The Jays may be preseason favorites, but sometimes favorites don't win.
As of February 21st, 2013, the Toronto Blue Jays are Las Vegas' favourites to win the World Series, with 7/1 odds. Las Vegas gambling odds don't reflect the talent of the team itself, of course, but rather their talent as perceived by gamblers: whichever team people are most likely to bet on becomes the team with the most favourable World Series odds (our very own Gerse explained this quite well in a comment on Tom's post yesterday). What does that mean for the Blue Jays? It means that for the first time in (arguably) twenty years, there are legitimate expectations from the baseball world for a playoff performance. As a Blue Jays fan, I find this both exciting and terrifying.
Last week, Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA projections were released, with the Blue Jays coming in at 4th in the AL East with 85 wins. While I do think the Blue Jays will have a more successful season than that (I have a hard time seeing how the Red Sox could finish with 86 wins, or how the Yankees could win the division without a catcher), my goal here is not to argue with PECOTA but instead to look at how we as a fanbase reacted to this projection. In most years, 85 wins would be accepted as a very good season, but you wouldn't know that if you were reading comments from fans on twitter last week. In a normal 85 win season, we would talk about how the Blue Jays would have made the playoffs if they were in the AL Central, and how unfair the divisions are. "But, hey," we'd say. "At least we have a good farm system!"
Something tells me that's not how the fanbase will react if the Blue Jays get 85 wins this season.
When Alex Anthopoulos traded for Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Emilio Bonifacio, and Mark Buehrle, he took the Blue Jays from being an injury-plagued 73 win team and, at least on paper, vaulted them into contention. When he traded two of the team's best prospects for R.A. Dickey, expectations skyrocketed. The addition of these five players and their 10+ cumulative WAR will be enough, we all hope, to push the Jays into the playoffs. However, these players, along with some already on the team, don't come without risk: risk of injury, risk of being lost to free agency, or just the risk that we face with every player: the possibility that they just won't play well.
The majority of people agree that the Blue Jays have "won" the offseason, and rightfully so. No other team in baseball has added the quantity and quality of talent that the Blue Jays did with the two trades mentioned above. The question, in my mind, is not "did Alex Anthopoulos do enough to set the team up to win?" because he quite clearly did. The question to be answered instead is "will they pull it off?", and it's one that can't be answered until games are played.
The list of failed teams that had high expectations going into the season is a long one, and we need look no further than the 2012 Miami Marlins or Los Angeles Angels to see evidence of that. The Angels and Marlins were last year's offseason winners. The Angels had CJ Wilson, Albert Pujols, and, promoted from their minor league system, Mike Trout joining the club, but were unable to overcome a horrid start. The Marlins added Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Heath Bell (although people really should not have been excited about Heath Bell), but the team was (and still is), well, just a mess all around. And if you were to take a look at last year's preseason World Series odds, you would find the Philadelphia Phillies on the top of the list, and we know how well last season worked out for them. The Blue Jays themselves finished well below expectations last year, suffering through unpredictable injury after unpredictable injury.
Does this mean you shouldn't have high expectations for the 2013 Blue Jays? No, and the 2013 Blue Jays are far from being the 2012 Phillies. But it does mean that you should prepare yourself for the possibility of disappointment. If disappointment does come, keep in mind that the Blue Jays window for contention is larger than just this year: failure to make the playoffs in 2013 does not mean that the offseason moves were a mistake, or that Alex Anthopoulos should be fired, or that the team can't contend in the next three years and beyond.
I, like many of you, am a Toronto sports fan, but I only started paying attention in 2007. Needless to say, I have never really understood what cheering for a successful team feels like. While I'm certainly terrified about the implications of the elevated expectations the Blue Jays are dealing with this season, it's a burden I'm more than willing to bear if it means my team is making a run for the World Series this year and in the years to come. I hope I'll look back on this post in October and smile, because as it turned out, I didn't really need to write this at all.