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Notes: Coaching changes announced

Notes: Coaching changes announced

TORONTO -- The winds of change finally swept through the coaches' room on Sunday afternoon, though the Blue Jays' announcement didn't include any surprises.

In one of the more exhausted storylines of Toronto's season, the Jays finally revealed the personnel shakeup that has been reported for the better part of the past week. Three of the Jays' current coaches will be switching roles for the 2008 season, while Toronto is parting ways with hitting coach Mickey Brantley.

"What we did was shook things up a little bit, that's basically it," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said on Sunday. "It's a good group of guys here who have worked hard and done a good job."

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Brian Butterfield, who has been Toronto's third-base coach since 2002, will join Gibbons in the Blue Jays' dugout as the club's bench coach next season. That promotion necessitated a new role for Ernie Whitt, who is in his second season as Toronto's bench coach.

Whitt will assume the first-base coaching duties next year, and current first-base coach Marty Pevey will replace Butterfield on the other side of the diamond. Butterfield, who also serves as an infield and baserunning instructor for the Jays, handles a lot of Toronto's pregame preparation.

"He's probably the most thorough guy in baseball, you'll find," Gibbons said.

While Toronto opted to solve most of its coaching issues internally, the club is expected to search outside the organization for a replacement for Brantley. Gibbons helped bring Brantley to the Jays in 2005, but the subpar performance of the offense this season was enough to convince the front office to move in a new direction.

"I'm disappointed in seeing Mickey leave," said Gibbons, who has known Brantley since their days in the Mets organization. "I'm disappointed about that because he's one of my closest friends, but that's the way the game is."

Brantley understandably was upset about his dismissal, especially given the fact that Toronto's lineup rarely was at full strength this season. Toronto regulars Vernon Wells, Reed Johnson, Troy Glaus, Lyle Overbay and Gregg Zaun each missed a significant amount of time due to injury.

"It cost me my job because the guys got hurt, in my opinion," Brantley said earlier this week. "But [the front office is] not saying that. They're saying that the guys weren't responding to me. That's tough to swallow for me."

Toronto pitching coach Brad Arnsberg, bullpen coach Bruce Walton and bullpen catcher Alex Andreopoulos all will return to the same roles next season.

Looking back: It'd be easy for Gibbons to look back on the 2007 season as a missed opportunity. The Blue Jays' roster was ravaged by injuries all season long, hindering the club's chance at meeting its aspirations.

Gibbons doesn't want to look at the situation that way, though. Instead, Toronto's manager is happy with how a number of younger players were able to step up when others were hurt. If anything, the pile of problems helped pitchers like Shaun Marcum, Dustin McGowan, Jeremy Accardo and Casey Janssen, among others, seize opportunities.

"I'm an optimistic person," Gibbons said. "I look at the guys who established themselves -- some young kids who are going to help this team for a number of years, I believe. There's no sour grapes.

"Personally, I'm happy with the way the guys played, considering all we went through. You look at it, realistically, with what happened, the guys never disappeared and they never collapsed."

Strength in arms: Gibbons added that the rotation that Toronto is finishing this season with would be fine for the beginning of the 2008 campaign, if he had anything to say about it.

"I don't see why we need to make any changes, really," Gibbons said.

Since the All-Star break, Toronto's pitching staff has led the Major Leagues with a 3.55 ERA and has yielded the fewest earned runs (262), entering Sunday. That run has been led primarily by a starting five of Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, McGowan, Marcum and Jesse Litsch.

Gibbons said Litsch likely will be a top candidate for the fifth spot in the rotation next season. Toronto's manager also hinted that the plan is to keep Janssen and right-hander Brian Wolfe in the bullpen, barring any offseason relief acquisitions.

Day of rest: Gibbons used Sunday's season finale to provide some playing time for some of Toronto's bench players. That meant a day off for designated hitter Frank Thomas, second baseman Aaron Hill, Matt Stairs and Zaun.

If Hill doesn't make an appearance in the final game of the year, the second baseman will finish with a .291 batting average, matching his career best set last season, and a career-high 17 homers, 47 doubles and 74 RBIs in 160 games.

"Hilly had a great year from start to finish, he really did," Gibbons said. "He established himself as one of the better second basemen in baseball. From Day 1 to here in September, he's been unbelievable."

A new deal? One of the first goals for the Blue Jays this offseason will be to try to re-sign 39-year-old veteran Stairs. In a limited role this season, the native of New Brunswick hit .289 with 21 homers and 64 RBIs in 125 games. Stairs was signed to a one-year contract for $850,000 last winter, but he's certainly due for a raise.

Did you know? Hill was slotted in the fourth spot of Toronto's lineup during Saturday's win over Tampa Bay. It marked the first time that a Blue Jays second baseman hit cleanup since Sept. 4, 1980, when Damaso Garcia hit there.

Quotable: "He found the fountain of youth." -- Gibbons, on Stairs

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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