Expectations of Blue Jays' bullpen left unmet

What was supposed to be strength in 2014 never got on track consistently

Expectations of Blue Jays' bullpen left unmet

TORONTO -- The performance of relievers is notoriously hard to predict from year to year, and the Blue Jays found that out the hard way in 2014.

The bullpen was expected to be a strength, but instead, it turned into a major weakness. Injuries played a small factor, but a number of quality arms never found a way to get on track.

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Baltimore and Kansas City have received praise about the performance of their respective relievers this postseason, and that was supposed to be one of the ways the Blue Jays would compete. Toronto instead saw a lot of leads blown late in games; the group as a whole didn't live up to the lofty expectations.

While we wait for the Hot Stove to heat up, let's take a look back at 2014. This is Part 2 of a four-part series that examines where things went wrong and where things went right for the Blue Jays.

Here's a closer look at the bullpen:

Casey Janssen: Janssen didn't make his season debut until May 12 because of an oblique injury, but he had an almost flawless first half. He allowed three runs over 22 innings with 14 saves in 16 opportunities. After that, it was a different story. He got a severe case of food poisoning over the All-Star break, lost approximately 10 pounds and struggled to regain his form. Janssen allowed nine runs in 8 1/3 innings over a span of 10 games from July 20-Aug.8, and he at least partially lost his closer's job to Aaron Sanchez. He's about to become a free agent; the general consensus is that Janssen won't be back in 2015.

Brett Cecil: Cecil got off to a slow start and battled some control problems at the beginning of the season. In April, he walked nine batters and allowed six runs over 10 1/3 innings before he eventually settled into a groove. After the All-Star break, Cecil allowed four runs on 16 hits and nine walks in 29 appearances. He struck out 39, didn't allow a run after Aug. 2, and his 2.70 ERA was actually lower than the 2.82 mark he set as an All-Star in 2013. Cecil could be an internal candidate to replace Janssen as closer, but he will at least remain in a late-inning setup role.

Dustin McGowan: McGowan was pressed into starting duties at the beginning of the season, but the stint was relatively short-lived. He fatigued early in games and had trouble bouncing back after starts, which prompted a move to the bullpen. McGowan found some success as a reliever and posted a 3.35 ERA in 45 games, but the eight home runs allowed were a concern. Toronto must now decide whether to pick up McGowan's club option of $4 million -- which could be on the expensive side for his role -- or allow him to enter free agency. There's a chance the two sides could work out another deal instead.

Aaron Loup: Loup trailed only Todd Redmond for most innings pitched out of the bullpen this year. He's a reliable and durable reliever who has become a favorite of manager John Gibbons. The one downside to 2014 could be found in the 30 walks over 68 2/3 innings compared to 13 walks in 69 1/3 innings the year before. Other than that, Loup had another strong season and should expect to be in a similar role next year.

Sanchez: Sanchez's first two months in the Major Leagues couldn't have gone much better. He consistently hit upper-90s velocity with his fastball and overpowered many of the hitters he faced. The 22-year-old had a sparkling 1.09 ERA while striking out 27 over 33 innings and received some save opportunities in lieu of Janssen. Toronto now has to make a decision about whether Sanchez will be used as a reliever or a starter. The long-term value for Sanchez is in the rotation and that's the role he should continue in, but considering the lack of bullpen options, it's possible the Blue Jays will go in a different direction. Sanchez is a candidate to take over Janssen's role as a closer unless Toronto adds some veteran arms.

Redmond: Redmond didn't have a guaranteed job going into Spring Training, but he made the team as a long reliever and never looked back. The 29-year-old stuck with the big league roster the entire season and led Toronto with innings pitched out of the bullpen (75). Redmond also posted a respectable 3.24 ERA and came to the rescue on more than one occasion when a starter went down early. As of now, he likely will compete for a similar role on the Blue Jays next year.

Steve Delabar: Delabar entered the season as a big piece of the bullpen, but he allowed 14 runs over 25 2/3 innings and lost his spot on the team by the middle of June. The 19 walks he issued was a big concern, and he spent the second half of the season in Triple-A Buffalo. This wasn't a year to remember, but Delabar was extremely valuable from 2012-13 and should have an opportunity to compete for a job next spring.

Chad Jenkins: Jenkins had the unfortunate role of being constantly shuttled between Toronto and Triple-A Buffalo. Jenkins was optioned to the Minors seven times -- but it never had anything to do with his performance. He posted a 2.56 ERA in 31 2/3 innings and has one Minor League option remaining on his contract, so there's a possibility his situation in 2015 will remain the same.

Areas for improvement: The Blue Jays need to acquire not only a closer but also another power arm from the right side. Even if McGowan returns, there is currently an overall lack of depth. Sanchez could be at least a temporary solution, but the organization would be well served to add a couple of proven relievers. This will be one of general manager Alex Anthopoulos' top priorities.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Prospect Ochinko drives in five runs in AFL

Toronto's catcher homers in eighth to put Mesa ahead of Surprise

Prospect Ochinko drives in five runs in AFL

MESA -- With rosters comprised of players from multiple organizations, it's not always easy for teams to bond in the short season that is the Arizona Fall League.

However, after a 5-3 victory over Surprise on Friday, the Mesa Solar Sox have won three in a row and are starting to hit their stride.

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Box score

"Everyone's getting comfortable with each other," Solar Sox catcher Sean Ochinko said. "It's a bunch of guys coming together. Everyone's from different teams, so it takes us a little while to get comfortable, learn guys roles and know who everybody is, but it seems like everything's going well at this point."

Things may be going well for the Solar Sox, but they're going exceptionally well for Ochinko.

The Blue Jays prospect went 2-for-4 with a home run and five RBIs on Friday and is now hitting .438 in the Arizona Fall League.

"That's how it goes sometimes," Ochinko said. "You try to prepare the same way every day. Some days you go 0-for-4 and other days you have good results. I'm just happy to help us win today."

Ochinko hit just .213 this season, but only played in 24 games between Double-A New Hampshire and Triple-A Buffalo.

However, since arriving in Arizona, all he's done is hit.

Following Friday's game, Ochinko now has a hit in four straight games and has also notched three consecutive multi-hit games.

The Solar Sox found themselves in an early hole after Surprise hit back-to-back homers in the second.

Mariners prospect D.J. Peterson, the No. 49 prospect on MLBpipeline.com, began the scoring with a solo homer to left and his teammate Seth Mejias-Brean, a Reds prospect, followed up with a solo shot of his own.

The Saguaros extended the lead to 3-0 in the fifth, but in the sixth Ochinko came up with two on and two outs and lined a double into center.

Two innings later, Ochinko also came up with two on and two outs, but this time he took a middle-in fastball and drilled it over the left field wall for a three-run homer that ultimately proved to be the difference.

Ockinko capitalized on the Saguaros pitching late in the game, but in the first few frames it was a different story.

Rangers prospect Lisalverto Bonilla had a rough introduction to the Fall League, allowing three earned runs in three innings earlier this season. But on Friday, he bounced back.

Bonilla started for the Saguaros and allowed one hit over four shutout innings. The right-hander escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the first via a ground-ball double play, then proceeded to retire eight of the next 10 batters he faced to finish the outing.

William Boor is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @wboor. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Rotation a strength with young stars, vet leadership

Toronto hopes Stroman can duplicate 2014, Hutchison can find consistency

Rotation a strength with young stars, vet leadership

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' starting rotation entered the 2014 season with plenty of question marks, but it actually finished up as a surprising strength.

The starting five was arguably the one area of Toronto's roster that exceeded expectations. The goal of adding two pitchers during the offseason never materialized, but the emergence of some young arms and overall health helped compensate for the lack of depth.

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While we wait for the hot stove to heat up, let's take a look back at 2014. This is part one of a four-part series that examines where things went wrong and where things went right for the Blue Jays this past season.

First up is the starting rotation:

R.A. Dickey: Dickey will probably never be able to approach the numbers from his Cy Young Award-winning season in 2012, but that's okay. There is still a lot of value in a pitcher that has proven he can stay healthy and is close to a lock for 200 innings. He's coming off a strong 2014 season that saw him post a 3.71 ERA while going at least six innings in all but one of his final 20 starts. Dickey is under control for the next two seasons at a combined $24 million and provides the type of consistency that could be needed in an otherwise inexperienced staff. There has been some speculation he could be traded this winter, but unless it's for a package that is too good to pass up, it wouldn't make a lot of sense, because he's the type of veteran arm a relatively young rotation really needs.

Mark Buehrle: Buehrle's hot start to 2014 speaks for itself, and even though his numbers dipped in the second half, it was still a success. He reached 200 innings for the 14th straight year and finished with a respectable 3.39 ERA. Buehrle's someone the Blue Jays could look to move this offseason, but a $19 million salary in 2015 likely means that won't happen unless they eat a lot of money. The 35-year-old isn't the front-line starter he used to be, but he continues to be one of the most consistent pitchers in the game. The question with Buehrle is always about his continued durability, but so far he's been able to get the job done.

Marcus Stroman: It wasn't that long ago a lot of people felt Stroman didn't have what it took to be a big league starter. Those doubts have all but completely disappeared after a strong rookie season in Toronto. Stroman went 10-6 with a 3.29 ERA in 20 starts and established himself as a potential cornerstone of the staff. The addition of a sinker was one reason behind his success and allowed the 23-year-old to increase his ground-ball rate and pitch deeper into games. Earlier in his career, there was a tendency for Stroman's fastball to flatten out, but the sinker helped alleviate those concerns and it showed in the numbers. He may be hard pressed to duplicate his 2014 success, but that's exactly what Stroman will aim to do next season.

Drew Hutchison : Hutchison's 2014 season has to be considered a pleasant surprise because of how he was able to finish the year. Midway through the season, Hutchison appeared to hit a wall and there were legitimate concerns about whether he'd be able to finish the season after missing 2013 because of Tommy John surgery. Turns out the skepticism wasn't warranted, as he bounced back and posted a 3.32 ERA over his final seven starts. The workload shouldn't be as big of a concern next year, and he could be in line for 200 innings after recording 184 2/3 this season. The improvement next year will have to come in showing more consistency from start to start.

J.A. Happ: Happ's year got off to a rocky start because of a back injury and subsequent struggles during Spring Training. He began the year without a defined role, but he eventually moved into the starting rotation when Dustin McGowan was sent to the bullpen. Happ responded with a 4.12 ERA in 153 innings as a starter and likely has done enough to have his $6.7 million option picked up next year. A noticeable area of improvement was the command of his fastball down in the zone, which allowed him to become a more efficient pitcher and get deep into starts. Happ's one pitcher the Blue Jays could look to move in the offseason if the club wants to free up cash for other areas on the team, but he's also an ideal starter for the back end of a rotation.

The rest: McGowan, Brandon Morrow and Liam Hendriks combined to make 17 starts this year with rather luckluster results. The trio allowed 49 runs over 79 2/3 innings but were bailed out when Stroman and Happ proved to be long-term options. These three aren't expected to be in the mix next year -- Hendriks is already gone, while Morrow and McGowan could both follow suit -- and the depth options will instead include youngsters Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris, Sean Nolin and Kendall Graveman. The fact that Sanchez appears ready could mean there's a chance the Blue Jays will deal a starter to fill another area of need. That's always a risky proposition and one Toronto likely will avoid unless the right deal comes along.

