Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Blue Jays set to fly

Talent-laden Toronto can't wait to start playing

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TORONTO -- Colby Rasmus' T-shirt showed a Blue Jay between a set of weights, with the words "Nothing is given, everything is earned" on the back.

It's a motto worth remembering this season, even in the luxurious man-cave that serves as the Jays' clubhouse in the bowels of Rogers Centre.

Stocked with talent from Alabama to British Columbia and the Dominican Republic to Venezuela, this Toronto team is already seen as one of the best that money can buy.

The first question manager John Gibbons got Monday was a somewhat glib query from a local TV anchor asking if the news conference format would be the same in the post-season.

Gibbons laughed, a little awkwardly, before answering "Let's hope so."

Expectations are sky-high ahead of Tuesday's sold-out opener against the visiting Cleveland Indians.

"Really you can't go anywhere without hearing something about the Blue Jays," acknowledged Gibbons, who starts his second stint at the club's helm. "That's why we're excited to get this going. Opening days are always exciting but it can be a hassle too because you're drawn every which way.

"So we'd like to get that behind us, hopefully get a win out of the way and then move on from there and then play some regular baseball. But we're excited. We're ready, we've got a good team, we'll see what happens."

The high hopes come with a high cost.

Toronto's payroll is north of US$125 million, which ranks only eighth in the crazy money world of major league baseball. The Los Angeles Dodgers and the Yankees are both over $220 million.

"We recognize, the baseball world recognizes, we have a good ball club or we should have a ball club with the talent they brought in," said Gibbons. "We expect to win some things this year... We've just got to step up and answer the bell and fulfil those things.

"But that won't be easy. There's a lot of good teams in the league."

The injury-plagued club that went 73-89 to finish fourth last season in the AL East has been bolstered by the additions of pitchers R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle.

The infield has been reinforced by all-star shortstop Jose Reyes, Emilo Bonifacio and Maicer Izturis while Melky Cabrera takes over left field.

Slugger and team leader Jose Bautista has recovered from the wrist surgery that cut his 2012 season short. Closers Casey Janssen and Sergio Santos had shoulders cleaned out in the off-season.

And GM Alex Anthopoulos has brought in veterans like Mark DeRosa and Henry Blanco to mentor the likes of third baseman Brett Lawrie (who starts the season on the disabled list) and catcher J.P Arrencibia.

Like a Formula One race car in the starting grid, the Jays are polished and purring waiting for a green light.

Despite all the additions and expectations, the Toronto' spring training locker-room in Dunedin seemed relaxed and comfortable.

Dickey, the cerebral knuckleballer slated to start Tuesday, says figuring out the identity of this Toronto team isn't easy. The 2013 Jays are no one-trick pony.

"We've got great pitching, but we've also got speed and we've also got power and we've also got a good bullpen," he said. "I think it's nice to not be able to have to drive your stake in the sand about what kind of team you're going to be because we can win games in a multiple of ways. And that's exciting.

"And if we can stay healthy, we should make some noise."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 2, 2013 C8

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