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Building a Better Ball Team

The Rogers Centre hosts the Blue Jays' home opener on April 12.

And so it begins. After a promising start turned dramatically sour last year, the Toronto Blue Jays enter the 2010 Major League Baseball season with the lowered expectations of a team in the first tentative stages of a long-term rebuilding process.

Some recent history: Since their wistfully remembered early-‘90s World Series championships, this city’s boys of summer have been unable to return to the playoffs. Despite a few modestly successful regular-season campaigns, the Jays have played a consistent second (or third, or fourth) fiddle to powerful division rivals the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox, as well as the once-lowly Tampa Bay Rays. A stellar 27–14 start to the 2009 campaign proved to be a false fount of confidence—the team was plagued by injuries and inconsistent play, and ultimately finished with a losing 75–87 record. Underperforming stars Alex Rios and B.J. Ryan were summarily released, much-maligned General Manager J.P. Ricciardi was given his walking papers, and in December, ace pitcher Roy Halladay was unsurprisingly traded to the Philadelphia Phillies.

Hope, however, remains. Offensively, the Jays have retained the services of young slugger Adam Lind and all-star second baseman Aaron Hill, who combined for 71 homers and 222 runs batted in last year; if centre fielder Vernon Wells and emerging talent Travis Snider can each rebound following tumultuous seasons, the middle of the batting order could pose a serious challenge for opposing pitchers.

Losing Halladay was a blow to the Blue Jays’ own starting rotation, leaving it bereft of a true number-one hurler. Instead, a platoon of young arms will seek to establish their worth over extended innings. At press time the team was testing more than a dozen potential starters at its spring training camp, including Shaun Marcum—returning from elbow surgery—and sophomore Ricky Romero, who showed some impressive stuff in his rookie season. The Halladay trade also netted 22-year-old pitching prospect Kyle Drabek along with young catcher Travis D’Arnaud. Both are likely to spend this summer honing their skills with the Jays’ Triple-A affiliate in Las Vegas, but in time they could become solid contributors.

It’s up to head coach Cito Gaston and newly minted general manager Alex Anthopoulos to mould these pieces into a cohesive roster for their April 12 home opener against the Chicago White Sox, while simultaneously nurturing younger talent with an eye to the future. Though it’s unlikely the 2010 Blue Jays will be title contenders, this season could prove a strong gauge of the squad’s chances for the coming years.

SIX JAYS TO WATCH:

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