Areas for improvement: The Blue Jays, along with pretty much every team in the league, could always use another front-line starting pitcher, and there are a few big names available this winter. Still, it's hard to envision the organization making a long-term commitment to a free-agent starter, which means a lot of the improvement will have to come from within. There's reason to believe Hutchison will be better in 2015 and the upside of Sanchez will have a lot of people wanting him to break camp in the starting five. Improved depth should help avoid emergency starts from a guy like Hendriks or even experiment with a pitcher like McGowan.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Diaz gets Minor League deal, Spring Training invite

Middle infielder briefly filled in for injured Reyes in 2014

Diaz gets Minor League deal, Spring Training invite

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays re-signed infielder Jonathan Diaz to a Minor League contract on Wednesday afternoon with an invitation to Spring Training.

Diaz signed a similar deal with Toronto prior to the 2014 season, and he went on to appear in 23 games for the Blue Jays. He hit .158 (6-for-38) with a double and four RBIs.

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The 29-year-old is a plus defender at shortstop, but he never has been able to produce much with the bat. In 92 games for Triple-A Buffalo this year, Diaz hit .205 with a .615 OPS.

Diaz was originally taken by Toronto in the 12th round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft. He has spent all but one of his nine professional seasons in the Blue Jays organization.

The signing gives Toronto some additional depth up the middle. Infielder Ryan Goins is the only other shortstop that would have the ability to fill in for Jose Reyes if he went down with an injury.

It was an injury to Reyes that created an opportunity for Diaz in 2014. Reyes went down with a strained hamstring on Opening Day and Diaz had his contract purchased from Buffalo to take over the starting duties. He'll likely be in a similar emergency fill-in type role next year.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Beloved vendor 'Ralph the Program Guy' passes away

Fixture at countless Toronto events suffered a stroke in July

Beloved vendor 'Ralph the Program Guy' passes away

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' community lost one of its most unique and charismatic personalities this week with the passing of Ralphael Platner.

The name might not ring a bell to a lot of Toronto fans, but the face probably does. "Ralph the Program Guy" had been a fixture at sporting events and concerts in the city since the 1960s and rarely missed a big day.

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Platner suffered a stroke in July that caused him to miss most of the Blue Jays' 2014 season. Unfortunately, he was unable to recover and passed away earlier this week at the age of 67.

A funeral service for Platner was held on Wednesday afternoon at Mount Sinai Memorial Park in Toronto. He had been around the Blue Jays since their inaugural season in 1977, and he also was a familiar face selling programs at Raptors, Argonauts and Maple Leafs games, along with a countless number of other events.

Platner was a hit with the fans, and it was that interaction that kept him coming back year after year.

"I guess it's because I like to meet the people, the experiences I have just seeing shows, working shows and the whole experiences of vending," Platner once told the CBC. "You know, it's just a wonderful feeling that you can interact with people."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Inbox: Will Toronto trade Buehrle or Dickey?

Blue Jays beat reporter Chisholm answers fans' questions

Inbox: Will Toronto trade Buehrle or Dickey?

Do you expect Mark Buehrle or R.A. Dickey to be traded this winter?
-- Ryan E., Barrie, Ontario

There has been a lot of speculation about this over the past several months, but I have a hard time envisioning a scenario where both pitchers don't return in 2015. Teams will inquire and the Blue Jays will probably listen, but an awful lot would have to fall in place for a deal to get done.

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Buehrle likely is the most available of the two, but he's owed $19 million next season and that's going to be a huge obstacle in any trade talks. Toronto likely would have to absorb some of that contract, and depending on the total amount, an argument could be made that the organization would be better off holding onto him.

Dickey is more affordable at $12 million next year, with another $12 million possibly coming in 2016 as part of a team option. There will be some interest, but there's also a strong case for holding onto a guy that has a good track record with his health and seems to be a lock for 200 innings. The 2012 Cy Young Award-winning season is now a distant memory, but in a lot of ways, Dickey is an ideal complement to an otherwise young staff.

If the Blue Jays are really concerned about payroll, then one possibility would be exploring a deal for J.A. Happ. The veteran lefty pitched well enough to justify his $6.7 million option getting picked up, and there should be some interested teams out there. If the Blue Jays feel that a starter should be moved, Happ might be the more realistic option.

What are the chances that Dalton Pompey makes the big club next season? Has he emerged as a frontrunner for the vacant center-field job over [Anthony] Gose and [Kevin] Pillar?
-- Jemel J., N.Y.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos said at the end of the season that Pompey will have an opportunity to compete for the job, and that stance is unlikely to change any time soon. The only real obstacle would be if the organization went out and added another center fielder, but with so many other holes to fill on the roster, that doesn't seem to be at the top of the priority list.

The Blue Jays are closely monitoring Pompey in the Arizona Fall League to see just how far he has come over the past several months. The way he looks in Spring Training likely will be even more important, as this might be the one spot on the roster where numbers put up in the Grapefruit League impact which direction the club will take.

Gose was once viewed as the center fielder of the future, but his inability to hit at the big league level has put that into question. Even in a small sample size, Pompey showed superior knowledge of the strike zone and generated fewer swing-and-misses. Toronto still hopes that Gose turns things around -- and his defense speaks for itself -- but unless something clicks over the winter, both players will go to camp with a shot at the top job.

What's the plan for Aaron Sanchez? Is he going to start next year, or will he be the closer with Casey Janssen on his way out?
-- Michael W., Kitchener, Ontario

The Blue Jays' brass debated this very topic during their year-end meetings, and it seems like the group was split on which role would best suit the promising right-hander. The hope all along was that Sanchez would develop into a frontline starting pitcher, but his success out of the bullpen in 2014 has at least caused the organzation to take a long look at how he fits into the current core.

There will some temptations -- maybe even some pressure -- to use Sanchez as a reliever. Toronto's bullpen was a major disappointment this season, and there won't be any easy fixes for a team that lacks a powerful righty out of the bullpen. Not only do the Blue Jays need to find a closer, but they also have to add a reliable right-handed setup man to pair with Aaron Loup and Brett Cecil.

All of that said, I think it would be a mistake to use Sanchez out of the 'pen. He's still in the process of increasing his innings limit, and if his workload takes a hit next year, it's going to set him back in future seasons as well. Whether or not Sanchez can make the starting five out of camp is irrelevant, because teams never make it through an entire season with the same five starters. It's not the end of the world if Sanchez has to start in the Minors and then become the first line of defense when a starter gets hurt or struggles.

I'm a Blue Jays fan who has lost all hope when it comes to this team. They have some talented players and young pitchers, but over the past twenty years, they've been unable to turn any of that into a contending team. So why should we believe now?
-- Matthew E., Ottawa, Ontario

The frustration is understandable, considering the Blue Jays haven't made the postseason since 1993, which is the longest drought in all of the major professional sports leagues. That's not something any organization would want to be associated with, but when comparing the past with the present, it's important to note that one era doesn't really have anything to do with the next.

The inability of Gord Ash and J.P. Ricciardi to make the postseason during their tenures as GM doesn't mean Anthopoulos won't be able to. If Anthopoulos comes up short, then that doesn't mean the next guy won't be able to take the next step. Each can be judged on his own merits, and it's really only the current regime that is worth discussing when it comes to "hope."

I've said before that I think this will be Anthopoulos' most challenging offseason to date, and there's a number of holes on the roster that need to be filled in order to have a realistic shot at the postseason. Yes, young pitchers have come and gone here, but there are plenty of reasons to be excited about Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison, Daniel Norris and Sanchez. That doesn't mean it will work out, but nothing is ever guaranteed in this sport.

It seems like the Blue Jays have a lot of guys with team options coming up. Who will be back and who won't be?
-- James T., Halifax, Nova Scotia

The Blue Jays currently have six players with club options: Brandon Morrow ($10 million/$1-million buyout), Adam Lind ($7.5M/$1M), Happ ($6.7M/$0.2M), Dustin McGowan ($4M/$0.5M), Josh Thole ($1.25M/$0) and Sergio Santos ($6M/$0.75M). Toronto has until five days after the end of the World Series to either pick up the option or buy it out and send the player into free agency.

Morrow is pretty much guaranteed to be let go because of his high salary. There would be some interest in bringing him back as a reliever, but he's expected to seek a starting job elsewhere, and there's a good chance another team will view him as a buy-low candidate. Santos also is on his way out of town, while Happ should have done enough to guarantee his deal.

That leaves Lind, McGowan and Thole as the only ones up in the air. Lind's salary might be somewhat expensive, but there's still a lot of value, considering his ability to hit right-handed pitching at an elite level. I'd expect the Blue Jays to at least pick up that option, and then either keep him in the fold or deal him this winter. McGowan's $4 million seems on the high end, while the Blue Jays also could look to upgrade over the backup Thole.

Are there any signs of disagreement in the Blue Jays' front office that manager John Gibbons is/isn't the right guy to be the manager?
-- Harry B., Toronto, Ontario

Gibbons has the support of Anthopoulos and, at least when it comes to his immediate job security, that's all that matters. Team president Paul Beeston has admitted in the past that he actually had to be talked into the idea of hiring Gibbons prior to the 2013 season, but ultimately, it was Anthopoulos' decision to make and Beeston signed off on the deal.

Very little has changed in that regard. Anthopoulos would appear to have full authority to hire -- or ultimately fire -- his coaching staff, while Beeston mostly sticks to the business side of operations. The bigger question here is how long Beeston will remain in the organization, but he recently told Toronto's Fan 590 sports radio station that "I'm here as long as Rogers wants me here."

It's a stretch to suggest that the Blue Jays didn't make the postseason in 2014 because of internal issues, but it's clear that some players inside the clubhouse felt there was a lack of communication at times. That falls not only on Gibbons, but also Anthopoulos, and is something that will have to be improved upon in 2015.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Top prospect Norris has arthroscopic surgery

Left-hander expected to be ready for Spring Training

Top prospect Norris has arthroscopic surgery

TORONTO -- Blue Jays left-hander Daniel Norris underwent arthroscopic surgery on Tuesday morning to remove bone spurs and loose bodies from his left elbow.

The procedure was performed by Dr. David Altchek in New York City. The recovery time is approximately six weeks, and Norris should be ready for the start of Spring Training in February.

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Norris made his Major League debut this season after getting promoted from Triple-A Buffalo at the beginning of September. The 21-year-old made five appearances -- one start -- and allowed four runs over 6 2/3 innings.

The surgery could help explain why Norris experienced a drop in velocity once he arrived in the big leagues. He threw a lot of fastballs in the mid-90s while in the Minors, but he was mostly in the low 90s in Toronto. Norris had a successful first stint with the Blue Jays, but he wasn't particularly happy with the way things went.

"It's obvious that my stuff isn't there," Norris said after his first career big league start on Sept. 25. "It's tough to try to pitch without your stuff, but sometimes that's the competitor that has to come out and I think that's what I tried to do ... go out and compete without your big guns."

