replacements is dramatic.
Age-related attrition could also limit Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira, while Mariano Rivera, returning after missing nearly a full season due to injury, might not replicate Rafael Soriano's terrific 2012.
Collectively, that knocks about 3-4 wins off the total from 2012, and that's assuming it all goes wrong for the older players.
Cone identified a failure to retain Andy Pettitte and Hiroki Kuroda as the real potential stumbling block, and he's right. Still, indications are that Pettitte wants to return, and the Yankees need Kuroda enough that it shouldn't be a problem for them to outbid his other suitors. He'll be expensive, but this isn't Albert Pujols.
We also haven't seen the other steps general manager Brian Cashman will take to insure his older regulars, nor other ways he can improve the roster.
And then there's the little matter of the Yankees also expecting better health in 2013. They lost Michael Pineda before the season even began, had Joba Chamberlain for less than half a season, Brett Gardner for only a few weeks all season, went without Pettitte for months and even lost C.C. Sabathia for several weeks.
What does it all mean? Pretty simple: the Blue Jays, after this trade, can be a contender. But better than the Yankees already? Don't bet on it.