Jays begin journey toward turnaround

Jays begin journey toward turnaround

TORONTO -- The road to a better future for the Blue Jays begins on the sun-splashed baseball diamonds of Spring Training. It could take a few seasons for things to fall into place, but the club's journey starts now.

This week, Major League teams begin their official treks to Arizona and Florida for the annual tuneup for the season ahead. For the Blue Jays, who are entering an important transitional period in team history, home for the better part of the next two months will be in Dunedin, Fla.

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Many players have already made the trip to the Sunshine State to begin preparing for the grind of the 162-game slate. On Feb. 22, the Blue Jays' pitchers and catchers will hold their first official workout, kicking off what will be a wide-open competition for roster spots. Toronto will follow with its first full-squad workout on Feb. 26.

The biggest issue facing the Jays this spring involves a player who will not be in camp with the American League East club. Over the winter, Toronto said farewell to its longtime ace, Roy Halladay, trading the pitcher to Philadelphia in a complex series of deals that added three prized prospects to the Jays' farm system.

The new trio of youngsters -- pitcher Kyle Drabek, first baseman Brett Wallace and catcher Travis d'Arnaud -- will be among the non-roster players invited to join the Jays in camp. All eyes will be on the players acquired for Halladay, considering the roles they are expected to play in the long-term vision of new general manager Alex Anthopoulos.

As for the immediate future, the biggest competition of the spring will take place on the mound.

Without Halladay to lead the way, ending his run of seven consecutive Opening Day starts for the Blue Jays, Toronto is left with a large group of starters vying for jobs. Ricky Romero and Shaun Marcum return as favorites for the No. 1 role, while Brandon Morrow -- acquired from Seattle in a winter trade -- and lefty Brian Tallet are top candidates for spots as well.

Behind that quartet of arms, the Jays will have a wide range of relatively young and inexperienced arms in the mix for rotation spots. Lefties Marc Rzepczynski and Brett Cecil -- rookies a year ago -- lead the pack. Dana Eveland, who was acquired from the A's this offseason, will also be in the running. So will David Purcey and Scott Richmond, among others.

In the bullpen, Toronto will be holding a competition to determine who will serve as the club's primary closer. The Blue Jays signed free-agent right-hander Kevin Gregg over the offseason, giving the team three ninth-inning candidates. Left-hander Scott Downs and right-hander Jason Frasor will also be in the running for that job.

The rest of the bullpen picture remains hazy as well. About a dozen pitchers will be competing for three or four vacancies. The list of possible relievers, in no particular order, includes Jeremy Accardo, Jesse Carlson, Shawn Camp, Merkin Valdez, Zech Zinicola, Casey Janssen, Josh Roenicke, Zach Jackson and possibly Tallet, Eveland and Richmond, among others.

Beyond losing Halladay, the Blue Jays also parted ways with a pair of free agents in catcher Rod Barajas and shortstop Marco Scutaro. Toronto signed Alex Gonzalez to take over as the starter at short and added John Buck to assume the starting role behind the plate. The Jays also signed outfielders Joey Gathright and Jeremy Reed to compete for spots on the bench.

Among the returning players, the Jays are hoping that center fielder Vernon Wells, third baseman Edwin Encarnacion and first baseman Lyle Overbay can bounce back from subpar seasons to help strengthen an uncertain lineup. Figuring out exactly how the batting order will be aligned is something that could take manager Cito Gaston all spring.

Gaston can at least hope to count on strong performances from second baseman Aaron Hill and designated hitter Adam Lind, who proved to be a powerful one-two punch for the Blue Jays in 2009. That pair of up-and-coming hitters -- combined with young talents such as Travis Snider, Wallace and the bevy of arms -- give Toronto hope that it is beginning to piece together a strong core for the future.

The path toward that future begins with this season's Spring Training.

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