Norris is the Blue Jays' No. 1 prospect, according to MLB.com. He was named to the Futures Game earlier this year and is coming off a season that saw him advance to the big leagues after beginning the season in Class A Advanced Dunedin.

The native of Tennessee went 12-2 with a 2.53 ERA in three levels of the Minors. Norris struck out 163 in 124 2/3 innings, and perhaps his biggest step forward was command, as he limited the walks to 43.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Right-hander Schultz claimed on waivers from D-backs

Blue Jays add 29-year-old rookie to 40-man roster

Right-hander Schultz claimed on waivers from D-backs

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays claimed right-hander Bo Schultz off waivers from the D-backs on Tuesday afternoon.

Schultz made his Major League debut in 2014 and allowed seven runs over eight innings out of the bullpen. He also appeared in 28 games -- 24 starts -- for Triple-A Reno in the Pacific Coast League and went 10-8 with a 6.18 ERA.

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The 29-year-old was signed by Oakland as an amateur free agent in 2008, and he was with the D-backs from '12-14. Schultz spent seven years in the Minors and compiled a 37-29 record with a 4.37 ERA. This year in Reno, he struck out 82 and walked 46 over 135 1/3 innings.

Toronto has 38 players on its 40-man roster. Right-hander Chad Jenkins, infielder Maicer Izturis and third baseman Brett Lawrie will have to be activated off the 60-day disabled list and added to that list after the World Series.

The number of open roster spots shouldn't be a concern, because other players will be removed in the coming weeks. Right-hander Casey Janssen, left fielder Melky Cabrera and center fielder Colby Rasmus are free agents. Team options on Dustin McGowan, Brandon Morrow, Adam Lind and J.A. Happ also could play a role.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Kawasaki, Johnson, Kottaras outrighted to Triple-A

Kawasaki, Johnson, Kottaras outrighted to Triple-A

The Blue Jays outrighted three players -- Munenori Kawasaki, Dan Johnson and George Kottaras -- to Triple-A on Friday, and Johnson and Kottaras have both elected free agency.

The decision to outright Kawasaki off the 40-man roster was a mere formality because of a clause in his contract that allowed him to become a free agent at the end of the season.

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Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos explained Kawasaki's situation during his news conference with a large group of reporters on the final day of the regular season.

"He's eligible for free agency, it's just a clause in his contract," Anthopoulos said. "Just about every Japanese player that comes over now, they're not part of the reserve. You don't get them for six or seven years and go through arbitration unless they're an amateur and so on.

"I think we'll look to bring him back. I think that goes without saying. I haven't talked to him. I don't know what his desires are. I don't think the finances have ever been an issue for him. My understanding is he can make more money in Japan, but he's wanted to play here. We'll see. I don't know what his goals are for the offseason, but at some point we'll sit down with him."

Kawasaki appeared in 82 games for the Blue Jays this season and posted a .258 average with a .327 on-base percentage. It's unlikely that Toronto would want to give him a guaranteed deal, but there's a chance he would be willing to accept another Minor League contract.

Johnson was eligible for arbitration and his departure from the 40-man roster had been expected since the end of the year. The 35-year-old spent the majority of the 2014 season in Triple-A Buffalo, and he appeared in only 15 games with the Blue Jays.

Kottaras played for three Major League clubs this year (Toronto, Cleveland and St. Louis), appearing in a total of 14 big league games. He played in four for the Blue Jays, and owns a career .215 average with 32 homers and 101 RBIs.

Toronto currently has 37 players on its 40-man roster. That number will change when other players become free agents, while Maicer Izturis, Brett Lawrie, Chad Jenkins and Melky Cabrera will have to be activated from the 60-day disabled list.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. Joey Nowak contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Stars of tomorrow ready to shine as '14 AFL season begins

Stars of tomorrow ready to shine as '14 AFL season begins

Over its 23-year history, the Arizona Fall League has developed a reputation as a finishing school for baseball's top prospects. This year, once again, many of the game's best young players will gather in the desert, hoping to prove themselves in the same league that helped catapult Derek Jeter, Dustin Pedroia and Mike Trout to stardom.

When the AFL opens play Tuesday, the concentration of talent will again be readily apparent. Two of the three Opening Day games feature premium pitching matchups, and the third game is highlighted by two of the best shortstops in the Minor Leagues.

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The action begins at 3:35 p.m. ET when Peoria and right-hander Kyle Zimmer, the Royals' No. 2 prospect, visits Surprise and right-hander Taijuan Walker, whose last start was a complete game for the Mariners in the midst of their pennant race.

At the same time Tuesday afternoon, Glendale and shortstop Corey Seager, the Dodgers' No. 1 prospect, will host Mesa and shortstop Addison Russell, the Cubs' No. 2 prospect. The day ends with another pitchers' duel, as right-hander Tyler Glasnow, the Pirates' No. 1 prospect, will take the mound for Scottsdale at 9:35 p.m. ET at Salt River, facing right-hander Archie Bradley, the D-backs' No. 1 prospect.

Games with that level of talent are commonplace in the AFL, where 23 players ranked on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list will play this season.

For the second year in a row, Byron Buxton, baseball's top ranked prospect, is among the top prospects playing in the desert this fall. Last year, the Twins' No. 1 prospect hit .212/.288/.404 in 12 games as a 19-year-old for Glendale. This year, he will be playing for Salt River as he tries to make up for lost time after missing most of the regular season due to injuries.

Buxton played in just 31 games during the regular season. A wrist injury he suffered during Spring Training delayed his start to the season and continued to hamper him throughout the first half with Class A Advanced Fort Myers. Then, in his first game after being promoted to Double-A New Britain in August, he suffered a concussion in a harrowing outfield collision and was sidelined for the final three weeks of the season.

Now healthy again, Buxton will be one of the most-watched players in the AFL. But his is far from the only storyline to watch over the next six weeks.

Making up for lost time
Like Buxton, several other players are headed to Arizona to make up for time they lost to injury during the regular season. Others who are taking advantage of the extra developmental time include outfielder Jesse Winker, the Reds' No. 2 prospect, and shortstop Tim Anderson, the White Sox's No. 2 prospect.

Many of the starting pitchers in the AFL are there because injuries prevented them from reaching their innings caps during the regular season. Bradley, Glasnow, Zimmer and Walker all spent part of this season on the disabled list, as did right-handers C.J. Edwards, the Cubs' No. 5 prospect, and Roberto Osuna, the Blue Jays' No. 5 prospect.

Recent Draft picks
Last year, just four months after he was selected second overall in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, the Cubs sent third baseman Kris Bryant to the AFL. He hit .364/.457/.727 with six home runs in 20 games. He was named MVP and helped Mesa to the league championship game. That performance helped serve as a springboard for his historic '14 season, when he hit 43 home runs and reached Triple-A.

It is unlikely any player will be able to repeat Bryant's spectacular performance this season. But three members of the '14 Draft class will play in the AFL, led by shortstop Trea Turner, the Padres' No. 5 prospect. He was selected 13th overall in June and hit .323/.406/.448 with five home runs and 23 stolen bases in 69 games between short-season Eugene and Class A Fort Wayne.

In addition to the small group of '14 draftees, several members of the '13 Draft class will play in the AFL. Right-hander Mark Appel, the first overall pick last year, headlines the group. The Astros' No. 2 prospect had a rocky start to his first full professional season, but pitched much better after his promotion to Double-A Corpus Christi in July. He will try to build on that progress while pitching with Salt River this fall, where he joins Bradley and Buxton to form one of the most star-studded rosters in the league.

Pace of play
Major League Baseball announced last week a set of experimental rules designed to speed up the pace of play would be used in the AFL this year.

• A hitter must keep one foot inside the batter's box throughout his plate appearance, unless one of a few exceptions, such as a foul ball, occurs.

• Intentional walks will be called for by the manager and the batter will automatically take first base.

• There will be a maximum break of two minutes, five seconds between innings, with hitters required to be in the batter's box by the one-minute, 45-second mark. If either team doesn't comply, a ball or strike will be assessed accordingly.

• There will be a maximum of two minutes, 30 seconds allowed for pitching changes, including those that occur during an inning break. A ball will be called if a team takes too long.

• Each team will be permitted three "timeout" conferences covering any meeting involving pitchers and catchers, managers, coaches and batters. Timeouts during pitching changes and those that result from an injury or other emergency will not be counted toward the limit. Additionally, at Salt River home games, a 20-second pitch clock will be used. Those games will also include instant replay, as MLB continues to study potential modifications to the review system.

The experimental pace of play initiatives continue the AFL's tradition of being a testing lab for MLB's potential rule changes. Last year, the instant replay system was debuted in the AFL.

Defensive moves
Position changes often happen in a less-competitive environment than the AFL, but the league gives players who are moving around the diamond another chance to get experience.

This year, Josh Bell, the Pirates' No. 3 prospect, will be the most prominent player learning a new position. He has exclusively played the outfield in the Minor Leagues, but the Pirates already have a star-studded trio of young outfielders in the big leagues. So, this fall, Bell will try out first base, where he began taking ground balls during the regular season.

Although Peter O'Brien, the D-backs' No. 7 prospect, won't be changing positions when he catches for Salt River this fall, his progress defensively will be closely watched by evaluators. The 24-year old was a catcher in college, but has played four positions since the Yankees drafted him in the second round in '12.

The D-backs acquired O'Brien at the non-waiver Trade Deadline in exchange for Martin Prado, but injuries limited him to four games with his new club. The D-backs are sending him to the AFL as a catcher, and how he performs behind the plate over the next six weeks could inform his ultimate defensive home.

No matter where O'Brien ends up defensively, his offensive prowess gives him a chance to reach the Major Leagues. He hit 34 home runs in 106 games this season, ranking fifth among Minor Leaguers.

MLB.com's Top Prospects in AFL
1. Byron Buxton, OF, Twins
4. Francisco Lindor, SS, Indians
5. Addison Russell, SS, Cubs
9. Archie Bradley, RHP, D-backs
13. Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers
16. Tyler Glasnow, RHP, Pirates
29. Josh Bell, 1B, Pirates
38. Raul Mondesi, SS, Royals
40. Jesse Winker, OF, Reds
41. Mark Appel, RHP, Astros
47. Kyle Zimmer, RHP, Royals
49. D.J. Peterson, 3B, Mariners
53. C.J. Edwards, RHP, Cubs
60. Brandon Nimmo, OF, Mets
71. Hunter Renfroe, OF, Padres
82. Tim Anderson, SS, White Sox
84. Nick Williams, OF, Rangers
85. Daniel Robertson, SS, A's
86. Hunter Dozier, 3B, Royals
87. Miguel Almonte, RHP, Royals
88. Dalton Pompey, OF, Blue Jays
96. Trea Turner, SS, Padres
98. Matt Olson, 1B, A's

Teddy Cahill is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Prospect Alford no longer playing football

Prospect Alford no longer playing football

Blue Jays outfield prospect Anthony Alford has decided to stop playing football and will pursue a career in baseball on a full-time basis.

Alford was taken in the third round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft. At the time, he was viewed as a first-round talent but his stock dropped because of his stated preference to continue playing football.

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Toronto decided to take a chance and reached an agreement that allowed Alford to play baseball in the summer and then football the rest of the year. He attended Southern Mississippi for one season and then transferred to Ole Miss but experienced only limited success.

