It's just a couple of weeks now until the start of spring training. It's hard to believe that a year ago, the Blue Jays went 24-7 on the Grapefruit Circuit and were being touted as a top-notch playoff contender, only to have that dissolve in a sea of injuries that resulted in an 89-loss season that was arguably the worst in franchise history, when expectations were matched up against results.
Over the years, there were other spring trainings where you wondered if the seasons were heading for disaster, based on what unfolded in Florida.
Take 1988, where incumbent left fielder George Bell was coming off an MVP season when the organization deemed it to be best for the team to turn Bell into the full-time designated hitter, move Lloyd Moseby to left and install youngster Syl Campusano in centre.
It just didn't work. Bell was so upset with his new role that he actually refused to play in one Grapefruit game. Come Opening Day, he was still the DH and promptly slugged three home runs off Royals great Bret Saberhagen in a 5-3 victory. The Bell DH experiment was abandoned two weeks into the season but the damage had been done to manager Jimy Williams, who was ultimately fired 36 games into the following season and replaced by Cito Gaston.
However, the ultimate crazy spring training happened in 1999. After the two greatest back-to-back seasons any Blue Jays starter had ever had, Roger Clemens said he wanted out of Toronto. On February 18, "The Rocket" was shipped to the Yankees for second baseman Homer Bush, lefty reliever Graeme Lloyd and former Blue Jays southpaw David Wells. All things considered, it was a pretty good return for Clemens. The trouble was, Wells didn't want to leave the Yankees and there were some very tense moments while both sides waited to see if the deal might fall apart.
Later that same spring, manager Tim Johnson was fired when it became clear the team would no longer play for him in the wake of his bogus tales of fighting in Vietnam the season before. Veteran Jim Fregosi, who managed against the Jays for the Phillies in the 1993 World Series, was brought in to take his place.
The second biggest Blue Jays trade of spring training came in 1995. They re-acquired star right-hander David Cone from Kansas City for three prospects. I can remember having tears running down my face when that trade was announced. Those who saw me in the media room at Dunedin Stadium thought I had become a complete "homer" to be so overwhelmed by this trade but that wasn't the case at all. I had severe allergies and that particular spring in Florida, they were worse than at any other time during the 11 visits I paid to spring training over the years. My eyes were itching and stinging and the tears were a relief mechanism but I still got ribbed for "crying" over the Cone trade for quite some time.
On the surface, this spring training looks like it's going to be quiet and routine. With all the acquisitions Alex Anthopoulos had made over the off-season, you could almost pick the roster man-for-man right now. But there are some questions.
1. How will John Gibbons fit in during his second time around as manager?
2. Who will win the second base job - Maicer Izturis or Emilio Bonifacio?
3. Will Ricky Romero bounce back and be the starter he was in 2011?
4. Will RHP Josh Johnson return to the All-Star form he displayed a couple of seasons ago?
5. Will Sergio Santos reclaim the closer's job from Casey Janssen?
6. Will shortstop Jose Reyes stay healthy playing on artificial turf?
7. With Darren Oliver returning, which other lefties will find jobs in the bullpen, amongst Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup, and Evan Crawford?
8. Will Brett Lawrie regain the power stroke he had late in the 2012 season?
9. Is Jose Bautista's wrist well enough to make him one of the great power hitters again?
10. Will Colby Rasmus ever become the great five-tool player the Jays expected him to be when they acquired him from St. Louis?
11. What effect will having seven players away at the World Baseball Classic have on the bonding and preparation of the Blue Jays?
Note: The seven players are:
Canada - Brett Lawrie
USA - R.A. Dickey, J.P. Arencibia
Dominican Republic - Edwin Encarnacion, Melky Cabrera, Esmil Rogers, Jose Reyes
Though there don't figure to be any trades or temper tantrums, 2013 figures to be a most interesting spring training.