New look Blue Jays could contend in AL East next two years and bring glory back to Toronto
Earlier this summer, after Melky Cabrera was suspended for PED use, I’d speculated that some team would take a chance on him. My thought was that a team would offer him a two-year contract, worth about $4 million.
I was half right. The Toronto Blue Jays signed Cabrera to a two-year deal, but the amount was $16 million. Had he not used PEDs, or not gotten caught, he probably would have signed something more lucrative, perhaps five years for $60 million or more. But $8 million a year will put food on the table.
Giants seemed embarrassed by Cabrera
The Giants seemed thoroughly embarrassed by Cabrera’s suspension and first refused to bring him back for the playoffs, then passed on him for next season. Perhaps embarrassed isn’t the right word – they treated him more or less like the Israelites treated lepers in the Old Testament. You could almost hear them yelling “Unclean, unclean” whenever his name was mentioned.
(Yet they didn’t have the same qualms about pitcher Guillermo Mota, who was also suspended in 2012 for PED violations. This was Mota’s second offense and he was booted for 100 games. The Giants brought him back to pitch after his suspension and brought him in three times in the post-season. However, he doesn’t appear on the Giants’ current 40-man roster.)
Cabrera a good signing for Blue Jays
I think signing Cabrera is a good risk for the Blue Jays, especially after the blockbuster trade with the Marlins. He’ll fit in as only one of the newcomers, and as a fairly minor part of the off-season moves, so if it doesn’t pan out for them, there’s not much of a loss.
But he just turned 28 in August, so he’ll only be 30 when the contract ends. Many players turn in great years when they’re 28, 29 and 30 so even if he’s squeaky clean, Toronto has a decent chance of capitalizing on Cabrera’s best years.
Players entering their primes at right time
Toronto, which had been a strong team in the late 1980s and early 1990s, has had a tough time of things in the AL East recently. They haven’t made a post-season appearance since winning the World Series in 1993, and have finished higher than third in the East only once since then (second in 2006). They have finished fourth in the five-team division the past five years.
But if the Blue Jays are going to strike, the iron will never be hotter than it will be for the next two years. In addition to Cabrera, Jose Reyes, Colby Rasmus, Emilio Bonifacio, Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind, Josh Johnson, Ricky Romero and Kyle Drabek will all be entering those prime 27-32 age years. Brett Lawrie is a few years younger but should also be contributing increasing amounts.
Players who are most likely on the downside of their careers, like Jose Bautista, Mark Buehrle, Rajai Davis and John Buck, should still make strong contributions.
Then there are the prospects who will come along to fill in the chinks.
AL East could be ripe for the taking
Not only do they have the players entering the right parts of their careers, the other teams in the East could provide them an avenue to the top. The Red Sox apparently are in a rebuilding phase that will keep them down for a year or two. The Orioles may win 90 games again, but their otherworldly success in one-run games in 2012 could reverse in 2013 and they may top out at 80. The Yankees looked vulnerable in the post season, and the Rays, operating on a shoestring budget, always seem on the verge of fading out of contention.
Health will be key factor in Toronto moving to the top
Last season Toronto was snakebit, piling up injury after injury to key players that at times left them basically fielding a Triple A team. Health will continue to be a concern, especially as long as they play on an artificial surface that takes a bigger toll on players’ joints.
Reyes has already had some injuries to his hamstrings. Bautista’s wrist injury may be nothing more a freak occurrence, but he turned 32 in October so injuries may continue to pop up. That’s also true for the other older players.
But if the Jays can maintain their health, and the players enter their prime years, 2013 and 2014 could recapture some of the joy Toronto hasn’t experienced for 20 years.