“This is by far the best team I’ve played on”.
That’s quite the proclamation by the Toronto Blue Jays‘ best player, slugger Jose Bautista, as the team opened camp for Spring Training today.
Can you blame him for being excited, though?
They say that hope springs eternal, but what Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has done to overhaul the team in the off-season means that the team no longer has to hope for success in 2013.
They’ll be expecting it.
In fact, they’re awash in the sort of expectations that this market hasn’t seen in years – perhaps even decades.
If that sounds like an exaggeration, consider that the the 20th anniversary of Toronto’s 1993 World Series win is coming up this year, and not even in the heydays of Roy Halladay or Carlos Delgado were this team considered not just a contender, but a favourite to win the AL East.
Gone is the disastrous season that saw the team’s already-lacking starting rotation become crippled due to injuries. There won’t be talks about whether Rajai Davis or Eric Thames should play left field, or if Aaron Laffey would make a good back-end starter.
No, the Blue Jays are on to much bigger names, like R.A. Dickey, Melky Cabrera, and Josh Johnson, the former Miami Marlins ace who will be the team’s number-four starter when the season opens in April.
This is a team what isn’t just happy to contend – it’s playoffs or bust for the 2013 bluebirds. “The sky is the limit,” as Bautista says.
It’s not entirely inaccurate; however, with heightened expectations also comes the risk of overwhelming disappointment.
The best-laid plans can quickly come undone in the right circumstances, and the Blue Jays are not immune to that in the coming season.
The first and foremost issue will be team health – not counting the pitchers, the team saw significant injuries to Bautista, J.P. Arencibia, and Brett Lawrie in 2012. If that perfect storm of unfortunate events happens again, this team could quickly find itself in a downward spiral. We’ve seen it happen as recently as last season’s Boston Red Sox squad, and while the Blue Jays are very good, they’re by no means perfect enough to deal with multiple pieces of the core going down at once.
Bautista, though, would just rather claim ignorance on that idea, saying “I just don’t see where it can go bad for us.”
It might be a tad too optimistic, but if that’s the approach that’s going to bring the best out of the team’s best player in the coming season, hey, that works too.