A season that began with so much promise for the Toronto Blue Jays finally has come to a disappointing end. The Blue Jays swept the Minnesota Twins to avoid their first 90-loss season since 2004, but "October baseball" was supposed to mean more than a forgettable series against the American League's worst team.
It was a wild season of ups-and-downs for the Blue Jays. There was disappointment in the winter after missing out on free-agent stars like Yu Darvish and Prince Fielder; then renewed excitement and sky-high expectations after going 24-7 in the spring training Grapefruit League.
The Blue Jays went 43-43 in the first half of the season, and then the wheels fell off.
By now the problems, mostly injuries and inconsistency, have been well documented. Rather than dwell on what went wrong, let's look ahead to the offseason and beyond. Here are five questions facing the Blue Jays this offseason.
1. Who's on first, what's on second?
The right side of the Blue Jays infield is in a state of flux. Adam Lind began the season as the starting first baseman, as expected, but a dismal April and May saw him end up in Triple-A. He was better in the second half when he returned, but he no longer looks like the player who hit 35 home runs and batted .305 in 2009. Lind is under contract for 2013 (with team options for '14, '15 and '16) but returning as the everyday first baseman seems unlikely.
Edwin Encarnacion was the Blue Jays MVP, belting 42 home runs and driving in 110 runs while splitting time as the designated hitter and at first base. He started 63 games at first but seems well suited to the DH role.
Over at second base, Kelly Johnson will not be back. He is a free agent now and did little to make the Blue Jays want to keep him. He's a fine defensive second baseman, but batted just .225, hit 16 homers, and drove in 55 runs. He also tied Jose Canseco's club record for strikeouts.
That leaves a big hole with no obvious solution. Don't expect Brett Lawrie to move to second. Rising star Adeiny Hechavarria is a natural shortstop but made eight appearances at second. His 2013 position, or whether or not he even begins the season in the majors, will have a lot to do with where shortstop Yunel Escobar ends up (we'll get to that).
The most likely solution appears to be targetting a second baseman through free agency, with Shi Davidi of Sportsnet reporting Marco Scutaro and Jeff Keppinger being ideal candidates.
2. Which Ricky Romero will show up in 2013?
Management and fans are no doubt tired of Romero's Jekyll and Hyde act. In 2011, he won 15 games, had an ERA of 2.92, had a Baseball-Reference WAR of 6.2 and was a deserving All-Star.
One year later and it all fell apart. Romero finished 2012 with an ERA of 5.77, led the majors in walks, and had a WAR of -1.7.
Romero was supposed to be the ace of the pitching staff. When the rotation was hit with numerous injuries, he was relied on even more, but didn't answer the call. Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos has acknowledged the need to improve the team's pitching through trades or free agency. Getting Romero back to his 2011 form would go a long way. So what do the Blue Jays do with a 27 year old who is owed more than $22 million over the next three years?
3. Will they spend money to add help where needed?
Anthopoulos addressed the media on Wednesday, and hinted that the answer is "Yes." He said revenues are up and the payroll will climb.
"The 35-year-old Montrealer swears the payroll will climb significantly from the $81 million it stood at on opening day this year. He swears that not only is he more willing to deal his own prospects, but that with another year in the minors, they have certainly become more valuable to other GMs because they are closer to being 40-man roster members with a new team.
Actually saying he has the ability to spend $100 million on team payroll and revealing his goal of chasing big-name free- agent pitchers is something completely new for Anthopoulos."
4. Will they address the team's 'controversies'?
As the Blue Jays 2012 season came undone on the field, things unravelled off the field as well.
Yunel Escobar's suspension for writing a gay slur in his eye black created a firestorm and revealed other troubling aspects of the team's clubhouse. The Blue Jays were criticized for their response to the controversy, which led to a larger discussion of the young team's behaviour on and off the field.
Former Blue Jays catcher and TV analyst Gregg Zaun was the most critical:
"The atmosphere they've created in this clubhouse is consequence-free. If your name is so-and-so we'll cut you some slack. We don't expect you to play the game properly. If you're of a certain stature in this organization, prospect-wise, you don't have to perform well, because you're a prospect... The three-day suspension is sending the message of consequence free environment." (The Globe and Mail)
That was followed by veteran infielder Omar Vizquel criticizing the coaching staff for not holding young players accountable for their mistakes.
On Wednesday, Jose Bautista came to the defence of his team.
"When it came to addressing mistakes and stuff like that, I see it every day and I saw it every day when I was playing and I see it every day when I'm watching games," Bautista said, adding later that the team needs to perform better but does need to acquire additional leadership. (The Toronto Star)
The second half of the year was a PR nightmare for the Blue Jays. It wouldn't be a surprise if Escobar was traded away in an effort to try to heal some of the wounds from the incident.
5. Will manager John Farrell be back?
Farrell just completed his second season as Blue Jays manager, with mixed results. The poor record, glut of injuries to pitchers and clubhouse controversy made him a target for backlash in a lost season. But he is under contract for another year and Anthopoulos appears to have his back.
Still, the Red Sox will probably aggressively pursue him. It remains to be seen whether Farrell would even want to go to a team that's more dysfunctional than the Blue Jays right now. But in an era when managers can be traded for prospects, anything can happen and his future in Toronto is definitely up in the air.