After tumbling off a cliff in the final weeks of 2011 and getting eliminated from the playoffs on the final game of the season, they were touted as the "Best Team Ever"1 leading up to the 2012 season. Unfortunately, they finished with the worst record in the American League East, losing 12 of their final 13 games en route to a 69-93 record. After a fairly significant overhaul during 2012 and the offseason, they finished 2013 atop Major League Baseball.
See below for a comparison of their 2012 and 2013 Opening Day rosters (not including players that started the year on the DL):
|Alfredo Aceves||Alfredo Aceves|
|Matt Albers||Andrew Bailey|
|Scott Atchison||Clay Buchholz|
|Daniel Bard||Ryan Dempster|
|Josh Beckett||Felix Doubront|
|Michael Bowden||Joel Hanrahan|
|Clay Buchholz||John Lackey|
|Felix Doubront||Jon Lester|
|Jon Lester||Andrew Miller|
|Mark Melancon||Clayton Mortensen|
|Franklin Morales||Junichi Tazawa|
|Vicente Padilla||Koji Uehara|
|Jarrod Saltalamacchi||David Ross|
|Kelly Shoppach||Jarrod Saltalamacchia|
|Mike Aviles||Mike Carp|
|Adrian Gonzalez||Pedro Ciriaco|
|David Ortiz||Jose Iglesias|
|Dustin Pedroia||Will Middlebrooks|
|Nick Punto||Mike Napoli|
|Kevin Youkilis||Dustin Pedroia|
|Jacoby Ellsbury||Jackie Bradley, Jr.|
|Darnell McDonald||Jacoby Ellsbury|
|Cody Ross||Jonny Gomes|
|Ryan Sweeney||Daniel Nava|
Only seven returnees from one Opening Day to the next2 definitely counts as an overhaul.
Now, compare that to the Jays, facing a similar situation this offseason as the Red Sox did between 2012 and 2013. However, after they failed to meet expectations, they did not give themselves nearly as significant a makeover.
|Mark Buehrle||Mark Buehrle|
|Brett Cecil||Brett Cecil|
|Steve Delabar||Steve Delabar|
|R.A. Dickey||R.A. Dickey|
|J.A. Happ||J.A. Happ|
|Casey Janssen||Drew Hutchinson|
|Jeremy Jeffress||Casey Janssen|
|Josh Johnson||Aaron Loup|
|Aaron Loup||Dustin McGowan|
|Brandon Morrow||Brandon Morrow|
|Darren Oliver||Todd Redmond|
|Esmil Rogers||Esmil Rogers|
|Sergio Santos||Sergio Santos|
|J.P. Arencibia||Erik Kratz|
|Henry Blanco||Dioner Navarro|
|Emilio Bonifacio||Edwin Encarnacion|
|Mark DeRosa||Ryan Goins|
|Edwin Encarnacion||Maicer Izturis|
|Maicer Izturis||Brett Lawrie|
|Adam Lind||Adam Lind|
|Jose Reyes||Jose Reyes|
|Jose Bautista||Jose Bautista|
|Melky Cabrera||Melky Cabrera|
|Rajai Davis||Kevin Pillar|
|Colby Rasmus||Colby Rasmus|
Perhaps disastrously similar to the roster that finished 74-88 last season. If you believe the hype, the Jays' lack of attention to their pitching - not signing Ervin Santana was not as big a blow as some would have you believe, as anyone that's owned him in fantasy baseball knows - and second base could be a tragic mistake.
But was it, really? I think expectations are tempered, and no one thinks they're going to win 101 games and cruise to a World Series victory, and as such, is it hard to expect an 85-win season? There have been a few reasons given to explain Boston's turnaround - chief among them being the firing on Bobby Valentine and the "unity" created by the "Got Beard" movement - but I've certainly heard they've won both despite and in spite of their roster makeover.
How much of a difference did it really make, though? Their 2012 Opening Day roster accounted for 23.5 Wins Above Replacement3, while in 2013, their roster earned 46.5, virtually double. However, no holdovers from 2012 saw a decrease in their WAR; indeed, the seven returnees accounted for 14.3 WAR over their contributions from the previous year, good for 22.1 overall. In fact, only nine new players had a WAR above 1 in 2013 - Lackey (2.8), Tazawa (1.0), Uehara (3.6), Napoli (4.1), Gomes (1.2), Nava (2.9), and Victorino (6.2). Everyone else was under 1, or negative.
Now, look at the Jays. In 2013, the total Wins Above Replacement of their Game 1 roster was 25.6. The only contributor they won't have back is Rajai Davis (1.8). What have they lost? Josh Johnson's -1.5 "Wins". The catching duo of J.P. Arencibia and Henry Blanco (combined -0.6). The infield combo of Mark DeRosa and Emilio Bonifacio contributed, clubhouse leadership notwithstanding, 0.1 wins. The seven new players (projected to be) on their 2014 Opening Day roster had a combined 2013 WAR of 6.1 - certainly an improvement over the departed.
If Dickey and Buehrle hold steady at about 2.0 WAR (around where they were last year), and if Brandon Morrow can return to even the form of his first two seasons in Toronto, he'll contribute another win-and-a-half. Whatever combination of J.A. Happ, Dustin McGowan, Todd Redmond, and Esmil Rogers rounds out the rotation will certainly contribute more than Johnson did, and when you add in a bullpen that includes Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos, Aaron Loup, and Brett Cecil (combined 5.3 WAR), and their pitching staff probably combines for about 11 Wins.
Throw in an improving Brett Lawrie (2.3 WAR last year), the glove of Ryan Goins (1.4, almost entirely dWAR), and solid seasons from Rasmus, Bautista, and Encarnacion (3.8, 4.1, 4.0, respectively), and suddenly half the roster is responsible for more than 32 WAR, compared to the team that opened the campaign last year.
At the end of the day, as always, injuries - in 2013, Boston got at least 116 games played from nine players, and 27 starts from four pitchers compared to five and two for the Jays - and luck - Boston's Batting Average on Balls in Play was first in the majors; Toronto's was 27th - will play their parts. They're the crutch an underperforming team leans on, and the hurdles that winners overcome.
Boston won't be as good as they were in 2013.
Toronto won't be as bad as they were in 2013.
Neither may even make the playoffs. But if Toronto does, you know it will be because of facial hair.
1 - Admittedly, by the Boston Herald, not exactly a bastion of journalistic integrity
2 - Plus David Ortiz
3 - Baseball Reference's version of WAR