Alford was the starting quarterback for Southern Miss in 2012 but then had to sit out all of 2013 after switching schools. He spent this season as a backup safety and punt returner until announcing earlier this week that his football career would be coming to an end.

"[General manager Alex Anthopoulos] came down and tried to talk to me," Alford told the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger in August. "He put some deals on the table and made it difficult on me."

Alford has spent parts of three seasons in the Blue Jays' Minor League system, but because of time restrictions he only has a limited number of at-bats. He's hit .234 with a .339 on-base percentage over 94 total at-bats, most recently playing for Bluefield in the Rookie league and Class A Lansing.

During Alford's senior season in high school, he hit .483/.569/.793 with four home runs while stealing 14 bases in as many attempts.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Blue Jays couldn't sustain fast start to season

Drought reaches 21 years as capable club can't find winning formula

Blue Jays couldn't sustain fast start to season

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' 2014 season had plenty of highs and lows, but more than anything, it will be remembered for the golden opportunity that got away.

Toronto sat atop the American League East throughout June and early July for the first time since 1993. It seemed almost like a foregone conclusion that the Blue Jays would finally put an end to a decades-long drought without postseason baseball.

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Unfortunately for the ballclub, that success proved to be rather fleeting as the club went into a tailspin during the second half and eventually fell out of the race. Instead of preparing for the playoffs, the Blue Jays spent the final weeks wondering where everything went wrong.

"I've said many times, the best teams get there and the lesser teams don't," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said in late September. "That's no secret in this business.

"Especially in this sport, 162 games, when you have your injuries, you have to weather the storm and you have to have some replacements step up and do a good job. But I think the best teams get there at the end."

Each month of the Blue Jays' season had a completely different feel. In April, the club got off to a relatively slow start thanks to a bullpen that looked completely lost without injured closer Casey Janssen. May was the month Toronto took the baseball world by storm with a 21-9 record, but it wasn't sustainable.

The downward slide began in early June when the streaky lineup started to cool off. The struggles carried over into July and were made even worse by injuries to key players Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Lind. Despite the disturbing trend the Blue Jays finished the month in possession of the second Wild Card spot and the hope was that another upward swing would be on the horizon.

Instead of making a strong push, the season was lost in August when the offense completely fell apart which resulted in a 9-17 record. There was a last-minute gasp in September, but by then it was too little, too late, and it is now 21 years and counting for Toronto without reaching the postseason.

"I think it was a disappointment," Blue Jays starter R.A. Dickey said. "Having not gotten to the postseason, again, with a team that I felt was very capable. Of course we're all disappointed, and we should be. Everybody in here should be disappointed. You have to learn, you have to grow, you have to look for opportunities to see how you can improve and get better, otherwise the season is lost."

Here's a closer look at how everything unfolded for the Blue Jays in 2014:

Record: 83-79, third in the AL East

Defining moment: The Blue Jays arrived in Houston on July 31 with sole possession of the second Wild Card spot and 2 1/2 games back of Baltimore for first place in the AL East. The postseason dream was very much alive and the club appeared to have fully recovered from a late swoon prior to the All-Star break. The talk on Day 1 of the series in Houston was about the Blue Jays' decision not to make any major additions prior to the non-waiver Trade Deadline, and it wasn't long before the product on the field suffered. Toronto won only two series and went 9-17 in August to all but completely fall out of the race.

What went right: The starting rotation was expected to be the biggest weakness on this year's squad, but instead it turned into a strength for long stretches of the season. Brandon Morrow was the only starter to sustain a significant injury, and for the first time in recent memory, health wasn't a factor on the staff ... Dioner Navarro proved to be a significant upgrade over former starting catcher J.P. Arencibia. Navarro provided a lot of upside with the bat, but even more impressive was the fact that he didn't fatigue in the second half despite setting a career high in games played ... Toronto received contributions from young pitchers such as Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris to provide a glimpse at the future ... Melky Cabrera, Jose Bautista, Encarnacion and Lind -- when healthy -- were a formidible heart of the batting order that could be matched up against anyone in baseball.

What went wrong: The Blue Jays' bullpen wasn't able to find the same success as it did in 2013. Sergio Santos and Steve Delabar were expected to be major contributors, but instead found themselves relegated to the Minor Leagues by the middle of the season ... Injuries once again played a factor on the everyday lineup as Brett Lawrie had another injury-riddled year, while Lind and Encarnacion also went down for significant periods of time. The Orioles were able to overcome their injuries, but the Blue Jays couldn't ... Colby Rasmus' final season in a Toronto uniform was a borderline disaster. Rasmus struggled to make contact, and when he did, he wasn't finding very many holes. By September, he lost his starting job and spent the final month on the bench ... Second base turned into a black hole after the club declined to upgrade the position during the offseason ... Jose Reyes battled a shoulder injury and hamstring issues for most of the year, and it resulted in a noticeable decline in his range up the middle ... A lack of organizational depth in the high levels of the Minor Leagues meant there was a huge dropoff in talent when anyone went down with an injury.

Biggest surprise: Cabrera. The 30-year-old might have been snubbed at this year's All-Star Game, but he played at that elite level until a season-ending injury in early September. Cabrera will be a top candidate for the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award after finishing with a .301 average, 171 hits and an .808 OPS. This wouldn't have qualified as a surprise a couple of years ago, but it does now after last season's disappointment.

Cabrera's 2013 came to an end when a tumor was discovered in his back, but he regained full range of motion this season and didn't have any of the leg issues that plagued him in the past. He re-established himself as one of the game's top corner outfielders, and the Blue Jays will now seek for ways to keep the pending free agent in the fold.

Hitter of the Year: Bautista. For the first time since 2011, Bautista was able to remain healthy for an entire season. He surpassed 30 homers and 100 RBIs for the first time in three years and proved there was still plenty left in the tank. There were times this season when Encarnacion was the club's best hitter, but from start to finish, nobody had a year quite like Bautista.

Pitcher of the Year: Dickey. Mark Buehrle was the club's best pitcher in the first half of the season, but Dickey was the most consistent of Toronto's starters. He finished the year leading the team in wins but most crucial was his consistent ability to eat up a lot of quality innings. He surpassed 200 innings for the fourth consecutive year, and more often than not was able to record a quality start. Stroman likely would have been a strong candidate for this honor, but the only thing getting in his way was that the Duke product didn't make his starting debut until the very end of May.

Rookie of the Year: Stroman. He didn't win a job out of Spring Training, but it didn't take very long for the hard-throwing righty to make his presence felt. Shortly after Morrow was lost to another serious injury, Stroman stepped right in and secured his spot as a potential cornerstone of the starting staff for years to come. Along the way, he picked up a pair of complete games, one shutout and added a two-seam fastball midway through the year that contributed to his strong finish. Stroman likely would have been a candidate for the AL Rookie of the Year Award if not for the performance of Chicago's Jose Abreu.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Blue Jays to focus on outfield, 'pen to build for 2015

GM Anthopoulos will try to balance payroll in bid to lock down Melky

Blue Jays to focus on outfield, 'pen to build for 2015

TORONTO -- Alex Anthopoulos is about to embark on arguably the most difficult -- and easily the most important -- offseason of his tenure as the Blue Jays general manager.

In the coming weeks, Toronto will face some very tough decisions on pending free agents and players with club options. It will be about finding the right balance between performance and value on a team that might not be able to add a lot of payroll.

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The first order of business is dealing with left fielder Melky Cabrera. There's clear interest from both parties to work out a contract, but that doesn't mean it's guaranteed to get done.

"If ultimately we get priced out by years or dollars, that could happen, but that wouldn't have been the intent," Anthopoulos said in late September. "I'm not alluding this specifically to Melky, but there are times ... we may have had discussions with players in the past, whether it's Spring Training, whether it's during the All-Star break, whether it's in season and maybe we couldn't come to terms.

"Sometimes you collectively agree that maybe it's best that they test the market and they get a feel for what's out there, and that breaks the tie for you."

What Anthopoulos is able to do this offseason will be directly tied to the Blue Jays' payroll. Toronto is notoriously tight-lipped about a definitive number, and Anthopoulos insists he's provided with a general range to work from, but there's always an ability to ask ownership for more.

The "payroll parameters" will be watched very closely as closer Casey Janssen and outfielder Colby Rasmus are coming off the books, while the same could be said for pitchers Brandon Morrow, J.A. Happ and Dustin McGowan. But the Blue Jays still have slightly under $95 million in salary guaranteed to eight players next year after spending approximately $137 million in 2014.

Once buyouts, club options and arbitration cases are factored in, Toronto will be on pace to have another hefty payroll. Whatever money is left for Anthopoulos to work with, he'll have to fix glaring holes in the bullpen, second base and potentially two spots in the outfield, depending on what happens with Cabrera and the soon-to-be departed Rasmus.

"I feel like we're real close," Blue Jays starter R.A. Dickey said. "We are such a streaky team, if we can just somehow arrest those times when we find ourselves on those negative streaks, I think we would be right in [postseason contention].

"I feel like we have a good contingency of players in here that know each other well enough and are dedicated to the collective goal of winning the pennant. Of course, we're some pieces away otherwise we would have done it if not. So we have to try to identify what that is and move on."

Here's a closer look at where things stand with the Blue Jays as they head into what could prove to be a very busy offseason:

Arbitration-eligible: C George Kottaras, IF Brett Lawrie, IF Juan Francisco, IF Danny Valencia, IF/OF John Mayberry Jr., IF Dan Johnson, LHP Brett Cecil.

Free agents: OF Cabrera, OF Rasmus, RHP Janssen, IF Munenori Kawasaki, 1B/DH Adam Lind ($7.5 million club option with $1 million buyout), RHP Morrow ($10 million club option with $1 million buyout), LHP Happ ($6.7 million club option with $200,000 buyout), RHP McGowan ($4 million club option with $500,000 buyout), C Josh Thole ($1.5 million option).

Rotation: The Blue Jays have more certainty in their starting rotation than anywhere else on the roster. The club could look to move veteran lefty Mark Buehrle this winter, but his $19 million salary in 2015 will make that a difficult task. Barring any moves, Buehrle and Dickey will provide the veteran presence on a staff that will include emerging pitchers such as Marcus Stroman and Drew Hutchison. Top prospects Daniel Norris and Aaron Sanchez will be under consideration, which leaves Happ as the only unknown. Toronto could opt to pick up Happ's club option for $6.7 million and keep him in the fold, while a trade also remains a possibility.

Bullpen: Anthopoulos has a lot of work to do in the bullpen. Janssen is expected to leave as a free agent, and McGowan's $4 million club option could be too expensive for his role in middle relief. Sanchez's career would be best served with a return to the starting rotation, and Morrow is expected to explore starting jobs elsewhere before considering a relief option with the Blue Jays. There's strength from the left side in Cecil and Aaron Loup, but not much after that. Toronto will need to find not only find a closer, but also a right-handed setup man this winter.

