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The 33rd season in the history of the Toronto Blue Jays is almost over.

Let the hand-wringing begin.

A season that began so promisingly, with decent pitching and fabulous hitting vaulting Toronto to the top of the American League East for 44 days, turned into chaos.

The hitting grounded back to reality, and four of the five pitchers who began the year in the rotation landed on the disabled list at one time or another.

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Five starters made their major-league debut with Toronto this season.

As the Blue Jays stumbled through one of the poorest second-half performances in team history, overall home attendance fell 21.8 per cent to an average of 23,162 at Rogers Centre, second worst in baseball only to Washington - the former Montreal Expos.

Going into what promises to be a turbulent off-season, here are 10 questions that the franchise will need to address:

1. General manager J.P. Ricciardi With one year on his contract, he has failed to get the team close to a post-season berth in eight years. This season the Blue Jays will finish with their worst winning percentage since 1997.

2. Cito Gaston A link to the franchise's World Series glory days of the early-1990s, Gaston's aura has faded this year after failing to coax the best out of his players. The 65-year-old has left himself open to second-guessing with an often-mystifying handling of the bullpen, allegedly fostering a negative atmosphere in the clubhouse, and compiling a 21-27 record in one-run games this season.

3. Roy Halladay To trade or not to trade, that is the question. At age 32, the right-handed ace informed the team of his intent to test the free-agent market when his contract lapses next year. He is to be paid $15-million in 2010. A trade would transmit the message that management believes the club is a ways off from competing in the AL East, in contradiction of the pledge made to fans before the 2009 season. Yet, losing Halladay to free agency would bring Toronto only two draft choices in return.

4. Ownership Will Rogers Communications Inc. spend the money to compete with the Yankees and the Red Sox? The company reduced payroll this season by rubber-stamping Ricciardi's decision to jettison third baseman Scott Rolen to the Cincinnati Reds and allow Alex Rios to be scooped up by the Chicago White Sox for nothing. Rogers president and chief operating officer Nadir Mohamed told The Globe and Mail that the company remains committed to the baseball club and that it is not for sale.

5. Paul Beeston To borrow a phrase from The Clash, should he stay or should he go now? Brought on board more than a year ago in place of Paul Godfrey, it is believed he has identified a new CEO, although Rogers has made it clear that Beeston is the company's top choice.

6. Who plays shortstop? Marco Scutaro has enjoyed a career year at the key position and is a free agent. He's in line for a pay raise and a multiyear deal but at age 33 can the Blue Jays bank on his continuing productivity? The popular John McDonald could be re-signed to play the position, but his light hitting would make the Jays think twice about that. There's no one in the minor leagues ready to step up.

7. More pop Despite Ricciardi's insistence that the mercurial Vernon Wells can bounce back after two consecutive sub-par years at the plate, the Blue Jays need a dependable run producer. A Nick Swisher type would have looked good in their lineup this season.

8. Who shuts the door? Love or hate B.J. Ryan, when healthy he provided the Toronto bullpen with the swagger of success. Scott Downs is too brittle emotionally and physically to be the man, and Jason Frasor doesn't inspire confidence as a ninth-inning closer.

9. Who will play third base? The Jays accepted Edwin Encarnacion as a throw-in to ship Rolen's hefty salary to the Reds. While the team believes he can hit 20-plus home runs, his defensive play remains suspect. Nobody in the minor-league system is ready so the Blue Jays might have to go shopping for a free agent.

10. Who moves behind the plate? Gaston seems to have written off the return of Rod Barajas, a soon-to-be free agent who turned into Halladay's personal catcher this season while putting up some decent offensive numbers. The minor-league development of Brian Jeroloman and J.P. Arencibia has stalled and the Blue Jays don't want to have to rely on Raul Chavez, this year's capable backup, to handle the job full-time in 2010. Is Canadian Russell Martin, who had an off-year with the Dodgers, available?



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