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Your! Call: Are the Jays AL East favourites after mega-deal?

Shane McNeil, TSN.ca
11/14/2012 10:01:28 AM
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The Toronto Blue Jays had a few holes to fill this off-season.

The most glaring was in the starting rotation, where the Jays were in need of experienced and talented arms to bolster a pitching staff that was ravaged by injuries and inconsistency this past season.

Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos addressed the rotation and a whole lot more with a trade he engineered with the Miami Marlins on Tuesday.

The Jays added veteran lefty Mark Buehrle, an injured ace in Josh Johnson, a former batting champion in Jose Reyes as well as veterans Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck.

The cost, from a future standpoint, was substantial.

The team shipped 22-year-old lefty Henderson Alvarez, troubled Cuban shortstop Yunel Escobar, back-up catcher Jeff Mathis as well as three of its top 10 prospects (according to Baseball America) – Jake Marisnick, Justin Nicolino and Adeiny Hechavarria – to the Marlins in the deal.

It also came with a substantial fiscal price tag, as the team took on over $150 million in contracts, including a minimum of $96 million owed to Reyes alone over the next six years.

The deal is quite possibly the biggest in Jays' history in terms of financial commitment and total star power added, but does it make the Jays favourites in the American League East?

The Jays finished fourth in the East ahead of only the woeful Boston Red Sox. The team finished 22 games out of first, 20 games out of the playoffs and posted the ninth-worst record in the majors.

The team clearly has a lot of ground to make up.

However, the team's Achilles heel this season was – above all else – starting pitching.

Buehrle and Johnson give the team an immediate boost in that regard. The two combined for 393 innings pitched in 2012 and would have placed first and second on the Jays staff in that statistic.

Johnson has ace-grade talent, but has seen his numbers tumble over the past two seasons as he's fought off shoulder injuries.

Buehrle, on the other hand, brings a level of consistency to the Jays staff that has been missing since the departure of Roy Halladay. He has started at least 30 games and pitched over 200 innings in every season dating back to 2001. His earned-run average has only been higher than 4.00 three times over that span and his 1.17 WHIP last season was good for 18th in the majors, better than the likes of James Shields, Zack Greinke and Ryan Dempster.

They bolster a Jays rotation that – prior to the trade – would have consisted of Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow, Alvarez, J.A. Happ and perhaps another free agent addition had a deal not been swung. Romero and Alvarez were the only pitchers to throw more than 125 innings for the Jays last season and only Morrow posted a better earned-run average or WHIP than Johnson or Buehrle amongst Jays starters.

The team also just got a whole lot faster.

The Jays, who finished fifth in the AL in stolen bases, just added an additional 70 steals in the form of Reyes and Bonifacio.

With the added influx of speed at the top of the order, the likelihood of runners being in scoring position for the team's power bats – most notably Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion – markedly improved after the deal.

This deal along with an improved bullpen – after the midseason additions of Steve Delabar and Brad Lincoln, as well as the possibility of improved power from the ‘pen from the likes of Esmil Rogers and Jeremy Jeffress - could make the Jays contenders in the East.

The team will also hope for more out of its existing core, including the continued growth of young regulars like Colby Rasmus, Brett Lawrie and J.P. Arencibia. The team must also get a better effort from Romero and a full season out of Morrow if it hopes to compete with the likes of the Rays, Yankees and even the surprising Orioles.

But what do you think?

Was Tuesday's blockbuster enough to turn the team's fortunes around or does more work lie ahead for Anthopoulos to get the Jays into the playoffs for the first time in 20 years?

As always, It's Your! Call.

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