Catcher: Veteran Dioner Navarro was the Blue Jays' only significant addition prior to the 2014 season, and he'll once again be returning in a starting role. He proved a lot of people wrong this season by not fading down the stretch despite setting a career high in games played. Navarro has his drawbacks -- blocking balls in the dirt and framing pitches -- but he also has a lot of offensive upside and is well-liked by the pitching staff. Backup Josh Thole also could return as Dickey's personal catcher, but the Blue Jays would be well served to add some depth at this spot in case Navarro goes down with an injury.

First base: The Blue Jays have spent the past several years with Edwin Encarnacion and Lind splitting time at first base and DH. That could change this offseason, but they complement each other well, as neither is really equipped to handle playing the field everyday and greatly benefit from occasional rests on defense. Toronto could decide to trade Lind and his $7.5 million salary next season, but if the club goes that route, it will have to find a suitable replacement especially considering his high value against right-handed pitching.

Second base: This position became somewhat of a revolving door after Aaron Hill was dealt to the Diamondbacks in 2011. Kelly Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio, Maicer Izturis, Ryan Goins and Kawasaki are just a few of the players who have been given a shot at everyday playing time since Hill left. Second base was a position of need last offseason, and it remains one now. Izturis will return next year after missing almost all of 2014 with a knee injury, but he is best served in a utility role with spot starts against lefties. Lawrie is a fallback option at second, but that would require Anthopoulos to find an upgrade at third.

Shortstop: Jose Reyes battled shoulder and hamstring injuries for most of 2014, but he still was able to appear in more than 125 games for the fourth time in five seasons. The fact that Reyes was able to avoid the DL from mid-April until the end of the year was impressive, but the health issues also appeared to take their toll on the field. There was a noticeable decline in Reyes' range, and while there are no current plans to move him off shortstop, it's something that will be eventually need to be addressed in the future. One possible solution is finding an adequate backup so that Reyes can receive more regular time off. Reyes has $66 million and three years remaining on his contract, so he likely isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

Third base: Lawrie has yet to find a way to remain healthy, and that's a big problem for the organization. The starting job should once again belong to Lawrie, but Anthopoulos will have to make sure he has a capable backup ready to go in case the health issues return in 2015. When Lawrie played this season, he split his time between second and third, and while that remains a possibility, the organization would like to find a permanent home. The priority appears to be adding a second baseman this offseason, but if it's a third baseman instead, the club could shift Lawrie up the middle. The fact that Lawrie can provide that kind of versatility is one of his greatest assets.

Outfield: Anthopoulos has a lot of things he needs to take care of this offseason, but nothing is more pressing than his situation in the outfield. Rasmus has played his last game in a Blue Jays uniform, but the organization can only hope that the same can't be said about Cabrera. Toronto is all but guaranteed of extending a qualifying offer worth approximately $15 million this offseason, but Cabrera also will have an opportunity to seek out other potential suitors. Toronto could go with a platoon of Anthony Gose and Kevin Pillar in center field next year, but the lack of offense from that position would become an even bigger issue if Cabrera isn't brought back into the fold.

Designated hitter: Lind has a $7.5 million option on his contract, but if that gets picked up, the Blue Jays likely won't need to search for anyone to fill this spot. Mayberry Jr. and Valencia are potential platoon partners for Lind, who has struggled against lefties throughout his career. Another option would see players like Reyes, Cabrera and Jose Bautista get occasional days off from the field with a spot start or two at DH.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Dickey absorbs a hard-luck loss in season finale

Veteran knuckleballer allows only a solo shot over six innings of work

Dickey absorbs a hard-luck loss in season finale

TORONTO -- One run was all it took to disrupt the Blue Jays' hopes of securing a series sweep of the Orioles on the last day of the regular season on Sunday at Rogers Centre.

R.A. Dickey pitched six strong innings and allowed only two hits before a packed house at Rogers Centre. But a solo homer by O's second baseman Jonathan Schoop proved to be enough to down the Blue Jays, 1-0.

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"They won the division for a reason, and to have a performance like that, at the end of the year, when it's very easy to cash it in, I was happy that I was able to fight through it," said Dickey, who threw his seventh consecutive quality start and his 23rd of the season.

The 39-year-old knuckleballer gave up only a leadoff double to Nick Markakis in the first, and Schoop's homer in the fifth. Schoop battled Dickey to a full count before sending a fastball over the wall in left-center field for his 16th homer of the season.

Outside of that, Dickey was effective, as he delivered his third quality start against the O's this season. But despite that, he wasn't able to record a win against the American League East champions. The loss was Dickey's first in eight starts -- and just his fourth in 14 starts since the All-Star break.

"For me, giving up two hits to that lineup, I'm satisfied with that," said Dickey, who finished the season at 14-13 with a 3.71 ERA. "I made a mistake to Schoop, and it was the difference in the game. But, outside of that one pitch, I thought I did pretty good."

Ryan Goins had a two-out triple to left field in the fifth which was misplayed by Alejandro De Aza that gave the Blue Jays some life, putting the tying run 90 feet away. Jose Reyes nearly cashed him in, but his sinking liner was nabbed by Markakis in right field to end the inning.

Jose Bautista attempted to rally his squad and the 45,901 fans in attendance when he swiped second base after reaching first on a Ryan Flaherty throwing error to start the sixth. But O's reliever Ubaldo Jimenez fanned Edwin Encarnacion, Adam Lind and Dalton Pompey in order to escape the jam and preserve the O's lead.

The Blue Jays had one last chance to tie it in the ninth, when Edwin Encarnacion singled to lead off the inning. But pinch-hitter Danny Valencia lined into a double play at first base to eliminate that possibility, effectively sealing the victory for the O's.

"It was great game, overall," said O's starter Miguel Gonzalez, who earned his 10th win with five scoreless innings of five-hit ball. "The Blue Jays weren't giving up at all, and our offense and defense did a good job. I think that was the difference. Markakis made a great catch in the outfield in the fifth inning. Steve Pearce, that double play we got on the line drive in the ninth, I thought that was the difference in the game."

The loss meant the Blue Jays finished with an 83-79 mark for the 2014 campaign, and a 46-35 home record. After a retrospective pregame session with the media, manager John Gibbons said there wasn't much left to talk about during his regular postgame news conference.

"We're all disappointed in the way it ended up, but there's some guys out there that had good years," Gibbons said. "We played some good ball along the way, we just didn't play good enough."

After spending six weeks at the top of the division, spurred by a 21-9 record in May, there's been a lot of talk about the Blue Jays being close to where they need to be to make the playoffs.

Dickey said the team needs to be more consistent and less streaky if it wants to make a postseason appearance in the future.

"How can we have the May that we did," said Dickey. "... and how [do we] eliminate the August we had?"

Closer Casey Janssen came on to pitch the ninth, in what was likely his last appearance after eight seasons with the Blue Jays. Janssen said saying goodbye to teammates is always difficult at the end of a season.

"It's tough, I'm gonna miss some guys," said Janssen. "I [started] a lot of great friendships here, and [I'm] wishing everyone well. We've got a talented group in here -- and wherever people end up, I think they're gonna land on their feet."

Jamie Ross is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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GM thinks Blue Jays are on the cusp of success

Anthopoulos discusses state of the team at year-end news conference

GM thinks Blue Jays are on the cusp of success

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays put the finishing touches on a disappointing season on Sunday afternoon, but the message general manager Alex Anthopoulos wants everybody to hear is that "we're close."

In his final news conference of the season, Anthopoulos didn't shy away from the fact Toronto didn't to live up to expectations in 2014. The team, which held a six-game lead in the American League East on June 6, didn't find a way to crack the postseason for the first time since 1993. However, Anthopoulos believes there is plenty of hope for the future.

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He talked at length about the current core that is already in place and all of the young pitching that has emerged over the past few months. What he likes the most about the offseason, though, is the supposed flexibility of the roster that will make upgrades more possible than a year ago.

"I'm pretty excited about this offseason," Anthopoulos said. "It's probably the first time I've said it as much, because there's going to need to be some turnover in certain areas. We're going to have some flexibility, just because we had a set roster coming into the year -- whether it was guys who were coming back, guys who were under contract.

"As much as it seems like we've got some looming free agents -- and we do -- or some guys with options -- and those decisions need to be made -- there's also an opportunity to add some players and to have some turnover with some guys that I think are going to continue to take a step forward. It can be really exciting."

Anthopoulos might be excited, but this will likely prove to be his most difficult offseason as general manager to date. The 37-year-old has several pending free agents, players with expensive club options and some overall uncertainty surrounding at least five positions on the field.

The first order of business will be making some tough calls on the team options. It seems unlikely that Dustin McGowan ($4 million) and Brandon Morrow ($10 million) will have their options picked up. But the future isn't nearly as certain for Adam Lind ($7.5 million) and J.A. Happ ($6.7 million).

Then, there are the free agents. Outfielder Colby Rasmus and closer Casey Janssen are all but officially guaranteed of heading elsewhere in the offseason, but the team would still like to work out a contract with left fielder Melky Cabrera. That might be easier said than done. But if Cabrera leaves, it will open up another hole that needs to be filled -- and that's the last thing the Blue Jays need.

When looking at the future, Anthopoulos seems at least relatively content with his core group of starters -- which includes R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison, Aaron Sanchez and possibly Happ. There's less confidence in a bullpen that struggled for long stretches this season and is without a legitimate closer now that Janssen is on his way out.

"I do think we have some relievers -- and I think there's some guys out there that might not be quote-unquote closers, that if given the opportunity can close," Anthopoulos said. "We're going to look to add relievers, and there may be someone that we add via trade or add through free agency that we announce as the closer. There may be a bunch of guys that we add or sign and say they're going to compete to be the closer, depending on who they are."

In a lot of ways, the Blue Jays' 2014 season will be looked at as a missed opportunity. Toronto held onto first place in the AL East until July 3, and were a Wild Card team until early August. For a long time, it seemed like an almost foregone conclusion that this would finally be the year the club would end its prolonged postseason drought.

That didn't end up being the case, and it's Anthopoulos' job to figure out why. The club needs a second baseman, some help in the bullpen, possibly an outfielder and maybe even a designated hitter -- depending on what happens with Lind. It won't be an easy task, but Anthopoulos says he's prepared for the difficult road that lies ahead.

"We know the free agents that are out there," Anthopoulos said. "I have a sense of some of the players that could be available [via] trade. Once you get to the offseason, I expect a whole other group of players to be available. That gets done in the month of October. At some point, we'll come up with where the payroll is going to be, all that kind of stuff. But I expect us to continue to try to build and add and put a World Series team on the field."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Janssen takes what's likely his final bow in Toronto

Closer is slated to hit free agency after the postseason ends

Janssen takes what's likely his final bow in Toronto

TORONTO -- Casey Janssen's tenure in a Blue Jays uniform likely came to an end on Sunday afternoon. But before he left, there was one final appearance to finish off.

Toronto's closer came out and pitched a clean 1-2-3 ninth inning during a 1-0 loss to the Orioles. Like so many of his previous outings over the course of his eight years in Toronto, Janssen's inning was quick and almost effortless.

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Janssen is set to hit free agency when the postseason comes to an end next month, and the sold-out crowd at Rogers Centre knew it. When Janssen walked off the field after the visitors' half of the ninth inning, he left to a standing ovation.

