The Boston Red Sox come into the 2014 season as the defending American League East champions. Not only do they have the World Series target on their backs, they also have four divisional foes trying to unseat them as champs. Over the next few days, we will compare the champs to each challenger within the division in a Tale of the Tape format. All listed player projections are from Dan Szymborski's ZiPS machine. First up, the Toronto Blue Jays.
2013 Final Record
2014 Projected Standings from Baseball Prospectus
Boston: A.J. Pierzynski, Grady Sizemore, Edward Mujica, Burke Badenhop
Toronto: Dioner Navarro
Boston: Jacoby Ellsbury, Stephen Drew, Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Toronto: J.P. Arencibia, Rajai Davis, Josh Johnson, Mark DeRosa, Darren Oliver
Boston decided to move on from Saltalamacchia and replaced him with Pierzynski (.312 wOBA). Pierzynski and David Ross (.288 wOBA) give the club a very experienced as well as aged duo at the position. Pierzysnki has played at least 125 games for 12 consecutive seasons and is coming off his best two-year run at the plate of his career. When he has been catching, opposing baserunners have converted 71 percent of their stolen base attempts, going 125 of 176.
Toronto decided to not tender Arencibia a contract and replaced him with Navarro (.319 wOBA). After Navarro's All-Star appearance in 2008, he has been granted free agency by Tampa Bay, Cincinnati and the Cubs, and released by the Dodgers. Navarro maximized his opportunities in limited playing time last season hitting 13 home runs in just 240 at-bats. That surprising total was a result of a career-best 18 percent home run-to-fly ball ratio and hitting nine of his 13 home runs at Wrigley Field. Navarro has not played more than 100 games at catcher since 2009. Josh Thole (.296 wOBA) remains to receive R.A. Dickey’s offerings every fifth day.
Advantage -- Boston
The strength of the Boston infield is on its right side. Mike Napoli (.350 wOBA) and Dustin Pedroia (.340 wOBA) combined for 25 runs saved defensively while providing above league-average production at their respective positions. The left side of the infield is a larger question mark as Boston let Stephen Drew leave via free agency and is entrusting the shortstop position to the talented yet inexperienced Xander Bogaerts (.333 wOBA). Bogaerts earned that role with an impressive showing late in the season and throughout the postseason. Will Middlebrooks (.312 wOBA) showed excellent power but struggled to get on base and cost the team eight runs defensively at third base.
Toronto returns most of its infield from last season that combined to save 20 runs on defense, most of which were by rookie second baseman Ryan Goins (.266 wOBA). The Jays are banking on his glove for his value, believing they have enough offense from other positions. Edwin Encarnacion (.377 wOBA) ended his season with wrist surgery in late September and updates on his recovery from it have been non-existent. Jose Reyes (.333 wOBA) hopes to avoid a serious injury in 2014 as last year's ankle injury prohibited him from exceeding 130 games played for the third time in the past five seasons. Brett Lawrie (.333 wOBA) played some of his best baseball in the second half.
Advantage -- even
Boston is asking a lot from Jackie Bradley Jr. (.308 wOBA) to fill Jacoby Ellsbury's shoes in center. Ellsbury, who was worth 9.1 and 5.8 wins above replacement in his two most recent full seasons, also saved 13 runs defensively last season. Manager John Farrell platooned Jonny Gomes (.327 wOBA) and Daniel Nava (.322 wOBA) as they managed the intricacies of playing left field in Fenway Park. Shane Victorino was everything the club expected and more in right field, fighting through injuries to save 24 runs in right field while providing above-average offensive production over 122 games. Reclamation project Grady Sizemore and Mike Carp offer depth from the bench.
