Blue Jays set to convene amid great expectations
Toronto's pitchers and catchers have first spring workout on Wednesday
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The long wait is finally over, and the Blue Jays' 2013 Spring Training will officially get under way on Wednesday when pitchers and catchers report to camp.
Many players already are in Florida, but pitchers and catchers will be required to be in attendance for their first workout on Wednesday. They will be joined by the position players on Sunday for the first full-squad workout.
The reporting dates are a little bit later than other clubs. But with more than six weeks remaining until the start of the season, there is enough time to get ready for the upcoming campaign. That's when the club will be able to see whether its offseason spending spree will pay off with an improved product on the field.
"We always said that we will try to put together a winning team and we would spend the money when the opportunity was right -- and the opportunity was right this year and the deals were right," Blue Jays president Paul Beeston said in reference to his team's offseason.
"We'll play the season and find out whether it is smart money or isn't smart money. But these are players that can be around not for one year, they can be around for two or three or four years."
This year's camp will have a much different feel with the return of manager John Gibbons, who took over for John Farrell following a rare offseason managerial trade with Boston. Gibbons will be tasked with putting together a 25-man roster, which could feature up to 11 new faces.
The Blue Jays also find themselves in the unique position of entering camp with a roster that is more or less set. The starting five of R.A. Dickey, Brandon Morrow, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Ricky Romero is already locked in, while the everyday lineup also appears relatively set.
The biggest competition will occur in the bullpen, where Brett Cecil, J.A. Happ and Aaron Loup are expected to battle it out for the second left-handed reliever's role.
Elsewhere in the bullpen, Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos, Darren Oliver and Esmil Rogers have guaranteed jobs -- while it's hard to envision a scenario in which Steve Delabar doesn't make the team. That would leave Brad Lincoln, Jeremy Jeffress and a few others to compete for the seventh and final spot.
The only other job that could be up for grabs can be found at second base, where Maicer Izturis is the early favorite but should receive competition from Emilio Bonifacio.
"Going in, I think Izturis has the edge -- but we are going to let that play out," Gibbons said. "He gives us flexibility all around the field, too.
"We will look at Adam Lind and see how he is going against left-handers. Even though it is Spring Training, we still want to get an idea of how he is doing and whether we need to go to a platoon or not."
All in all, it should prove to be a rather uneventful camp if everyone stays healthy. But it will also be one that will provide plenty of storylines and excitement, considering all of the new recruits and lofty expectations for the season.
Workouts will continue at the Bobby Mattick Training Center in Dunedin until Feb. 22. The following day, the Blue Jays will travel to Lakeland, Fla., for their first game of the Grapefruit League season against the Tigers. Toronto will host its first game of the spring on Feb. 24 against the Orioles.
Toronto will then eventually head north to Philadelphia, where the exhibition season will officially come to an end with a pair of games against the Phillies on March 29-30. From there, the Blue Jays will continue on to Toronto in preparation for the season opener on April 2 against Cleveland at 7:07 p.m. ET.
The excitement, which has been more than four months in the making, will now be taken to the next level. The Blue Jays haven't played meaningful baseball in September since 1993, but the hope is that unfortunate streak will come to an end this season.
The journey begins on Wednesday. While the Blue Jays are trying to keep things in perspective, the expectations haven't run this high north of the border in what seems like an eternity.
"It's still going to a real good, solid division again," Gibbons said of the American League East. "There have been some changes -- New York lost some guys, Boston brought in a bunch of new faces -- but they are productive in the past, they are going to be solid.
"Tampa [Bay] won 90-something games last year and didn't make the playoffs, but they have [pitching as good] as anybody out there. And then Baltimore, you can't forget what they have done. So it's a good, strong division, top to bottom -- it always is. The Yanks are the defending champs until somebody unseats them."
The quest to unseat the champs begins this week in Florida.