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Injuries derailed Blue Jays' lofty expectations

TORONTO -- In many ways, it seems like the Blue Jays' 2012 season reached its conclusion a lifetime ago, and that's a good thing for both the organization and a fan base that was at wits' end.

The Blue Jays entered the year with lofty expectations following a successful Spring Training, but a series of devastating injuries derailed any chance of them competing in the tough American League East.

The woes began in June, when the Blue Jays lost three-fifths of their starting rotation to injury in a span of just four days. Brandon Morrow, Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison all hit the disabled list, and a glaring lack of pitching depth then came to the forefront.

Toronto, at least temporarily, handled the setback with improved offensive production at the plate, but that too would come to an end because of injuries. Jose Bautista hit the DL in July, and he was followed by the likes of Brett Lawrie and J.P. Arencibia.

It proved to be too much to overcome and Toronto was eventually forced to limp its way to the end of the regular season. The injuries to Drabek, Hutchison and lefty Luis Perez will carry over into next season, which was expected to be a lingering blow, but so much has changed in the past couple of months.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos completely overhauled his roster in November with a massive 12-player trade with Miami that saw the likes of Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio headed to Toronto. Anthopoulos followed that move with the free-agent signing of Melky Cabrera and a trade for 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey.

All of the sudden, next season's roster bears little resemblance to the one which went 73-89 this year. Here's a look at some of the top storylines from what proved to be an eventful year:

5. Ricky Romero's season to forget

Romero entered the season on the heels of an All-Star campaign which saw him go 15-11 with a 2.92 ERA in a career-high 225 innings of work. More of the same was expected in 2012, but Romero never seemed to find his comfort zone on the mound.

The East Los Angeles native began the season in somewhat OK fashion. He was 8-1 through 15 starts, but the high number of wins had more to do with a lot of run support than his overall performance. Even when Romero came away with the victory, it was often during a game in which he struggled with his command -- and at times, composure -- on the mound.

The concerns became even more glaring from that point on. Romero set a franchise record by going winless for 15 starts until finally earning a victory on Sept. 24 against the Orioles. Romero did eventually undergo a minor surgery on his left elbow at the end of the season, but it's unknown how much that had to do with his subpar season.

4. Edwin Encarnacion's breakout season

The Blue Jays spent the past several years talking about Encarnacion's upside at the plate, but it wasn't until this season that he finally lived up to the hype. Encarnacion set career highs in virtually every major statistical category, and along the way earned a three-year, $27 million contract extension.

Encarnacion finished fourth in the AL with 42 homers despite missing the final week of the season with a neck injury. He also tied for third in RBIs (110), third in OPS (.941), fifth in OBP (.384) and 10th in extra-base hits (66).

The results followed an offseason when Encarnacion rededicated himself to the game with an improved workout routine. He showed up to camp in noticeably better shape and overhauled his mechanics at the plate with the help of former Major Leaguer Luis Mercedes.

More of the same will be expected from Encarnacion in 2013 as he forms a formidable tandem with Bautista in the heart of Toronto's batting order. That seemed like an almost impossible scenario just a couple of years ago.

3. The week everything fell apart

The Blue Jays still had aspirations of the postseason when their entire year went up in flames during the month of June. During a span of just four days, the club lost Morrow, Hutchison and Drabek to long-term injuries.

Morrow wasn't able to return until late August, while Hutchison and Drabek won't be available until at least next year's All-Star break because they underwent Tommy John surgery.

The rapid-fire injuries left the Blue Jays ill-prepared to remain competitive in the AL East. The club attempted to use a patchwork of arms such as Aaron Laffey, Jesse Chavez, Joel Carreno and Carlos Villanueva to limit the blow, but it was simply too much to overcome.

The nightmarish week wasn't the only one Toronto would go on to experience. Shortly thereafter, the club also lost the likes of Perez, Bautista, Arencibia and Lawrie to the disabled list as well.

2. Blue Jays dip into their past by hiring John Gibbons

When the Blue Jays hired John Farrell on Oct. 25, 2010, he was considered to be a major part of their future. Farrell's past experience as both a pitching coach and director of player development seemed to be the perfect partner for Anthopoulos.

Two short years later, Farrell expressed his desire to return to a Boston organization he previously worked for from 2007-10. Anthopoulos obliged and then began a managerial search while simultaneously providing some much-needed upgrades to his roster.

Anthopoulos eventually turned to Gibbons, who spent parts of five seasons managing the Blue Jays from 2004-08. The two became close during that previous stint, and when a lack of suitable candidates to replace Farrell emerged, Anthopoulos opted to go for a known commodity.

Gibbons is an underrated skipper who is known for his ability to manage a bullpen. That will prove crucial next season, but he'll also need to appropriately guide a running game, as speed is one of the club's biggest strengths.

1. The offseason to remember

It's the day that will be talked about for years to come. On Nov. 19, Anthopoulos officially transformed his team from an afterthought into a postseason contender, and all of it happened in just one deal.

Anthopoulos acquired Johnson, Buehrle, Bonifacio and John Buck in a massive 12-player trade with the Marlins. In just one move, Toronto completed almost all of its lofty goals for the offseason and took advantage of a Miami team that was desperately looking to cut salary.

The move also set the table for further upgrades. Cabrera suddenly became interested in signing with the Blue Jays while Dickey was easily sold on the benefits of playing on such a talented roster. Without the blockbuster trade, it's unlikely that either of the two big moves that followed could have become a reality.

The two big trades don't come without a lot of risk, though. Toronto was forced to part with a slew of its top prospects, including Travis d'Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino, Adeiny Hechavarria and Jake Marisnick.

Only time will tell whether it was a worthwhile sacrifice to make.

Toronto Blue Jays, J.P. Arencibia, Jose Bautista, Mark Buehrle, Melky Cabrera, R.A. Dickey, Kyle Drabek, Edwin Encarnacion, Drew Hutchison, Josh Johnson, Brandon Morrow, Jose Reyes, Ricky Romero