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The Globe and Mail

New manager Farrell aims to broaden Blue Jay horizons

A Toronto Blue Jays players baseball cap, glove and ball sit on the grass during practice at their MLB American League spring training facility, in Dunedin Florida, February 13, 2011. REUTERS/ Mike Cassese


There were several familiar players milling about on the field during batting practice, including the likes of home run king Jose Bautista, Adam Lind and Travis Snider.

The new manager of the Toronto Blue Jays ignored them all and instead made straight for Anthony Gose, the young prospect who is attending his first major-league baseball camp.

For the next 40 minutes John Farrell and Gose stood in centrefield and shot the breeze like a couple of old saloon pals in what was a telling snapshot of life with the new skipper.

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"If I didn't go over I might not have had the opportunity once camp gets under way to learn what a smart and thoughtful young man Anthony is," Farrell said, adding later, "In managing people you have to know what makes them tick."

The 48-year-old Farrell, who is stepping into the shoes occupied the last two-and-a-half seasons by Cito Gaston, is reputed as earnest and forthright.

"They've got to know who I am and what's important to me as a baseball person and as a person in general," Farrell said. "I don't take that lightly because we're going to be together for the next seven or eight months with this group of people. And they have to understand, or we have to come to a relationship, that allows us to address needs when they arrive."

Farrell will officially embark on his new career on Monday when the Blue Jays pitchers and catchers go through their first official workout of baseball's spring training.

He said his immediate goal is to put players in a position for success and that building a relationship of trust will be the first step toward that.

"There's going to come a time where maybe the message delivered isn't what they want to hear, but it's one that's going to be honest and up front," Farrell said. "And at the same time, from just a pure strategy standpoint, I think we have the ability to put pressure on our opposition a little bit more than maybe the approach that's been taken here in the past."

Under Gaston last year, the Blue Jays were baseball's top power-hitting team, crushing a major league-leading 257 home runs to help Toronto finish with an 85-77 record and another fourth-place finish in the American League East.

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But the strategy was one-dimensional, and Toronto may have enjoyed more success by manufacturing runs with other means.

The Blue Jays executed 16 sacrifice bunts last year, by far the worst total in the majors. The AL champion Texas Rangers led the league with 53. The Jays were also sedate on the base paths, ranking last in the AL in stolen bases with 58.

Farrell is pledging change.

"That's not to say we're just going to turn everybody loose to try and steal bases," he said. "But we can be more aggressive in looking to go first to third."

The addition of outfielder Rajai Davis, who stole 50 bases a year ago for the Oakland Athletics, "gives us an additional speed component that can create some disruption on the base paths," Farrell said.

He said that returning players such as Snider, Bautista and Aaron Hill all have the ability to stir things up on the base paths.

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Farrell said he is not a believer in setting goals for the Blue Jays. "Either you set yourself up to falling short or you limit yourself from going beyond the number," he said.

He said expectations are created by making sure that the players are well-versed in the aggressive approach the team plans to adopt, then seeing that plan employed on the baseball field.

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