Monday March 2nd, 2009

1) Is there a Doc in the house? Fortunately, for Toronto, the answer is yes. Although this one Doctor, ace Roy "Doc" Halladay, alone can't cure what ails the Blue Jays, which is a potentially fatal lack of reliable starting pitching. The defection of free-agent A.J. Burnett to the Yankees and injuries to Shawn Marcum (Tommy John surgery, out for the season) and Dustin McGowan (shoulder surgery, out until at least May) means Toronto has just one other starter -- 24-year-old righty Jesse Litsch -- who is anywhere close to a proven commodity. Second-year man David Purcey has just 12 games of big league experience but is already being penciled in as the third starter, and the other two spots are likely to remain open until the end of camp. The unsettled staff will make repeating the success of 2008, when Toronto led the American League in ERA (3.49), a tall task.

The second question is: How long will Halladay be practicing his craft in Toronto? Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi dismissed rumors that Halladay could possibly be dealt this season by saying, "I really don't see that happening. Money would be the only reason and it would have to be an extreme financial thing." Halladay is in the middle of a three-year, $40 million extension he signed before the 2008 season.

2) No job is safe. Ricciardi said that the team the Blue Jays take north will be the one that "helps us get through April," a cryptic hint that could indicate the team that opens the season may bear little resemblance to the roster come summer. Given the Blue Jays' impressive farm system, there's good reason for Ricciardi to keep his options -- and more than a few roster spots -- open. While only a couple of the Blue Jays' recent draft picks in camp are ready to start making their presence felt at the major league level -- outfielder Travis Snider is one -- several others could be along by year's end, forming the backbone of the franchise in years to come. The starting catching job is being reserved for power-hitting catcher J.P. Arencibia, who should start the year at Triple-A and could be in the majors by year's end. First baseman David Cooper, infielder Brad Emaus and pitchers Ricky Romero and Brett Cecil should all find a permanent home in Toronto in short order. "There's no need to rush them," said Ricciardi. "They'll tell us the timetable [for promoting them] by how they play."

3) Going back to the Wells for more. In 2008, no Blue Jays player had more than 20 home runs, 80 RBIs or a .500 slugging percentage, totals centerfielder Vernon Wells should have little trouble reaching -- if he stays healthy. Wells played just 108 games a year ago, his fewest since becoming a full-time player in 2002, due mostly to a strained left hamstring that he re-injured this spring. Most associated with the team, including Wells, have shrugged off the injury as nothing that will keep him out of the lineup once the season starts. Seeing as he's already re-injured it once, though, the possibility remains that it could become a persistent problem. If Wells misses any appreciable amount of time this year, the onus will be even greater on Snider, a 21-year-old with just 73 at-bats at the big league level, and Alex Rios, a two-time All-Star whose numbers fell backward in almost every category last season (including walks, runs, home runs, RBIs, hits, batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage).

Defense. The Blue Jays led the American League in fielding percentage (.986) last season, and were fourth in assists. Wells and third baseman Scott Rolen have always been among the best fielders at their respective positions, and Rios, catcher Rod Barajas, first baseman Lyle Overbay and shortstop Marco Scutaro are all above-average defensive players. With an unsettled pitching rotation and an unpredictable offense, the defense remains the best, and most reliable component of the team.

Manager Cito Gaston has all but handed a starting spot to Snider, saying, "I don't see anyway he doesn't make this team." That's high praise for a 21-year-old with such limited big league experience, but Snider, whose stocky build and powerful bat have drawn comparisons to Adam Dunn, has thus far proven worthy of such praise. In 305 minor league games, he batted .299/.375/.513 and sped through three levels of minor league ball last season. Yet it is his personality, more than his statistics, that have convinced the Blue Jays he's ready for the big leagues. "He's got a tremendous work ethic and he's not in awe of anything, but he's not cocky, either," says hitting coach Gene Tenace. "He's a terrific listener and has been very coachable, too."

Rolen, who has seen much of his power sapped by a troublesome shoulder, says he feels better than he has in years this spring. He has topped 115 games just once in the past four seasons and has just 19 home runs in the past two years combined. ... Among the items in the lobby of their spring training ballpark is a pennant with the 1985 team picture and the words "1985 World Series" on it. Only problem: Toronto didn't make the 1985 World Series, blowing a 3-games-to-1 lead in the American League Championship Series to the Kansas City Royals.

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