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New look Blue Jays find favour with the faithful

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Kyle Drabek. REUTERS/Fred Thornhill


Last year it was Roy Halladay, merely one of the game's premier pitchers, who was sent packing.

This off-season, Shaun Marcum - last year's opening day starter - was dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers while cornerstone outfielder Vernon Wells was dispatched to the Los Angeles Angels.

Veteran starting catcher John Buck and his 20 home runs was allowed to escape to the Florida Marlins while proven closer Kevin Gregg and dependable set-up artist Scott Downs also departed the team through free agency.

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Is this any way to turn a perennial also-ran into a front-runner?

Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos certainly thinks so and Thursday night at Rogers Centre he shared his unbridled optimism with some of the team's harshest critics - the season ticket holders.

"We want to get this there as fast as we can," Anthopoulos said. "What we won't do is shortcut it because when we get there it's not going to stop. It's going to be a freight train that's going to keep going."

It was the annual State of the Franchise meet and greet for the folks who pony up big bucks to see the Blue Jays play each season; it was their opportunity to take the baseball team's hierarchy to task for the moves they have or haven't made.

Joining Anthopoulos for the festivities were team president Paul Beeston along with new manager John Farrell, who answered questions posed from a crowd of 500 or so that was treated to free drinks and finger foods.

Roberto Alomar, the Blue Jays Hall of Fame second baseman, also made an appearance and was afforded several standing ovations over the course of the evening.

For the most part it was a supportive audience who appeared in lock step with the moves Anthopoulos has made.

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"This is the first time I've felt the excitement for a season to start in a long time," said one charter season ticket holder, whose sentiments best summed up the positive vibe that flowed from the gathering.

One season-ticket holder pleaded for Anthopoulos to "throw us a bone" and try to inject some more offence and excitement into the lineup by adding a big bat along the lines of free agent Vladimir Guerrero.

But the GM stuck to form, saying such a move would not fit in with the team's long-term direction.

Lately, the returns have been minimal for the diehard fans as the Blue Jays have not had a sniff of a pennant race since 1993 - the last time they made the postseason and won the World Series.

Long-term controllability of the team's core young players is the key to the GM's strategy, along with a top-notch farm system that can constantly inject developing new talent into the major-league roster year after year.

There's little doubt that the Blue Jays' minor-league system has prospered under Anthopoulos's watch.

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The latest evidence was delivered earlier this week when revealed its top-50 prospects list that contained the names of three fledging Blue Jays - five if you want to include players that were selected among the top 10 according to position.

The top-rated Blue Jay player was Kyle Drabek, the key component of the Halladay trade who is expected to crack the starting rotation this year in Marcum's absence.

The 23-year-old right-hander was chosen as the 12th best prospect overall.

Anthopoulos all but quashed one suggestion that the Blue Jays might want to pursue a trade that would land them Texas Rangers third baseman Michael Young, which would allow slugger Jose Bautista to remain in right field.

The GM said Bautista has the same kind of athleticism that makes Scott Rolen such a great third baseman and that the Blue Jays are comfortable bringing their slugger into the infield.

"I don't foresee us making any more trades any time soon," Anthopoulos said.

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