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Spring Training

Five Blue Jays storylines for 2013 Add to ...

After making several blockbuster moves in the offseason, the Toronto Blue Jays enter the 2013 as early favourites to win the AL East and a legitimate shot to contend for their first World Series since 1993.

Despite having a much improved roster on paper, the Jays still have several questions entering spring training. Here are five storylines to watch throughout the year and a look at the players set to make their Jays debut in 2013.

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Jose Bautista

The Toronto Blue Jays went out and reworked their roster with a series of mind-blowing deals during the off-season. But if Bautista’s surgically repaired left wrist continues to be an impediment, the Blue Jays offence will be in trouble. With Bautista in the lineup last year, the Blue Jays went 45-47 and averaged six runs a game, with the right fielder contributing 27 home runs. Without him, Toronto’s record dipped to 28-42, the team batting average dipped 15 points to .237 and averaged a measly 3.8 runs per contest. So far, Bautista says, the wrist feels fine.

John Gibbons and Brett Lawrie

Lawrie, the bullheaded third baseman, often ran the bases last year with reckless abandon, despite entreaties from then-manager John Farrell to cease and desist. It will be interesting to see how Gibbons, the new manager who has shown in the past a short fuse when it comes to player insubordination (see Shea Hillenbrand, Ted Lilly), will handle his young charge.

Who’s at second?

This should be one of the most heated battles at spring training with Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio both squaring off to see who will become Jose Reyes’s full-time double-play partner at second base. Izturis, 32, has a bit more experience on his side, heading into his 10th major-league season. Bonifacio, 27, offers more speed and can play both the infield and the outfield, which might make him more valuable to Gibbons as a utility player.

The closer

It would figure to be Sergio Santos’s job to lose, considering he will be earning $2.75-million (U.S.) this season, which isn’t the kind of cash that goes to a setup man. It will all be dependent on how Santos bounces back from the shoulder injury which limited him to just six appearances in his first season with the Blue Jays. Casey Janssen did an admirable job filling in, but he is likely to return to his old role as setup man if Santos proves he has recovered.

Colby Rasmus

Will the real Colby Rasmus please step up? To say the 26-year-old has been a big disappointment during his 1 1/2 seasons in Toronto would be an understatement. For the first half of 2012, Rasmus was setting himself up for a huge season, heading into the all-star break with 17 home runs, 53 RBIs and a .259 batting average. It was all downhill from there as Rasmus stumbled over the second half at .176 and just six homers. Should Rasmus continue to struggle this year, look for Bonifacio to get more playing time in centre field.

THE NEWCOMERS

Jose Reyes, shortstop

The 29-year-old established himself as one of the game’s most exciting players through four brilliant seasons (2005-09) in New York with the Mets. His blazing speed, live bat and infectious personality turned him into a fan favourite. He was subsequently plagued by leg injuries and health concerns, but rebounded in 2011 to win the National League batting title (.337) and was named an all-star for the fourth time. Reyes then signed a six-year, $106-million (U.S.) deal with the Miami Marlins and played there one season before being traded to the Blue Jays.

Mark Buehrle, starting pitcher

Durability is the primary calling card of the 33-year-old left-hander, exceeding 200-innings pitched in 12 consecutive seasons. Buehrle broke in with the Chicago White Sox in 2000, and played there 12 seasons, pitching a no-hitter against the Texas Rangers on April 18, 2007. On July 23, 2009, against the Tampa Bay Rays, Buehrle pitched the 18th perfect game in history. After the 2011 season, Buehrle signed a four-year, $58-million free-agent contract with the Marlins.

Melky Cabrera, left fielder

The signing of the 28-year-old to a two-year, $16-million free-agent contract was the chanciest of the moves Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos made during the off-season. Cabrera was leading the major last year as a member of the San Francisco Giants with 159 hits and was second with a .346 batting average – more than 60 points above his career norm – when he tested positive for testosterone. Cabrera was suspended for 50 games. If Cabrera is in shape he will fill a glaring hole defensively for the Blue Jays in left. And if he hits to his career average, the Jays would be thrilled.

R.A. Dickey, starting pitcher

Only after learning to master the mysteries of the knuckleball late in his career did Dickey’s flagging fortunes begin to rise. Last season, he was baseball’s most compelling story, compiling a 20-6 record to capture the National League Cy Young Award at 37. Dickey was the focal point of a seven-player trade the Blue Jays orchestrated with the New York Mets, and quickly agreed to a two-year, $25-million contract extension with Toronto, where he will be expected to be the anchor of the rotation.

Josh Johnson, starting pitcher

The Blue Jays have long coveted this power arm and Johnson will be counted on to carry a heavy load in 2013 – provided he can stay healthy. The 6-foot-7, 29-year-old can be imposing. At the beginning of 2011, with the Marlins, Johnson kept a no-hitter going into the fifth inning four out of the first five times he took the mound. But he has only averaged 129 innings pitched through his first seven full seasons. Johnson was injury free in 2012, but his 8-14 record was a cause for concern.

Emilio Bonifacio, utility player

Bonifacio, 27, will get a long look at the starting job at second base. He is a solid infielder with excellent speed who was leading the majors in stolen bases early last season with the Marlins before he injured his left thumb. The season later ended on a sour note for Bonifacio, who batted .258 in 64 games, missing the final month with a sprained knee.

Josh Thole, catcher

He may be the backup once everything is sorted out in spring training, but don’t underestimate his importance. For the last three years, Thole has established himself as the personal catcher of Toronto’s new knuckleball maestro. Anthopoulos said that is why he lobbied the Mets to get Thole included in the package deal. “I just didn’t think we could take any chances on trying to guess if somebody could have success [catching Dickey],” the GM said.

Maicer Izturis, second baseman

Versatility is this 32-year-old’s calling card. Not only is he a switch hitter but over the course of his career, Izturis has logged more than 1,500 innings at shortstop, nearly 2,000 at second base and more than 2,000 at third. He’s also a capable baserunner, successful on 17 of 19 steal attempts with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim last season.

Esmil Rogers, relief pitcher

He was obtained in the off-season in a trade with the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes. Anthopoulos has tabbed Rogers for a spot in what will be a crowded competition for bullpen jobs. Last season with the Indians, Rogers went 3-1 with a 3.06 earned-run average, striking out 54 in 53 innings.

Mark DeRosa, 25th man

DeRosa, 37, is considered a high-character player who will be a solid influence in the clubhouse, who can still play a little bit of infield, a little bit of outfield, and will keep his mouth shut if he isn’t called upon all that often. Last year with the Washington Nationals, DeRosa only got into 48 games and hit just .188.

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