"It was weird, because I didn't know what to expect from the fans," said Janssen, who stopped and acknowledged the crowd with several waves before going into the dugout. "They gave me a nice ovation, and I appreciate everything they gave to me. It was just nice."

Janssen spent the past week doing a countless number of interviews that have brought up questions about his seemingly inevitable departure from the organization. Throughout it all, he has talked about the highs of his debut and later being named closer. But there has also been an underlying theme of regret.

Toronto is the only organization Janssen has ever known. He was taken in the fourth round of the 2004 First-Year Player Draft and made his big league debut in 2006. Over the ensuing eight years, Toronto never made the postseason or really ever even came all that close.

The lack of team success, more than anything, is what has bothered Janssen over the years. In what was likely his final day with the Blue Jays, he still had a message for the fans he has come to love.

"I'll probably do a lot more on the way home and in the offseason," Janssen said, when asked if he's had time to reflect on his Blue Jays career. "I enjoyed my time here, if it is coming to an end. I was grateful for the opportunity I got. I got promoted, was a starter, then got the opportunity to close -- and for that, I'm forever grateful.

"I still apologize to the fans and everyone that we couldn't bring the playoffs and a championship here, because deep down that's all I wanted to do -- and it was disappointing in that regard."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Blue Jays plan to stick to contract philosophy

Anthopoulos says the club will not offer deals that last over five years

Blue Jays plan to stick to contract philosophy

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays could be making a lot of adjustments this offseason, but one thing that won't change is the club's policy of not offering contracts that span more than five years.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos confirmed on Sunday afternoon the Blue Jays won't be in the market for any free agents that require at least six seasons on a deal. During the tenure of Anthopoulos and president Paul Beeston, the Blue Jays have never gone beyond five guaranteed years with any player. That stance isn't going to change any time soon.

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That will likely keep the Blue Jays out of the running for top free agents like Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and possibly James Shields. But Anthopoulos believes it's the smart approach.

"I can adamantly say you won't see any eight-year, nine-year, ten-year deals -- barring the [average annual value] all of a sudden is much lower and it's the same total value that we would pay over five," Anthopoulos said. "Our five-year policy is still firmly in place. That's not going to change.

"But I still believe, even with that, you could still be very competitive. ... I still think there's a lot of good free agents that -- if you need to go to five years, I don't even know with some of them you're going to need to go to that number -- we'll be able to sign them."

The reason behind the policy is the fact the success rate for contracts that last more than five years is very low. There have been times when it's worked out, but there's also a large risk that injuries will play a role and the contract would become problematic during the back-end years of the deal.

The five-year policy was at least one reason the Blue Jays haven't entered the mix for a significant free-agent signing during Anthopoulos' time as GM. There have been minor signings and a two-year deal with Melky Cabrera prior to the 2013 season. But, for the most part, Anthopoulos has done the vast majority of his work through trades.

"Philosophically, we've said this before, we're not believers in those eight-, nine-, ten-year deals -- not because the talent isn't there, the players aren't there," Anthopoulos said. "Too much can happen. No matter how good you are, when it's that long, too much can happen over that period of time.

"I understand that will take us out of [the running for] some players, but it's something philosophically we're opposed to. With that five-year max in play, we still feel we'll be able to get players or certain guys."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Blue Jays claim Burns; recall Hague

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays claimed right-hander Cory Burns off waivers from the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday. They also selected the contract of first baseman Matt Hague from Triple-A Buffalo.

The 26-year-old Burns appeared in 43 games this season for Triple-A Round Rock, Double-A Montgomery and Triple-A Durham. He's played in 27 career big league contests, posting a 1-1 record with a 4.60 ERA in games with San Diego and Texas.

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Hague, meanwhile, hit .377 with seven doubles, one homer and 10 RBIs in 13 games with the Bisons. To make room on the 40-man roster, both Melky Cabrera and Chad Jenkins were moved to the 60-day disabled list.

Jamie Ross is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Gibbons eyes ending October drought in '15

Gibbons eyes ending October drought in '15

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays now own the dubious honor of being the team with the longest postseason drought in Major League Baseball.

Kansas City possessed the longest skid until it officially clinched a spot in the postseason for the first time since 1985 on Friday night. Toronto's last appearance in October baseball occurred when the Blue Jays put the finishing touches on back-to-back World Series championships in 1993.

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The Royals' shot this season, combined with Pittsburgh's Wild Card berth last year, has left Toronto all by itself. Seattle has the second-longest drought, with its last appearance in the playoffs coming in 2001.

"Hey, third time's the charm," said Blue Jays manager John Gibbons. "We'll see. It's good to see [the Royals] have some success -- because it's a great group over there. But hopefully somebody ... can ask [Seattle manager] Lloyd McClendon that next year."

Gibbons knows about this type of streak all too well. Not only has he been the manager in Toronto for a pair of stints, but he was also the bench coach in Kansas City for three years. His time with the Royals started when they were still in the early stages of a rebuild. But the fruits of that labor are clearly evident now.

Kansas City was still three years away from contending when Gibbons left the organization. He thinks the Blue Jays are much closer to making an impact because of the way the current core is set up.

"This is a totally different team," Gibbons said. "We have a lot of veteran, proven players. They had a lot of can't-miss, young guys all at once. They knew it was going to take a few years, and they really had no pitching. The area they struggled with was young pitching coming up and filling the gaps, because they took a lot of chances with a lot of big picks over there.

"But the position players panned out, the pitching didn't. They went out and made some good acquisitions, [James] Shields, [Omar] Infante, Wade Davis. They do a good job over there, [there are] really good baseball people over there."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Jonathan Mayo

Blue Jays' Norris on MLB Pipeline All-Prospect Team

Sluggers Bryant and Gallo make the cut, as do pairs of Dodgers, Nationals and Red Sox

Blue Jays' Norris on MLB Pipeline All-Prospect Team

Last week, MLBPipeline.com handed out year-end awards for top hitting and pitching prospects. As much as Kris Bryant and Tyler Glasnow were deserving recipients, it was clear there were many other fantastic performances in 2014 that deserved some attention.

With that in mind, MLBPipeline.com announced its 2014 All-Prospect Team on Friday. There's a prospect for each position, including three outfielders, a DH, a right-handed and left-handed starting pitcher and one reliever. The only requirements were that a player appeared at some point on a team's Top 20 list on Prospect Watch and spent the majority of the year in the Minor Leagues.

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1B: Matt Olson, Oakland A's
Perhaps lost in the shadow of the power displays of Bryant and Joey Gallo, Olson finished third in all of the Minors with 37 home runs. The A's No. 2 prospect also walked 117 times to lead the Minor Leagues, allowing him to finish with a robust .404 OBP and .947 OPS.

2B: Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox
Betts has more than held his own in the big leagues, playing center field and second base. He began the year as the No. 62 prospect on the Top 100, then moved up to No. 14 on the re-ranked list this summer. The jump was thanks to a huge season at Double and Triple-A. Betts hit .346/.431/.529 with 33 steals in 99 games before getting called up to Boston.

SS: Corey Seager, Los Angeles Dodgers
The fact that Seager hit in the California League surprised no one. Neither did the fact he kept on raking when he reached Double-A. The Dodgers' top prospect hit a combined .349/.402/.602 to win the Minor League batting title, and his .602 slugging percentage was also good for fourth in the Minors. All coming from the shortstop position, while reaching the upper levels of the system at age 20.

3B: Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs
He was the Hitting Prospect of the Year, after all. The Cubs' top prospect led the Minors in home runs, slugging percentage and OPS. He was second in OBP, third in RBIs, and he even stole 15 bases while reaching Triple-A in his first full season.

C: Blake Swihart, Red Sox
Ranked as the No. 2 catcher, Swihart began the year in Double-A and finished it with the International League champion Pawtucket Red Sox in Triple-A. Combined, the switch-hitting 2011 first-round pick hit .293/.341/.469. He also threw out 46 percent of would-be basestealers and improved his defense behind the plate.

OF: Joc Pederson, Los Angeles Dodgers
Quick quiz: How many professional baseball players went 30-30 in 2014? One: Pederson. At No. 16 on the Top 100 and No. 3 on the Dodgers' list, Pederson was the only player at any level to accomplish the feat. The outfielder did it in just 121 games and 448 at-bats with Triple-A Albuquerque before receiving a September callup. Pederson not only had 33 homers and 30 steals, he also had a 1.017 OPS, good for fourth in the Minors. Sure, he struck out 149 times, but he also drew 100 walks en route to a .435 OBP, third among Minor Leaguers.

OF: Michael Taylor, Washington Nationals
A raw, toolsy shortstop-turned-outfielder, Taylor had a breakout year, largely in Double-A, in 2014. The Nationals' No. 3 prospect had a 20-30 season (23 home runs, 37 steals), went to the Futures Game and earned his first big league callup. His strikeout rate is still quite high, but his walk rate and OBP improved this year, signs he's moving in a very good direction.

OF: Steven Souza Jr., Washington Nationals
Souza may not have the same marquee value compared to others on this list -- he's one of only two players not on the Top 100 -- but it's impossible to look past the year he had before joining the Nationals. Souza started the year No. 14 on the Nationals' Top 20 and moved to fifth after hitting .345/.427/.577 over 100 Minor League games. His 1.004 OPS was sixth-best among all Minor League hitters, and he stole 28 bases to boot.

DH: Joey Gallo, Texas Rangers
Gallo certainly belongs on this list, but he was blocked at his normal position by Bryant. The Rangers' top prospect finished just one homer behind Bryant, narrowly missing out on his second straight Minor League home run crown. More impressive than his power output -- though his Futures Game display will be remembered for a long time -- are the adjustments he made to earn a promotion to Double-A. His approach at the plate matured, and as a result he drew more walks and made more contact, giving him more chances to tap into his plus power.

RHP: Tyler Glasnow, Pittsburgh Pirates
The MLBPipeline.com Pitching Prospect of the Year, Glasnow shook off an early back issue to absolutely dominate the Florida State League. He finished the year with the lowest opponents' batting average among Minor Leaguers and the third lowest ERA. He struck out 11.4 batters per nine innings, which actually lowered his K/9 rate to 12.0 for his career. He also lowered his BB/9 rate by nearly a walk per nine from last season to this one.

LHP: Daniel Norris, Toronto Blue Jays
There were several quality lefty prospects to consider -- four received votes for Pitching Prospect of the Year, and five are among the top 30 overall prospects -- but Norris' season truly does stand out. The 2011 second-round pick began the year in the Florida State League and ended it in the big leagues, putting up eye-popping numbers along the way. The Blue Jays' No. 1 prospect finished fifth in the Minors with 163 strikeouts, held hitters to a .212 batting average and finished with a 2.53 ERA. His 11.8 K/9 rate was coupled with a 3.1 BB/9 mark.

RP: R.J. Alvarez, San Diego Padres
Alvarez began the year as the Angels' No. 7 prospect, but was dealt to the Padres in the Huston Street deal. He's not on the Padres Top 20 currently, but he's pitched as though he belongs. Between the two organizations, Alvarez posted a 1.25 ERA in 38 relief appearances, striking out 12.7 per nine while walking 2.7. Hitters managed just a .192 batting average against him in the Minors, and he's been just as stingy during his big league debut this September.

