Gaston upbeat as Jays go in new direction

Gaston upbeat as Jays go in new direction

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Blue Jays are on the verge of losing two of the biggest icons in franchise history. Toronto has already made it known that the upcoming season will be the final chapter in Cito Gaston's managerial career. Roy Halladay's days as the franchise's ace appear to be numbered as well.

It is an important transition period for the Blue Jays, whose future is in the hands of rookie general manager Alex Anthopoulos. If Anthopoulos trades "Doc" Halladay this offseason as expected -- a year before Toronto welcomes a new skipper -- it will signal a new era for the organization.

Even so, Gaston does not necessarily believe it would mean that the Jays are starting over from scratch.

"I wouldn't say 'starting over,'" Gaston said on Wednesday at the Winter Meetings. "I think it just depends on who you get back for Doc. I think once we know that, you can find out what direction you might be going in. Right now, it's kind of in limbo there that we don't really know possibilities, but a lot of things could happen."

The reality is that the Blue Jays are coming off a fourth-place finish in the American League East, and the club has numerous organizational needs. Behind Halladay, Toronto has a long list of young starters -- five made big league debuts in 2009 -- and a handful of arms coming off injuries. Gaston believes the experience they gained last season will be invaluable.

The lineup has youthful stars in second baseman Aaron Hill and outfielder Adam Lind and another promising young talent in outfielder Travis Snider. There is no doubt that there are pieces in place that provide hope, but Anthopoulos and Gaston understand that it will take time to add more in an effort to strengthen the club's foundation in Toronto and within the farm system.

"It's going to take a while," said Gaston, who will shift into an advising role with the Blue Jays after retiring from managing following the 2010 season. "That's one reason I think that it's good for me to step down after next year, and maybe they can get somebody younger in there and get us back to where we used to be."

The fact that the Blue Jays do not appear close to contending for a World Series title is what has fueled the Halladay trade speculation. Halladay -- entering the final year of his contract -- has made it clear that he is not interested in an extension with Toronto and plans on testing free agency next winter. Halladay wants to win soon, and he is unlikely to meet that goal with the Jays.

Gaston quickly noted that pitcher A.J. Burnett -- Halladay's friend and teammate in Toronto from 2006-08 -- signed with the Yankees last winter and won a World Series in his first season in New York. Gaston said he does not blame Halladay for wanting to experience something similar.

The Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Dodgers, Phillies and Rays have all been linked to Halladay in trade talks, and the Jays are listening to offers, trying to obtain controllable young players who can help strengthen the club's core. Toronto is also keeping in mind that Halladay wants to pitch for a perennial World Series contender and prefers to be with a team that trains in Florida.

"I know Alex wants to certainly make sure that we get something in return for Doc," Gaston said, "and make sure Doc goes where he wants to go, too. I don't hold anything against Doc. I'm a Doc fan, and I understand that he wants to go and get a ring probably as quick as A.J. did last year. I understand that, and I think he deserves to go somewhere and hopefully get that.

"Just not in our league. We don't want to face him."

Beyond Halladay's uncertain future, Gaston is facing a new chapter in his own career.

Gaston guided the Blue Jays to World Series titles in 1992-93 and was absent from managing for 11 years before returning to the helm midway through the 2008 season. The 65-year-old Gaston did not want to head into the upcoming season facing questions about his job status, opting instead to announce his plans to retire from managing.

Gaston understands that risk is involved when someone manages under those conditions. Players could potentially dismiss his instruction based on the knowledge that he will not be their manager beyond 2010. Even with a late-season clubhouse rift this past year, when a handful of players expressed concerns over Gaston's approach, he did not sound too worried that such a scenario would arise in '10.

"It depends on how you treat them," Gaston said. "I know what you're saying: 'Well, he's not going to be here next year, so why do I have to listen to that stuff?' But I think one thing you do is continue to teach."

That is Gaston's main goal for the upcoming season: teaching the team how to reclaim its place as a power within the AL East.

"That's part of it right now," Gaston said. "I think my job this year is to sort of continue to teach along with manage, and certainly talk to guys about being a winner, wanting to win and not accepting anything else but winning.

"I think that's part of my job as far as the season for me -- to make sure these kids want to win, play hard, learn something and continue to teach."

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