ST. PETERSBURG -- As if the Rays weren't already in a tough spot competing in the American League East, the Blue Jays appear poised to make the division a legitimate five-team dogfight come 2013.
The Blue Jays are reportedly on the verge of a substantial upgrade, as they will acquire from the Marlins veteran starting pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle, shortstop Jose Reyes, utility man Emilio Bonifacio and catcher John Buck for a package of prospects and young Major Leaguers. Johnson and Buehrle would tremendously improve Toronto's rotation, and Reyes and Bonifacio figure to add an element of speed that hasn't recently been found on the Jays' roster.
Add all that to a powerful lineup, a stable of power arms in the bullpen and a sharp front office that Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon has often praised, and Toronto could be an early favorite in the AL East next year.
"It definitely puts them right in contention. There's no question," Maddon said. "Their pitching staff got better, and it got more veteran, which they had not been among the starters. The team on the field has been offensive; they got more offensive. They got faster. Bonifacio, I really dig him, man. That guy is a pain. They added speed, they added presence and their pitching staff got better just because of the mentoring ability, say, of Buehrle among all these other guys."
Even more concerning to Maddon, was the idea that the Blue Jays might not be done. They currently have a surplus of catchers, a weak position throughout baseball, and they could swap one to address an area of need. But Maddon, ever the optimist for his club, pointed out what could go wrong with Toronto's new acquisitions: Reyes' oft-injured legs might not hold up on Rogers Centre's artificial turf, Johnson's health has been a big question mark the past few seasons, and so on.
"All those things are factors. Just because you acquire some big names doesn't necessarily put you in the driver's seat," Maddon said. "It definitely does make them better. It makes them much more interesting. But at the end of the day, it's about how we conduct our business and what we believe in. I really don't worry about that. It's going to be fun to play them.
"I'm not worried about it. We've talked about this before. We've gone through this with other teams, whether it's Boston or New York or whomever with all the different things they do in the offseason. Now, Toronto's doing it. But it's about what we do and how we cohabitate and how we make ourselves better. Coming off 90 wins with all the issues that we had last year, that's still pretty impressive."