When most people evaluate offseason moves, they focus mainly on the year ahead.
But with the hot stove season winding down, let's forget about the 2013 season for a second and think about the future.
This week, we're taking a look at every major league team to determine its optimal year for contention over the next five years.
This doesn't mean this is the only year that the team can contend, but rather which year should provide it the best chance for a World Series title.
To determine this, we looked at current talent, age of roster, farm system and payroll, as well as free agents who figure to be available and could help the team reach its goal.
And if youre team isn't ready for a ring in 2013?
Well, there is always next year. (Or the year after that.)
Toronto Blue Jays
Optimal year of contention: 2013
Expectations were high for the Blue Jays heading into 2012, and then they went out and finished 22 games out of first place with 89 losses. After an exciting offseason that brought the Jays one of the best shortstops in the game (Jose Reyes) and three excellent starters (R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle), expectations are now through the roof in Toronto.
The decline of the Red Sox and the expected drop-offs from the Rays and Yankees are also part of the reason the Jays are the favorites in the AL East, but there are plenty of questions still to be answered from a 25-man roster that could have as many as 10 new faces on Opening Day.
On paper, they look like the team to beat for the next three seasons. In reality, these "dream teams" assembled in a short period of time don't always work out on the field. Just ask the Miami Marlins. But this was a talented group of players before this offseason, who just happened to struggle in 2012 without their best hitter, Jose Bautista, in the lineup for much of the season and with their "ace", Ricky Romero, struggling mightily a year after he was one of the best in the league. To show you how far they've come in one offseason, though, Romero is now penciled into the fifth spot in the rotation and rising star Brandon Morrow is the No. 1 starter. That's some serious pitching depth.
TOR payroll outlook
An estimate of guaranteed salary (GS) over the next five seasons, with the number of arbitration-eligible players in parentheses.
2013 $110M (3)
2014 $102M (8)
*Source: Cot's Contracts
Brett Lawrie, 3B (eligible for free agency after 2017): He didn't quite live up to the hype in his first full big league season, but he did post a .729 OPS as a 22-year-old while proving to be a very capable defender at the hot corner. Extending Lawrie to a team-friendly deal before he reaches arbitration might be a good idea considering he does have the 30-homer and 30-stolen base potential that would send his price skyrocketing during arbitration years if he actually reaches those numbers.
Josh Johnson, RHP (2013): The former Marlins' ace wasn't quite all the way back to his former dominant self in 2012, but he did manage to stay healthy and make 31 starts and pitch 191 1/3 innings after missing much of 2011 with a shoulder injury. If the 28-year-old remains pain-free and he's back to pitching like an ace early in the season, the Jays might not want to let him reach free agency following the season. They'll have a nice head start over the other 29 teams that are certain to have interest in such a scenario.
J.P. Arencibia, C (2016): Now that the top catching prospect in baseball, Travis d'Arnaud, has been traded to the Mets in the R.A. Dickey deal, Arencibia appears to have a long-term future in Toronto. The 27-year-old is responsible for working with what looks to be one of the more talented pitching staffs in baseball, while continuing to be a home run threat on offense -- he has 41 long balls over his first two full seasons. I think he can do slightly better than the three-year deals signed by Chris Iannetta and Nick Hundley a few years back; both received between $8-9 million with club options for a fourth year, but he'll need to get that OBP up above .300.
Much of the focus has been on the new lineup and the new rotation, both of which look excellent on paper, but the bullpen is also a very important component to a winning club. Steve Delabar and Brad Lincoln are unproven in the late innings, and closer Sergio Santos is coming off of shoulder surgery. So although the group appears capable, and should be deep enough to deal with a few injuries here or there, this is not a group that strikes fear into opponents late in the game -- At least not yet.
Potential free-agent targets
There are still plenty of relievers available with late-inning experience, including Matt Capps, Kyle Farnsworth, Brandon Lyon, Francisco Rodriguez and Brian Wilson, among others. I'd be surprised if one of them didn't end up with Toronto before the start of spring training. Aside from that, the Jays are ready to go to work.
It's hard to envision the team falling out of the playoff race in 2013. If it does, you can bet that Johnson, the team's lone free agent-to-be, will be shopped, while super-utilityman Emilio Bonifacio and Colby Rasmus could also be put on the block. (Both are under team control through 2014). More likely, the Jays will be looking to add at the trade deadline, unless things are going so great they can afford to just stand pat. If designated hitter Adam Lind slumps again, as he did early in 2012, the Jays could pursue another bat. My guess is they look to add a reliever to solidify a bullpen that's decent, but not dominant.
Waiting in the wings
The Jays traded a lot of really good prospects from the farm this offseason to acquire Reyes, Dickey, Johnson and Buehrle, but they still have some talented arms in the low minors, and Aaron Sanchez is the best of the bunch. The 20-year-old has a very good chance to develop into a top-of-the-rotation starter. It might take another three years before he reaches Toronto, though. Lefties Daniel Norris and Sean Nolin should move quicker, but profile more as back-of-the-rotation starters.
Marcus Stroman, the team's first-rounder in 2012, has the ability to move very fast and make an impact out of the Jays' bullpen some time during the second half of the season. If this is the case, it might have the same effect as acquiring a power arm at the trade deadline. However, Stroman will miss the first 50 games of 2013 after testing positive for a banned stimulant, so that is working against him.
Future regulars (ETA in parentheses): A.J. Jimenez, C (2014); D.J. Davis, OF (2016); Aaron Sanchez, RHP (2015); Marcus Stroman, RHP (2013); Sean Nolin, LHP (2014); Daniel Norris, LHP (2015)