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com and writes a blog, B3. Follow @JonathanMayoB3 on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Happ stymies O's to cap strong second half

Veteran finishes with an 11-11 record after overcoming early adversity

Happ stymies O's to cap strong second half

TORONTO -- J.A. Happ's season may have started on a sour note, but it ended on a positive one on Saturday against the Orioles.

Happ pitched at least six innings for the seventh straight game, holding the Orioles to a pair of runs on four hits over 6 1/3 frames, as the Blue Jays topped Baltimore, 4-2, at Rogers Centre.

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In doing so, he closed out a season that began for him under tenuous circumstances -- one that gradually grew into a successful campaign for the veteran left-hander. Happ's second-half numbers stood in stark contrast to his performance prior to the All-Star break.

"Sometimes, it's tough to see the light at the end of the tunnel," said Happ, who threw 158 innings for the season, the most he's managed since 2009.

"... You kind of have to keep having faith and keep working and it pays off. It felt good to walk off the mound today with the fans cheering."

Happ did what he's done repeatedly over his past dozen or so starts: deliver a solid six innings that gives his team the opportunity to win.

Despite Delmon Young's RBI single in the second and a solo shot to Adam Jones in the sixth, Happ mostly held Baltimore at bay to even his record at 11-11 for the season.

While he's been a dependable starter for the Blue Jays for most of the 2014 campaign, Happ's spot in Toronto's rotation was thrown into question back in Spring Training, before he went on the disabled list with a back injury. Upon his return, the southpaw had to bide his time in the bullpen.

"He didn't wanna do that. We didn't want him to have to do that," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "That's really not what he is."

Happ finally got his chance when Brandon Morrow went down with a torn tendon sheath in his right index finger that led to a long stay on the DL in early May. But isn't wasn't until the second half of the season that Happ really found his form.

Despite a losing record during the second half, Happ's numbers after the All-Star break were a marked improvement over his first-half stats, which included a 4.91 ERA and 33 walks over 17 games (13 starts).

He turned the corner in late July, recording respectable numbers -- despite posting a 4-6 mark over 13 second-half starts.

Happ's second-half ERA (3.56) was more than a full point lower than during the first half, as he walked half as many batters. His strikeout-to-walk ratio (69-18 vs. 64-33) was significantly better, as well.

"He was really good today," Gibbons said. "But he's been really good all year. I think he's really kicked it [up a notch] after the All-Star break and been very consistent. He's proven he's a pitcher that can go deep into games."

Happ, who turns 32 in October, enters the offseason with a one-year option on his contract worth $6.7 million for 2015. Asked whether the club would pick up that option, Gibbons directed questions to general manager Alex Anthopoulos. But in his own opinion, Gibbons said Happ has made a strong case for himself.

"I like everything about him," said Gibbons. "I think he's really come into his own. He's not a young kid, but you see a more consistent pitcher."

Happ, who had the lowest run-support average among Blue Jays starters this season (3.8 runs per game), got just enough from Toronto's offence on Saturday.

The Blue Jays took the lead in the third, as they chipped away at Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen with three straight hits that led to a pair of runs. Kevin Pillar had a one-out single before Steve Tolleson plated him with a double down the left-field line. Tolleson scored on Jose Reyes' double, as the Blue Jays took a 2-1 lead.

Toronto added another run in the fifth on a Baltimore error to grab a 3-1 advantage, then got some additional insurance after a crew-chief review in the seventh. Pillar attempted to score from third base on a fly ball by Reyes to Jones. But Baltimore's centre fielder made an almost perfect throw to the plate and home-plate umpire Jim Wolf called Pillar out after a head-first slide.

Gibbons came out of the dugout to ask the umpiring crew to take a closer look at the play. It wasn't a team challenge, because Gibbons felt there was a possible violation of Rule 7.13, which states the catcher must provide a clear basepath for the runner.

When umpires take a look at whether the catcher blocked the plate, they also are permitted to examine whether the original call on the field was correct. In this particular case, replays showed that Pillar avoided the tag from catcher Caleb Joseph for long enough to touch a piece of the plate with his left hand.

Following a review of 3 minutes and 17 seconds, the call on the field was overturned and Toronto was awarded an extra run. That gave the Blue Jays a 4-2 lead and allowed the seventh inning to continue. Jose Bautista then came to the plate and flied out to left field. But, by then, the damage had already been done.

After Happ exited, relievers Aaron Sanchez and Casey Janssen managed to lock things down the rest of the way.

"He's always tough, he's a good pitcher," Baltimore right fielder Steve Pearce said of Happ. "He has been around for a while. He was mixing his pitches and located. He's a good pitcher and he has some good stuff."

Jamie Ross is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Blue Jays win crew-chief review

Blue Jays win crew-chief review

TORONTO -- Blue Jays manager John Gibbons won a crew-chief review in the seventh inning, as the Blue Jays were provided with a valuable insurance run during Saturday afternoon's game against the Orioles.

The play in question took place when Kevin Pillar attempted to score from third base on a fly ball to Adam Jones. Baltimore's center fielder made an almost perfect throw to the plate and home-plate umpire Jim Wolf called Pillar out after a head-first slide.

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Gibbons came out of the dugout to ask the umpiring crew to take a closer look at the play. It wasn't a team challenge, because Gibbons felt there was a possible violation of Rule 7.13, which states the catcher must provide a clear basepath for the runner.

When umpires take a look at whether the catcher blocked the plate, they also are permitted to examine whether the original call on the field was correct. In this particular case, replays showed that Pillar avoided the tag from catcher Caleb Joseph for long enough to touch a piece of the plate with his left hand.

Following a review of 3 minutes and 17 seconds, the call on the field was overturned and Toronto was awarded an extra run. That gave the Blue Jays a 4-2 lead and allowed the seventh inning to continue. Jose Bautista then came to the plate and flied out to left field. But, by then, the damage had already been done.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Pompey stars with incredible all-around performance

Blue Jays' No. 3 prospect triples twice, doubles and makes great diving catch

Pompey stars with incredible all-around performance

TORONTO -- Dalton Pompey stole the show in the Blue Jays' win over the Orioles on Friday, combining stellar defense with an outstanding night at the plate to bring his hometown crowd to its feet.

The rookie outfielder make an outstretched diving catch down the left-field line in the second inning and went on to go 3-for-4 with a pair of triples, a double and two RBIs to pace the Blue Jays as they topped the Orioles, 4-2. The triples were Pompey's first in the Majors, as was his third-inning two-bagger.

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Pompey, the team's No. 3 prospect, according to MLB.com, became the third Toronto rookie to record a pair of triples in a game and the first Blue Jays player to do so since Alex Rios in 2005.

All in all, it's been a big week for Pompey, who swatted his first career homer -- off Felix Hernandez, no less -- against the Mariners on Tuesday. The Mississauga, Ontario, native has been a bright spot for Blue Jays fans as the team plays out its regular-season schedule with no hope of making the postseason.

The 21-year-old switch-hitter said he's adjusted better than expected to the Major League level, thanks largely to his Blue Jays teammates.

"I think I've gotten a little more confident and comfortable being here," said Pompey. "Since I've been here, the guys have made it a nice environment. They really make me feel like one of the guys that's been here a long time."

Pompey flew through the Blue Jays' system this season, climbing to the big leagues all the way from Class A Advanced Dunedin, where he started the season.

In the last five days, he's shown he can get the job done on both sides of the ball. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said Pompey, who will head to the Arizona Fall League once the season is done, is a special kid.

"He's very respectful, very intelligent. Carries himself like a pro, and you combine what he's doing on the field -- he's flew through the system this year at a young age," Gibbons said.

Part of what makes Pompey's story so appealing is the fact that he's a hometown guy, raised about 30 minutes from the Rogers Centre. He grew up watching the Blue Jays, and recalls once -- as a 17-year-old -- telling Vernon Wells that he'd be on Toronto's big league roster one day.

Now that he's arrived, he's trying to take it all in second by second.

"It's the stuff I've dreamed about before I went to sleep at night," Pompey said. "Getting called up here and having that moment where they appreciate the effort that I'm giving. I'll continue to try my best and keep working from there."

Jamie Ross is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Hutchison ends on high note to open final series

Pompey stars at plate, on D with three extra-base hits, diving catch

Hutchison ends on high note to open final series

TORONTO -- When Drew Hutchison arrived at Spring Training earlier this year, the biggest question was whether he could pitch a full season. Eight months later, the answer is a definitive yes.

There were plenty of concerns about Hutchison back in February, because he was expected to be an integral part of the rotation yet was coming off a missed season following Tommy John surgery. In the end, none of that mattered as Hutchison closed the door on a successful season in a 4-2 victory over the Orioles on Friday night.

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Hutchison tossed five strong innings and struck out eight in his final start of the year, while Dalton Pompey had a pair of triples and a double to lead the Blue Jays to a win in the series opener.

"Obviously, the first goal you have every year is to stay healthy and make all of your starts," Hutchison said. "I was able to do that and frankly I know there was a lot of concern about it, so obviously that's a plus. I would say the best way to summarize it, is that it's a good start, it's a good base to build off and continue to be better pitcher and continue to be better."

Hutchison finishes the year with an 11-13 record and a 4.48 ERA over 184 2/3 innings. It wasn't perfect and there are certainly some areas for improvement, but overall the season can be considered a success. There was a shutout over Yu Darvish and the Rangers on May 16, and he came within one out of another complete game vs. the Orioles on Aug. 6.

Then there's the fact that Hutchison finished the season with 184 strikeouts, which was a team high and the most by a Blue Jays pitcher since Brandon Morrow had 203 in 2011. Perhaps most impressive is that despite throwing more innings than he had at any point before, Hutchison finished the year by allowing three runs or fewer in six of his final seven starts.

In the future, there will be hope for more consistency, but overall the Blue Jays really couldn't have asked more from a pitcher who entered the year with all of 11 big league starts under his belt.

"He ran the table," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "There were a couple spots in there where we moved him back a day, one where we gave him three extra days and he responded."

Toronto got almost all of its offensive production from Pompey. The rookie outfielder started his night in the second inning with a triple to the gap in right-center field, his first career three-bagger, and he later scored on an RBI bunt single by Munenori Kawasaki. In the third, Pompey came through again with an RBI double to right-center that scored Adam Lind.

Pompey was back at it again in the fifth with yet another triple. This time, it scored Edwin Encarnacion all the way from first base. Pompey became the first Blue Jays player to triple twice in the same game since Alex Rios did it on April 27, 2005. Pompey also became the third Blue Jays rookie to accomplish the feat after Alfredo Griffin did it in 1979 and Shannon Stewart did it in '97.

"It's been a dream come true for me, coming from where I started," said Pompey, who began the year at Class A Advanced Dunedin. "[My Minor League coaches], I wouldn't be [here] without those guys and everyone else who helped me along the way."

Encarnacion, Lind and Kawasaki also enjoyed multihit nights at the plate. Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman was charged with all four of the runs on 11 hits in his final tune-up before getting the call in Game 1 of the upcoming American League Division Series.

