Who are these teams scheduled to congregate on the field at the Rogers Centre on Tuesday? They certainly don't bear much resemblance to the pair of clubs that filled the dugouts at Progressive Field a year ago, when the Blue Jays topped the Indians in an Opening Day-record 16-inning affair.
Both Cleveland and Toronto applied face lifts to their rosters over a winter littered with trades, free-agent signings and managerial hires.
"I think it's phenomenal," said Indians left fielder Michael Brantley. "Right out of the gate, you're going to have two teams that brought in a lot of new faces, and a lot of great players. Right out of the gate, we're going to see what we're both made of and, hopefully, we'll have a great opening series."
The Blue Jays and Indians actually commenced their offseason renovations with a trade with each other. In early November, Cleveland dealt reliever Esmil Rogers to Toronto in exchange for utility players Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes. Two weeks later, Toronto stunned the baseball world by acquiring Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio and John Buck from the Marlins in a 12-player blockbuster. A month after the first shock wave, the Blue Jays nabbed 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey from the Mets.
"On paper," Buehrle said, "we look good. We've got to stay healthy, but that's the same with any team."
Ricky Romero, who started for Toronto on Opening Day last season, is now at Class A Dunedin. Jose Bautista now has plenty of cushioning in a deep, speedy, powerful Blue Jays batting order. John Gibbons, who managed Toronto from 2004-08, was tabbed to replace John Farrell, who jumped ship to Boston. Gibbons is tasked with captaining this revamped vessel into the wide-open waters of the American League East.
"It's just a whole different situation in here," said Toronto third baseman Brett Lawrie. "You look at the guys we brought in, and it's obviously a bigger deal and everybody's treating it like a bigger deal. There's more talent and there's more energy."
The Indians boast vaulted expectations as well, an unforeseen circumstance a few months ago, after the club's 2012 campaign concluded with a 5-24 August, a 13-17 September/October and the dismissal of manager Manny Acta. First, the organization secured new skipper Terry Francona, and an array of roster moves followed. The team traded for highly touted pitching prospect Trevor Bauer and outfielder Drew Stubbs, signed free agents Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Mark Reynolds and, suddenly, rants about rebuilding were replaced with chatter about contending.
"It's totally different," said Tribe closer Chris Perez. "Last year, you could see the holes. Our starting pitchers were getting crushed in Spring Training and everybody was like, 'It's just like Spring Training.' No, not when the guys are actually trying to get outs and they can't. That's not just Spring Training. We definitely have a different vibe this year."
So, a year removed from a chilly, blustery Opening Day beside Lake Erie, where the Blue Jays tagged Perez for three runs in the ninth en route to a 7-4 win seven innings later, the same teams -- technically speaking -- will reconvene north of the border to initiate another 162-game slate.
Toronto will send its new ace, Dickey (20-6, 2.73 ERA in 2012), to the hill, where he'll face a Cleveland lineup predicated on the speed of Bourn, Stubbs and second baseman Jason Kipnis, and the power of Swisher, Reynolds and catcher Carlos Santana. Cleveland will counter with right-hander Justin Masterson, who mystified the Blue Jays over eight innings in last year's opener, as he limited Toronto to one run on two hits and tallied 10 strikeouts. That didn't serve as a harbinger for Masterson's season, however, as the sinkerballer compiled an 11-15 mark and 4.93 ERA as Cleveland's ace in 2012.
"Whether I was doing Opening Day or not," Masterson said, "I feel like I'm one of the leaders on this staff, a guy who's going to go out there and, by word and by deed, set the tone for the way the Indians go about their business."
That optimism runs rampant in both clubhouses these days.
"The sky is the limit for us, because I know how many good players we have," Bautista said. "I've been on other teams where I felt like we've had a chance to go to the playoffs and contend, but we haven't for whatever reason.
"This is by far the best team I've played on. I just don't see where it can go bad for us. Because of those reasons, I think we should and we could be in the playoffs and the World Series."
Of course, October is quite a ways away. For a couple of teams that underwent significant remodeling in the offseason, a good start would be a welcome first step.
"We haven't done anything yet," said Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos. "We like our chances, we like the talent, but there is still a lot of work to do."
That work starts Tuesday.
Indians: Perez hoping to avoid deja vu
Last spring, Perez suffered a strained oblique in his first Spring Training bullpen session and was shelved until March 29. He logged only three Cactus League innings before his Opening Day nightmare.
It's a similar plot this season, with Perez eyeing a different conclusion. Perez's spring slate has been limited because of a right shoulder strain. He has contended all along, however, that he will be ready come Opening Day.
"Last year taught me really how to go about my rehab," Perez said. "Last year I was more of a bull in a china shop, saying, 'I feel good today. Why can't I pitch?' This year, I'm letting the process run its course. I'm becoming more of a veteran. It's part of growing up in this game."
Blue Jays: Arencibia to catch Dickey
J.P. Arencibia will be entrusted to put a glove on Dickey's array of fluttering knuckleballs on Opening Day.
There was initially speculation that veteran backstop Henry Blanco, who played with Dickey in New York, would serve as the right-hander's personal catcher this year. Gibbons tempered those assumptions, saying Arencibia is expected to play every day, aside from when he needs regular rest.
"It was one of those humbling things," said Arencibia, who caught Dickey for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. "But, again, it's not about me, it's about the team, and fortunately enough they feel like I've done a good enough job to work with him."
Worth noting: Toronto took two of three from Cleveland in the opening series last season, and four of six meetings overall. The teams followed up the 16-inning marathon on Opening Day with a 12-inning affair in the second contest two days later. … Indians right-hander Carlos Carrasco is on the big league roster solely to serve a six-game suspension originally handed down in August 2011. The team says he'll be optioned to Triple-A once his sentence is fulfilled. … The Blue Jays can reinstate Lawrie, on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right oblique, prior to the team's fifth game of the season. … The Indians are 58-54 all-time on Opening Day; the Blue Jays are 19-17.