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The Strike Zone

2014 Season Preview: Toronto Blue Jays

Toronto needs full seasons from Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes to contend. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) Toronto needs full seasons from Jose Bautista and Jose Reyes to contend. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)

This week, SI.com is previewing all 30 MLB teams, counting down to the No. 1 team in the league. At No. 24: The Toronto Blue JaysYou can find previews for teams 30 through 25 here.

2013 Record and Finish: 74-88, fifth place in AL East (23rd overall)

2014 Projected Record: 73-89, fifth place in AL East

The Case For

The Blue Jays were a popular pick to win the AL East a year ago after they won the winter. That didn’t work out largely due to injury and regression, but their 2014 team isn’t radically different. The biggest changes the Jays have made were to upgrade their catching situation by non-tendering out-machine J.P Arencibia and signing Dioner Navarro, and to let Josh Johnson, part of their big haul a year ago, leave as a free agent. The Jays almost can’t help but improve upon the 6.20 ERA Johnson put up in 16 starts or on the .227 on-base percentage Arencibia posted in 497 plate appearances. Meanwhile, healthy seasons from Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista, Melky Cabrera, Brandon Morrow and Sergio Santos could have an even bigger impact, as could a rebound by knuckleballing ace R.A. Dickey.

The Case Against

Most of what wrong for the Blue Jays last year was easily anticipated, meaning things didn’t so much go wrong as they went according to somewhat more realistic expectations. Now it’s Navarro who is unlikely to repeat a career year, and the team still hasn’t solved second base or its rotation, which a year ago was hoping to get a rebound from Ricky Romero in addition to strong seasons from Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Johnson, and Morrow. Johnson’s now gone, and Romero is as good as gone. That leaves Morrow, coming off a nerve issue in his forearm that limited him to ten starts last year; Drew Hutchison, coming back from August 2012 Tommy John surgery with just 11 major league starts under his belt; and J.A. Happ, at least for now, to back up the 39-year-old Dickey and 35-year-old Buehrle.

2014 Fantasy baseball team preview: Toronto Blue Jays

X-Factor: Health

The Blue Jays have been hit hard by injuries for two years in a row. This year, forty percent of their rotation is attempting to come back from major arm injuries (and it could be 60 percent if things go well for fellow Tommy John case Kyle Drabek in Triple-A to start the season, another big “if”). Bautista has averaged just 105 games over the last two years, and Reyes has played in more than 133 games just once in the last five years. Meanwhile, at third base, Brett Lawrie has yet to avoid the disabled list in a major league season. If the Blue Jays can stay healthy, they can tighten up an already strong division, but a season without injuries in Toronto seems unlikely.

Number To Know: 19

That’s how many seasons the Blue Jays have played since they last made the playoffs (not counting 1994). That’s the second-longest in baseball after the Royals’ 27-season drought and ties the length of the drought the Pirates broke last season (again, not counting 1994 in both cases).

Scout's Takes

Most overrated: Melky Cabrera

"I think that could be a disaster. He could hit under .250 and very few home runs playing the natural way. He doesn't look like the same player that he was. He still doesn't have the same bat speed or anything else that we've seen in the past. I can see him eventually getting beaten out by somebody, I'm just not sure who."

Most underrated: Edwin Encarnacion

"I'd say Edwin Encarnacion is an underrated player nationally, how good he is, the scariness of his presence. After wrist surgery, [he] looks solid. He should be fine. He and Bautista are as good as any two 3-4 right-handed power guys in the American League."

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