"[Tillman's] fine," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "He gave up some balls to Pompey. I made the mistake saying in Baltimore that I like the way this kid looks. He's a Canadian kid, right? He's a good-looking athlete and he's had a really good year at a lot of places.

"But it was more than that. We had a couple bunts we didn't defend very well."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Bullpen can't follow up solid Norris in loss to Seattle

Lefty works 3 1/3 innings in first MLB start before 'pen allows three HRs

Bullpen can't follow up solid Norris in loss to Seattle

TORONTO -- Daniel Norris hasn't been at the top of his game since being called up earlier this month, but it's the overall experience rather than the final results that should pay dividends down the road.

Toronto's top prospect made his Major League starting debut on Thursday afternoon at Rogers Centre, and while the mid-90s fastball wasn't there, he was able to survive. That's how his first month in the big leagues has gone, but there's little doubt that experiences like a 7-5 loss to Seattle will provide a greater comfort level next season.

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Norris heavily relied on his offspeed arsenal vs. Seattle and it was good enough to get through 3 1/3 innings. The same couldn't necessarily be said about the Blue Jays' bullpen, which proceeded to surrender three homers in the losing effort.

"It's obvious that my stuff isn't there," Norris admitted after the game. "It's tough to try to pitch without your stuff, but sometimes that's the competitor that has to come out and I think that's what I tried to do today -- go out and compete without your big guns."

Norris' stuff might not be there, but it's safe to say he'll be forgiven following a year in which he established himself as the club's top prospect. He began the season at Class A Advanced Dunedin, flew through the system and posted a combined 2.53 ERA across three levels.

The performance was enough to earn a promotion to the big leagues at the beginning of September. He spent the first three weeks of his Major League career working out of the bullpen and then received the spot start on Thursday after right-hander Marcus Stroman was handed a five-game suspension for throwing in the head area of Baltimore's Caleb Joseph.

Norris' fastball, since his debut, has been in the low-90s, compared to the mid-90s velocity that most of the scouts had come to love over the past couple of years. A change in his routine this September could be one cause and fatigue could be another, but nobody around the club seems concerned. This is all about building for the future.

"I think at the end of the day it's the same game," said Norris, who has allowed four runs in 6 2/3 innings. "It's the game of baseball, you go out there and you get people out, no matter if there's 50,000 people or not. It has been an unbelievable experience. Although I've been frustrated with the way I've thrown, it's something I'll never forget just because of where I am."

Toronto manager John Gibbons said before the game that Norris would be limited to approximately 50-60 pitches because he hadn't started since August, but the lefty made the most of his opportunity. Norris retired the first eight batters he faced and eventually departed with a pair of runners on and one out in the fourth.

The former second-round pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft battled through the early stages of his outing before a bunt single and a walk in the fourth. He finished with one strikeout, throwing 29 of his 59 pitches for strikes in his final outing of the year.

Toronto's bullpen experienced a lot of difficulty after Norris left the game. Mariners outfielder Logan Morrison hit a three-run homer off Todd Redmond in the fourth and later added a solo shot off Aaron Loup in the sixth. Right-hander Dustin McGowan also had some trouble out of the 'pen as he surrendered a solo homer to catcher Mike Zunino.

"The first one I was looking for something up and over the plate, and was able to put the barrel on it and it got out," Morrison said. "The second one, I don't have any idea how I hit that guy. [Loup's] filthy. I blacked out. I don't know what happened. I got the barrel to a two-seamer in and was able to get it up enough to get out. So that was cool."

The Blue Jays had a couple of rallies but weren't able to overcome the bullpen's rough afternoon. Anthony Gose and Adam Lind had a pair of RBI singles, while rookie Dalton Pompey walked twice and scored a run out of the leadoff spot. Kevin Pillar added a solo home run -- his second of the year -- in the bottom of the ninth, but Mariners closer Fernando Rodney hung on for the save.

Despite not coming away with the finale win, the Blue Jays lived up to their role as spoiler in the final week of the season. Seattle entered the four-game series in the thick of the postseason race but was dealt a serious blow after the Blue Jays took the first three games by a combined score of 25-6.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Blue Jays TV announcers receive new five-year deals

Martinez, Tabler have been calling games together on Sportsnet since 2010

Blue Jays TV announcers receive new five-year deals

TORONTO -- Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler have signed five-year contracts to remain in their roles as television broadcasters for the Blue Jays.

Sportsnet, which owns the rights to all of Toronto's regular-season games, announced the deals on Thursday afternoon. Martinez will continue his play-by-play responsibilities, while Tabler will remain in his role as a color analyst.

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Martinez and Tabler are former Blue Jays who have been calling games together on Sportsnet since 2010. Tabler started his broadcasting career in 2001, while Martinez's experience dates back to the late 1980s and includes a couple of different stints with the Blue Jays.

"When I started broadcasting in Toronto in 1987 I never would have anticipated I would be here as long as I have, but when I was brought back as the play-by-play analyst in 2010 it was a tremendous feeling to return," Martinez said in a statement.

"At that time, I stepped into the unknown as the play-by-play guy but now, looking ahead to the next five years I couldn't be happier. When I look at the team we work with -- the team we have in the truck, the team in the booth and working alongside Pat Tabler -- it has been nothing but a joy."

Tabler was a member of Toronto's 1992 World Series team. He was an All-Star in 1987, had a career average of .282 and received particular notoriety for his .489 average with the bases loaded.

"It's a pleasure to bring the fans Blue Jays baseball," Tabler said. "I am happy to be coming back. I played on great teams as a player and now we have a great team here. It's awesome to come to work every single day and hang around these guys. We have the best jobs in the world, because we get to watch baseball, be around the team, and we get to talk baseball for three hours every night. You can't beat that."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Blue Jays present annual organizational awards

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays handed out their annual awards on Thursday afternoon and recognized the efforts of Nate Murrie, Matt Anderson, Richard "Stubby" Clapp and Taylor Cole.

The recipients were honored for their work in amateur scouting, professional scouting, player development and community service. The awards are handed out at the end of each season and come on the heel's of the Minor League Most Valuable Player Webster Awards that were announced on Wednesday.

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Murrie was selected for the Al Lamacchia Award, which is given annually to the amateur scout that "exemplifies the work ethic and perseverance best demonstrated by the longtime Blue Jays executive for whom the award is named." Murrie has served as an area scout for five years and during his tenure has signed Daniel Norris, Clint Hollon and Lane Thomas.

Anderson is the pro scout of the year after spending the 2014 season covering three Major League organizations. Cole picked up the community service award for his work in Dunedin, Fla. The 25-year-old right-hander participated in the annual "Bookin' it to the Ballpark" reading program and the summer "Kickball Tour," which is a health and wellness initiative.

Clapp, a former infielder with Baseball Canada, received the Bobby Mattick Award for excellence in player development. He has spent the past two seasons as the hitting coach in Class A Advanced Dunedin and played a key role in developing players such as current Blue Jays outfielder Dalton Pompey and Minor Leaguers Dwight Smith Jr., Jon Berti, Andy Burns and Derrick Chung.

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Buehrle hits 200 IP for 14th straight year in win

Lefty exits three outs shy of shutout; Goins' bloop drives in lone run

Buehrle hits 200 IP for 14th straight year in win

TORONTO -- Mark Buehrle has been Mr. Reliable throughout his Major League career, and even though he gets older with each passing season, it hasn't made the slightest impact on his overall performance.

It seems like year after year Buehrle defies the odds by continuing at his remarkable pace. There have been better pitchers over the past two decades but nobody has been as consistent, and the veteran lefty proved it yet again during Wednesday night's 1-0 victory over the Mariners.

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Buehrle tossed eight scoreless innings to become the seventh pitcher since 1901 to record at least 200 innings in 14 consecutive seasons. Just as fitting, the milestone was reached in a game that took under two hours to play.

"You look at some numbers back in the day, 200 innings was a terrible year, those guys were going 400-500 innings," Buehrle said. "I don't know what's changed from then till now, but it seems like each year it's getting harder and harder to get to 200 innings for me. I like to think of myself as a throwback guy just because I like to go out there and have fun, but the game has definitely changed."

The game might have changed, but the company Buehrle now finds himself in would be impressive regardless of the era. He joined a prestigious group that includes Warren Spahn (17 seasons of 200 innings), Don Sutton (15), Gaylord Perry (15), Phil Niekro (14), Christy Mathewson (14) and Greg Maddux (14).

The 35-year-old Buehrle is the first pitcher in Major League history to record at least 200 innings with 61 or fewer walks in 14 straight years. He surpassed Cy Young, who accomplished the feat from 1897-1909. In addition to the innings milestone, Buehrle has won at least 10 games and made 30 starts in 14 straight years, which is the most since Perry had 15 from 1966-80.

The streaks are a testament to the success Buehrle's enjoyed at the big league level but also to his ability to stay healthy. Buehrle made his 461st consecutive start without a stint on the disabled list. That's the longest streak in the Majors and reminiscent of an era when pitchers were pushed to their limits year after year.

"You wish there were more of him, I'll put it that way," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "When you coach and manage on teams, I've been here and different places, he's at the top of my list for not only baseball players but individuals. We all have our issues and things like that, but he does everything right. He's a throwback type of guy. He understands the game, he deals with the game, he just does everything right."

Buehrle's milestone outing looked like so many starts he's had throughout his career. The Major League leader in pace cruised throughout the night in a game that took one hour and 59 minutes to complete. His only minor hiccups on a 10-strikeout night came in the third on a double by Corey Hart and in the fourth on a leadoff infield single by Dustin Ackley.

The native of Missouri received a standing ovation when he officially hit the 200-innings plateau after the sixth and again in the ninth when he was lifted after a leadoff single. He's done this 200-inning thing plenty times before, but this one feels a little more special because for a long time there was some doubt about whether it would even happen.

"I think it's going to mean more at the end of the season, knowing I accomplished it again," Buehrle said. "I think when I had two or three starts in a row I had three innings, four innings, mixed a six-inning game in there, I kind of, I don't want to say gave up, I said, 'Hey it's not going to happen.' I did the math and said I have eight starts, I need so many innings, I didn't like my chances. It means a lot because I put this goal on myself in Spring Training."

Toronto almost wasn't able to capitalize on Buehrle's strong outing. The Blue Jays were unable to get anything going off rookie right-hander Taijuan Walker, who matched Buehrle pitch for pitch for much of the night. Walker faced two batters over the minimum through seven innings, and it wasn't until the eighth that Toronto finally managed to piece together a mini rally.

Infielder Munenori Kawasaki got things started with a one-out walk. He remained at first base until one out later when Ryan Goins hit a high blooper to center. Kawasaki was running on the play and the ball dropped between center fielder Austin Jackson and second baseman Robinson Cano. Kawasaki scored all the way from first base and gave the Blue Jays the only run of the night.

Buehrle was in search of his first complete game since July 25, 2013, but left after a single by Chris Taylor led off the ninth. Rookie reliever Aaron Sanchez entered, picked off pinch-runner James Jones and then retired the side to record the third save of his career.

"He had it going," Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon said of Buehrle. "He's a veteran guy that knows what he's doing. He's got great touch and feel. He had the cutter going in, good changeup, breaking ball, mixed it all. That was vintage Buehrle."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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