What has been the biggest reason for Brett Lawrie's turnaround in the second half? He seems like a completely different hitter than he was earlier this year.
-- Tyler B., Ajax, Ontario
Lawrie's critics were out in full force earlier this season, but there has been very little to complain about recently. Lawrie has made a couple of adjustments at the plate with hitting coach Chad Mottola that seem to have made a big difference.
The 23-year-old third baseman has cut down on the amount of movement he has in the batter's box just prior to his swing, and he has also began using a slightly more upright stance. The biggest key to Lawrie's success, though, has been a slightly more patient approach that has led to a decrease in strikeouts.
Prior to the All-Star break, Lawrie struck out 37 times in just 147 at-bats, but since then, he has struck out just 17 times in 163 at-bats. A lack of patience has always been Lawrie's Achilles' heel, and while he always might be somewhat of a free swinger, any improvement in this area will go a long way in helping increase his production.
Lawrie cooled off at the end of August, but he still finished tied for fifth in the American League with 37 hits in the month. He's now hitting .301 with an .827 OPS in the second half and is setting himself up for a big year in 2014.
Why did the Blue Jays bring back Ricky Romero? It seems to me guys like Marcus Stroman and Sean Nolin would have been more worthy of a spot on the team in September.
-- David G., Toronto, Ontario
There's really nothing to lose by bringing Romero back to the Major Leagues. He has gone through an incredibly disappointing and frustrating season during which all but a handful of his starts took place at Triple-A Buffalo. Romero's lone two starts with the Blue Jays came back in May, when he allowed six runs over just 4 1/3 innings before being relegated to the Minors.
If Romero struggles during his September callup, he won't be any worse off than he was before. But if Romero can end the year on a positive, it's at least something he can build upon during the offseason as he attempts to regain his previous form. Romero's ability to find work before the end of the year is still somewhat in doubt, but any opportunity to get back on a big league mound will be welcomed with open arms.
Romero is still owed $15 million over the next two seasons, and the Blue Jays are doing everything they can to recuperate some of that investment. That's one of the main reasons Romero got the call over someone such as Nolin. An offseason trade of Romero still seems extremely unlikely because of the salary owed, but stranger things have happened, and some positive outings at least have a chance to alter how he is viewed across the league.
Josh Johnson had a very disappointing season, and we know he is a pending free agent, but do you think the Blue Jays will try to re-sign him to give him at least one more chance at a successful season?
-- Brad B., Timmins, Ontario
The only way the Blue Jays can essentially guarantee that Johnson will remain in the fold is by making him a qualifying offer at the end of the season. That would cost the club approximately $14 million but would also mean it gets a compensatory Draft pick if Johnson signed with another team.
The Draft-pick compensation likely would be enough to scare off potential suitors, because teams would be extremely hesitant to part with a top selection while also committing a significant amount of money for a pitcher who's coming off a season having thrown just 81 1/3 innings with a 6.20 ERA.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos said the Blue Jays won't make a final determination on Johnson's status with the club until the end of the year. That will allow the club to have another look at his medical records and monitor his rehab from a right forearm injury. If Johnson becomes a free agent without receiving a qualifying offer, there's a strong chance he'll head back to the National League on a one-year deal in an attempt to regain some of his lost value.
Ryan Goins has really impressed me since being called up from Triple-A Buffalo. Do you think he has a chance to become the Blue Jays' second baseman of the future?
-- Adam H., Halifax, Nova Scotia
Goins certainly has turned some heads during his first few weeks in the big leagues with his play in the field and at the plate, but there are still a lot of questions about his overall upside. There's no doubting his defensive abilities, but Goins will need to prove he can hit Major League pitching over an extended period of time before a job can be guaranteed.
There has been a belief around the Blue Jays for quite some time that Goins would project well as a utility infielder. He can play third, shortstop and second base with relative ease, and he would give Toronto another left-handed bat to use off the bench.
Whether Goins can become more than that remains to be seen. He hit just .257 with a .311 on-base percentage in 111 games at Triple-A Buffalo this season, and he'll need to do better than that to justify a full-time position. Goins has batted .325 with the Blue Jays, but the sample size is incredibly small, and it's how he responds over the final four weeks of the season that will dictate his spot in the organization.
With the way the season has unfolded and the likelihood of finishing with a worse record than last year after an overhyped offseason, what are the chances that Alex Anthopoulos is let go?
-- Bob L., Prince George, British Columbia
The Blue Jays' season hasn't even come close to living up to the hype, but that doesn't mean Anthopoulos should be looking over his shoulder. Toronto's fourth-year GM appears to have the full backing of president Paul Beeston along with the Rogers Communications ownership group, and that's unlikely to change for at least the foreseeable future.
Anthopoulos has received a lot of criticism lately, but it's sometimes easy to forget last offseason he was being heralded as one of the best GMs in the game. The vast majority of people across baseball -- journalists, front-office executives and scouts -- all called the deal with Miami a clear win for Toronto. The deal with New York for R.A. Dickey wasn't viewed quite as favorably, but it also seemed justified considering how close the Blue Jays appeared to having a contending team.
Hindsight is obviously 20/20, but Anthopoulos always pitched the offseason expenditures as part of a three-year window to win. It didn't work out in Year 1, but he'll be given every opportunity to make adjustments, and there's still another couple of years before the window of opportunity closes on the core players the organization has in stock.
Why wouldn't the Jays send Dustin McGowan to winter ball to build arm strength and stretch him out to compete for a starting role next year since this team is seriously lacking in starting pitching?
-- Derrick R., Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
McGowan is open about his desire to one day return to the starting rotation, but that process isn't going to start in winter ball. The 31-year-old has gone through year-long rehabs for a variety of injuries for the past five seasons, and more than anything, he could use a full offseason to find a regular routine.
The native of Savannah, Ga., started the weighted-ball routine earlier this season with the main goal of increasing shoulder strength. The in-season program is more about maintenance, and the offseason program is more aggressive and could go a long way in protecting McGowan's future health.
Full health is by far the most important thing for McGowan, who has managed to pitch just 40 innings since 2011. He will have a full six weeks in Spring Training to prepare for next season and always has the option of reporting a couple of weeks early to get that process started even earlier. All that being said, McGowan found a niche in the bullpen this season and will face an uphill battle to prove he is healthy enough to crack the starting five.
What's your best guess for next year's starting rotation? Are any of Kyle Drabek, Hutchison, Nolin, and Stroman -- or even Romero -- expected to break camp with the big team?
-- Darren, Abbotsford, British Columbia
Dickey, Mark Buehrle and Brandon Morrow are the only three starters with jobs that should be all but guaranteed next season. Dickey and Buehrle earn their spots based on track record, while Morrow will likely have a starting role because of his upside -- even if it comes accompanied with a lot of injury risk.
The final two spots are completely up for grabs at this point. I'd expect Anthopoulos to make some sort of move during the offseason to add at least one starter, which would then leave a series of candidates for the No. 5 job. Left-hander J.A. Happ likely would enter camp as a favorite, in part because of his guaranteed contract, but it shouldn't be long before both Drabek and Hutchison push him for that final spot.
Stroman and Nolin likely will both begin the year in the Minors, but they will provide the club with some valuable organizational depth, which the Blue Jays clearly didn't have this year.
Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB.