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The Globe and Mail

Blair: With circus of last season behind them, Jays are now men at work

Jose Reyes rattled off his list of spring training priorities Tuesday. "Back … ankle … hamstrings … they all feel very good," the Toronto Blue Jays shortstop said. "The results? I don't worry about that. If I'm healthy, the numbers will be there."

All you need to know about the difference in manager John Gibbons's approach this spring compared to 2013 is the workload Reyes has been given. These aren't cross-country trips, but during a time when regular players often get to skip spring-training bus rides, Reyes has made trips to Kissimmee and Lakeland two of the past three days, after playing last Saturday in Dunedin against the Minnesota Twins.

On Tuesday, the manager played Melky Cabrera in centre field for a split-squad game against the Detroit Tigers (while Colby Rasmus played in St. Petersburg against the Canadian junior team).

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Cabrera has quietly emerged as something of a revelation this spring, moving smoothly on the bases and in the outfield after a 2013 in which he was limited by what turned out to be tumours at the base of his back. In the Blue Jays' perfect world – which seldom, if ever, existed last year – Cabrera will bat second behind Reyes.

"He looks unbelievably good," Reyes said of Cabrera, who made a running catch in the gap in the first inning of a 3-2 win over the Tigers. "I think we're going to be exciting at the top [of the order] this year, the way we should have been last year."

Cabrera has 10 hits in 27 Grapefruit League at-bats.

"Night and day," Gibbons said of Cabrera's start to 2014. "When I first got down to spring training, we were watching him, because he still wasn't cutting loose and we're going: 'Uh-oh.' And then, little by little …"

Optimism is of course the currency of the realm in spring training, but there is a noticeable men-at-work tone in Jays camp that did not exist last season. Still, if you believe in omens, best look away right now.

Last season, Jim Leyland loudly greeted Gibbons for the first time in the spring by asking whether Gibbons was going to have a "big, [bleeping] red Maple Leaf" in the middle of his soon-to-be-won World Series ring. That was back when Leyland was managing the Tigers, Gibbons was still enjoying being a surprise, yet popular, choice in his second stint managing the Blue Jays, and Las Vegas had his team as the favourite. We all know how that worked out.

Now an adviser with the Tigers, Leyland marched up to Gibbons after Tuesday's game – decked out in a blue golf shirt and white shorts – extended his hand and told Gibbons his team "should win it all." The men laughed.

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Strange timing, this game against the Tigers. As the Blue Jays watch more teams line up for free-agent pitcher Ervin Santana – said to be ready to sign with Toronto four days ago – they were playing a team that in many ways dealt their off-season an early body blow.

Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos has told people he wanted in on Doug Fister before the Tigers dealt the pitcher to the Washington Nationals. They never received a call back.

The wait continues. They don't even use Santana's name in the Blue Jays clubhouse; he's just "him."

Maicer Izturis was asked Tuesday if he'd called "him," and Izturis – a former teammate of Santana's with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim – shrugged and said: "Twice this morning … and he didn't pick up."

The mood of optimism about Santana that existed last weekend seems to have dissipated. Back to same old, same old.

Reyes missed 2 1/2 months after spraining his left ankle on a butchered steal of second base on April 12, puncturing the balloon of optimism that had survived a messy start to the season. He has four years left on his contract, with $82-million (U.S.) guaranteed, plus a $22-million club option for 2018 or $4-million buyout.

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He does not need to be told if the Blue Jays stumble again, he might find himself part of a rebuild in Toronto; indeed, ESPN has already reported the New York Yankees view Reyes as a possible replacement for the retiring Derek Jeter. And so they should: he's won a batting title in the city (with the New York Mets) and lives in the suburbs.

If the idea appeals to Reyes, he keeps it hidden – although he does remember those Reyes vs. Jeter debates, when it seemed Jeter wouldn't be able to cheat Father Time.

"I mean, you can't compare yourself to Jeter," Reyes said. "He's on another level. You see those numbers he has … but it isn't even about them. It's about the Series rings."

That must seem like a far-off commodity for a member of these Blue Jays. Absent that lure, it's about priorities – and the good news is this group seems to have theirs in order.

"We don't seem to be pulled in different directions the way we were last year," is how Gibbons describes it.

For now, that will suffice.

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