The Toronto outfielders combined to save 15 runs, with Colby Rasmus (.334 wOBA) doing most of the work from center. Rasmus had his best offensive season since 2010 despite playing just 118 games. Like Rasmus, slugger Jose Bautista (.385 wOBA) was limited to 118 games, marking the fourth time in the past six seasons he has failed to play in at least 130 games. Melky Cabrera (.327 wOBA) returns from a myriad of health issues last season, including the removal of a benign tumor near his spine in September. Anthony Gose (.292 wOBA), Kevin Pillar (.289 wOBA), and Moises Sierra (.302 wOBA) round out the potential outfield depth chart that has been tested heavily in recent seasons.
Advantage -- Toronto
Boston enjoys the rare luxury of being able to return its entire starting rotation a season after winning it all. Jon Lester (197.2 IP, 3.77 FIP), John Lackey (166 IP, 4.10 FIP), Clay Buchholz (128.2 IP, 3.89 FIP) and Jake Peavy (149.1 IP, 3.67 FIP) give the club a formidable foursome. There are a few names in play for the final spot such as Ryan Dempster (149 IP, 4.44 FIP), Felix Doubront (137.1 IP, 4.15 FIP) Brandon Workman (124 IP, 4.49 FIP) and Drake Britton (3.77 in the minors) in play. Boston enjoys depth at this position in the upper levels of the organization.
Toronto expects a better season from R.A. Dickey (195.2 IP, 4.28 FIP). Last season, he was dogged by an upper back issue that reduced the effectiveness of the knuckleball. A return to health in the second half saw his strikeout rate jump 5 percent. Mark Buehrle (168.2 IP, 4.37 FIP) was the only other starter who made more than 20 starts. The club needs Brandon Morrow (125.2 IP, 3.79 FIP) to make 30 starts, something that he has done just once in the past four seasons. JA Happ (125 IP, 4.52 FIP) should own the fourth spot in the rotation while the likes of Esmil Rogers (112 IP, 4.57 FIP), Todd Redmond (119.2 IP, 5.46 FIP) and Drew Hutchison (59.1 IP, 4.61 FIP in 2012) compete for the final spot.
Advantage -- Boston
The bullpen is anchored by Koji Uehara (52.1 IP, 2.10 FIP), who has had a 1.93 ERA over the past four seasons and has struck out 35 percent of the batters he has faced. The only concern with him is that he has yet to throw more than 50 innings in consecutive seasons. Perhaps that is why Boston signed Edward Mujica (63 IP, 3.54 FIP) to give them a strong insurance policy a season after watching both Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan go down with injuries. Junichi Tazawa (73.1 IP, 3.41 FIP) should again play an effective role out. Craig Breslow (57 IP, 4.01 FIP) and Burke Badenhop (63.2 IP, 3.63 FIP) give the club a strong left/right combination to use in matchup situations to help get the ball to Tazawa, Mujica and Uehara.
The bullpen was the one area in Toronto that excelled in 2013. Closer Casey Janssen (53.1 IP, 3.12 FIP) was quietly fantastic in the role while Brett Cecil (66 IP, 3.32 FIP) had a breakout year. He and Steve Delabar (62.1 IP, 4.12 FIP) each saw their efforts rewarded with a trip to the All-Star Game. Sergio Santos (32 IP, 3.02 FIP) made a successful return from injury and looked like his former dominating self in holding batters to a .131 average with a 28:4 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Jeremy Jeffress (52.2 IP, 4.54 FIP), Aaron Loup (72.2 IP, 3.61 FIP), Dustin McGowan (35.2 IP, 4.46 FIP), Chad Jenkins and Kyle Drabek are other potential options in the pen.
Advantage -- Boston
Toronto has been rather quiet this offseason as it lacked the flexibility on their 40-man roster and payroll to be a big player on the free agent market. They have been rumored to be in on the likes of Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana, either of whom would be a welcome addition to a starting staff that has struggled with injuries in recent seasons. Boston has retooled their roster, and while it lacks the shine it had as the 2013 season closed, it is still a strong team on paper and will likely not be threatened by the Blue Jays in 2014.