Here we are, folks: the End of Season Post-Mortem series. If you're new here (which about 50% of our reader base is in comparison to last year), here's a brief explanation: after a team is eliminated from playoff contention, 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.
It's safe to say that Toronto won the offseason title, shipping off many of their top prospects in trades for R.A. Dickey and most of the Marlins' high-priced players. Unfortunately, that didn't translate into actual success on the field, as the Jays are on their way to their first last-place finish in the AL East since 2004.
Preseason Prediction: This Blue Jays team is much different from the Marlins last year. The Blue Jays already had a decent core in place, and the players they added will build upon that core. Compare that to the Marlins, who essentially tried to rebuild their team around their new players, and fell flat on their faces. The Blue Jays might not make the playoffs in 2013, but if they don't at least finish .500, I think it'll be a surprise to everyone.
What Went Right: The offense was expected to be potent, and at least that much came to fruition. To this point, the Jays are in the Top 10 for runs scored and slugging, and only the Chris Davis-aided Orioles have hit more home runs as a team. Jose Bautista came back from last year's wrist problems to hit 28 home runs in 118 games, earning his fourth straight All-Star appearance (although his season was ended early — more on that in a bit). Edwin Encarnacion earned an All-Star bid of his own, making a push for a second straight 40-home run season. Encarnacion turned out to be a late bloomer, and like Encarnacion, Colby Rasmus may be finally breaking out north of the border. Rasmus is sporting an OPS above .800 for the first time since 2010 in St. Louis.
For as many issues as the starting pitching had this year, the bullpen was lights-out. Brett Cecil and Steve Delabar earned the team's other two All-Star nods. Aaron Loup is putting up his second straight season of an ERA less than 3 and has a K/BB ratio of more than 4. Casey Janssen has completed his transformation from failed starter to dependable closer, hitting the 30-save milestone this season, only blowing two leads.
What Went Wrong: I'm not prone to hyperbole, but seriously, it seemed like everyone who put on a Jays jersey this year was doomed to get hurt. Jose Reyes has never been the most durable player, but did play a full season in Miami last year. This season, Reyes missed two months due to a sprained ankle and has also fought through some knee soreness. Brett Lawrie missed the start of the season with a strained ribcage, then sprained his ankle in late-May and was out through the All-Star break. Melky Cabrera's knee started acting up in late-June. Colby Rasmus had a DL stint for an oblique strain.
The pitching staff didn't have much better luck. Brandon Morrow made just 10 starts before forearm issues landed him on the 60-day DL and ended his season. He's currently trying to avoid surgery. Josh Johnson, everyone's favorite 2013 bounceback candidate, was a disaster when he was on the mound. After a bout with triceps inflammation at the end of April, Johnson was shut down for the year with a forearm strain. Between the injuries and poor performance, Johnson has gone from a potential big deal on the free agent market to likely having to take a one-year, value-rebuilding deal.
Then there's R.A. Dickey, who didn't land on the DL this year, but still struggled with nagging back and neck problems. He likely would've had to take a DL stint if he was a conventional pitcher, but the knuckleballer played through it all, to some less-than-ideal results. He's allowed more than 30 home runs this season and has eight starts of five earned runs or more. There was a reasonable expectation of regression for Dickey — he was moving to the AL East, and knuckleballers are wildly inconsistent year-to-year — but this year was more of a struggle than most could have imagined.
Most Surprising Player: For lack of a better option, we'll go with Rasmus here. He's always struggled against left-handed pitching, but has been a bit more productive against southpaws this season (.258/.291/.408 in his first 120 AB against them this year, up from .216/.287/.354). The real difference, though, his how much more he's crushed righties: his .282/.354/.526 line against right-handers is miles above his .260/.327/.463 career line against them. It’s too soon to say whether or not this is a sign of more things to come (his inability to stay on the field is still a bit concerning), but Rasmus’ play was a definite (and probably unexpected) brightspot for the Jays in a mostly disappointing year.
Most Disappointing Player: How about we just give this honor to everyone they acquired in the Marlins deal? Reyes has put up the numbers you’d expect, but has barely been on the field this season. Johnson, as mentioned, was pretty much terrible before running into more arm problems. Emilio Bonifacio hit just .218/.258/.321 before being shipped to Kansas City in an August trade. John Buck spent less than a month as a Blue Jay before being dealt to New York in the Dickey trade, which was disappointing in its own right. The only player in the deal to both play as expected and stay on the field was Mark Buerhle, but even he has seen a rise in his walk rate. He’s also due $37 million in the next two seasons.
The Future: In a year, the Jays have gone from having a Top 5 farm system to an arguably Bottom 10 farm system. It’s not that it’s a bad system, but like a few other teams, it’s not especially deep. That’s to be expected after making a pair of blockbuster offseason deals. Not helping matters is the fact that they failed to sign this year’s 10th overall pick, Phillip Bickford. I guess if there’s a bright side, it’s that they’re now basically looking at two Top-10 picks in next year’s draft.
It’s not like the Jays were all-in for just one season, either. They’ll return most of this year’s team in 2014, and with some better injury luck, maybe they’ll make a bigger push for contention. Betting on the likes of Jose Reyes, Brett Lawrie and Jose Bautista to stay healthy is always a risky proposition, though, and they’re likely going to need to overhaul the starting rotation — again — if they’re going to make a real push in the AL East.