Jays manager aims to contend

Former Blue Jay Pat Tabler has some fun with Richard Briand, 10, during a Jays event at the Rogers...

Former Blue Jay Pat Tabler has some fun with Richard Briand, 10, during a Jays event at the Rogers Centre on Jan. 7, 2012. (Craig Robertson/QMI Agency)

Bob Elliott, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:24 PM ET

The sun was shining brightly Saturday morning.

Inside the Rogers Centre there was optimism too, brighter than the new banks of lights.

“I think we can contend this year,” said manager John Farrell, standing outside the Blue Jays third base dugout before their winter tour kicked off.

That’s a big jump from a .500 team to say 91 wins.

Is this reminiscent of then manager Carlos Tosca predicting 96 runs at the state of the union address after winning 86 games in 2003? The Jays fired Tosca 111 games into 2004 as the Jays won only 67 games.

“We can get there,” Farrell said. “It will take more quality innings from our rotation. We think Brett Cecil can re-gain his form of two years ago when he led with 15 games.”

Farrell then pointed to Henderson Alvarez, Kyle Drabek, Dustin McGowan and “what other young pitchers who could emerge in the spring,” as possibilities to start for the Jays behind lefty Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and Cecil.

When it came to wins in 2011, Jo-Jo Reyes, who didn’t make a start for the Jays after July 22, was third in wins with five.

Yes, they could use an upgrade there.

Every winning team is strong up the middle while the Jays have second baseman Kelly Johnson, who struck out 164 times in 147 games, and Colby Rasmus, who after his coast trip where he knocked in four runs in Oakland on Aug. 16 and homered the next two nights in Seattle, hit .069 his final 16 games with 24 strikeouts in 68 at-bats.

“We know what Colby did here last year, but we also know what he did in St. Louis too,” said Farrell.  

Rasmus, who injured his wrist diving for a ball in the right-centre field gap, hit 39 homers and 118 RBIs with a .786 OPS in 2009-2010.

“We have a more acclimated veteran in Kelly at second and we have an established centre fielder,”

And this season, third baseman Brett Lawrie will be a constant from opening day. 

“He makes our lineup deeper and more productive, but we’re not putting 10 wins all on Brett,” said Farrell. “Every step, every change we make we’re hoping to get to the World Series.

“Ideally we’d like to say that we are contending each year.”

It’s been a while since it’s been said around here.

Maybe not since the spring of 2006, when then general manager J.P. Ricciardi landed free agents B.J. Ryan and A.J. Burnett. The Jays won 87 games to finish eight games behind wild-card winner, the Detroit Tigers.

“Brandon (Morrow) figured things out his final few starts, hopefully he’ll help get us some of that 10 more wins,” Farrell told reporters. “In Kelly, we’ve added some power.”

Johnson had 21 homers, 18 with the Arizona Diamondbacks, compared to the six Aaron Hill hit in 104 games with the Jays.

“For Colby the transition from National League to AL is behind him, hey the big leagues are the big leagues whether it’s St. Louis or Toronto,” said Farrell, who along with Romero, Casey Janssen, J.P. Arencibia, Romero and Lawrie helped host a camp for 120 kids Saturday afternoon.

The group heads to Ottawa Sunday and Monday, then Tuesday and Wednesday are in Montreal. Hall of Famer Robbie Alomar and Eric Thames join the tour Thursday in Halifax and then it’s on to St. John’s.  

“A year ago we didn’t know if Arencibia could be an every day catcher, we were unsure if Adam Lind could play first base or if Hill would bounce back,” said Farrell. 

Now, the only position battle, if Rasmus progresses, is in left field where Travis Snider and (Eric) Thames will do battle.

“I don’t think we can answer in January what happens the player who loses his spot,” Farrell said. 

Farrell said he followed the fans disappointment at the loss of Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish.

Are crashed hopes better than apathy which exists in some cities?

Well, Jays fans have hope again after missing on Darvish and Gio Gonzalez, for this year they will contend.

 

Father knows best

Where will free agent Prince Fielder land?

“Likely the Washington Nationals,” his father Cecil Fielder told the Ontario Blue Jays players and parents during a question and answer period as organization inducted their inaugural Hall of Fame class at a banquet in Woodbridge.

“Prince has the desire to be a better hitter than his father — and some day he might be. He might hit 500 home runs, when all is said and done.”

The former Toronto Blue Jays first baseman was the guest speaker as four players were inducted.

Newmarket infielder Peter Orr, who played in 1996-87 and is currently in the Philadelphia Phillies organization, and retired London outfielder Adam Stern (1998) who went to the University of Nebraska and played with the Boston Red Sox, Baltimore Orioles and Milwaukee Brewers played for coach Gary Wilson.

Leaside lefty Drew Taylor (1999-2001), who pitched for the University of Michigan and then in the Jays and Philadelphia Phillies systems plus  Brampton infielder Tyler Johnstone (1999-2002) who played at Auburn and in the New York Mets system, were also inducted. Both played for coach Danny Bleiwas. 

On Deck: Baseball Ontario’s 25th annual Best Ever Clinic for coaches takes place Jan. 20-21 at the Sheraton Toronto Airport Hotel!. 

Sporsnet’s Gregg Zaun, Blue Jays first base coach Torey Lovullo, Dave Serrano, University of Tennessee coach, Gary Ward, New Mexico State hitting coach, Gary Picone, Lewis-Clark State coach, Adam Melhuse, former Jays draft choice and Jeff Krushell strength & conditioning coach for Baseball Canada.

Coaches at register at the Baseball Ontario (baseballontario.com/ ) site.


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