Blue Jays set for most anticipated season in years
Revamped roster means high expectations for Canada's team
He wasn't there when the Toronto Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series titles but manager John Gibbons has heard plenty about 1992 and '93.
Gibbons, along with the team's newly acquired ace R.A. Dickey, spoke to reporters Monday, one day ahead of the opening game of the most anticipated Blue Jays season since the team's heyday in the early 1990s.
It's been 20 years since the Jays have competed in post-season play, but this year brings heightened expectations to Canada's team after a series of big-name acquisitions in the off-season.
Jays finalize 25-man roster
The Jays released their 25-man roster ahead of their regular-season opener against the visiting Cleveland Indians on Tuesday night.
The Blue Jays will start the 2013 campaign with an eight-man bullpen along with starters R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle, Brandon Morrow and J.A. Happ.
Injured third baseman Brett Lawrie of Langley, B.C., will start the year on the 15-day disabled list with a left oblique strain.
Right-handers Dustin McGowan and Michael Schwimer are also on the 15-day DL while pitchers Luis Perez, Kyle Drabek and Drew Hutchison are on the 60-day disabled list.
A reliever would likely be sent down to the minor leagues when Lawrie returns to the lineup.
His move to the disabled list was retroactive to March 22, making him eligible to return as early as Saturday.
— The Canadian Press
"They were some of the best teams ever in baseball," Gibbons said Monday of the Blue Jays' World Series winning years. "There’s no doubt those were great teams and we just hope we can come close to doing what they did. We expect to win some things this year. That was a very talented group back then just like this is right now."
After several disappointing seasons, including the 2012 campaign, where the team finished fourth in the American League East with a record of 73-89, general manager Alex Anthopoulos decided it was time to make some big moves.
The Jays added all-star shortstop Jose Reyes, along with starting pitchers Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle in a blockbuster deal with the Miami Marlins. The team also made a splash in the free-agent market picking up Dickey and outfielder Melky Cabrera.
Reyes, who batted .287 with 11 home runs, 57 RBIs and 40 stolen bases for Miami last year, won the 2011 National League batting title with the New York Mets. The 29-year-old is one of the best leadoff hitters in the majors.
Johnson recorded 165 strikeouts with 65 walks in 191 1/3 innings last season and finished with a record of 8-14, while Buehrle was 13-13 and has 12 consecutive seasons with at least 200 innings pitched.
Brandon Morrow and J.A. Happ will complete a group that, behind Dickey, will be one of the most feared rotations in the American League.
Cabrera led the NL in hitting at .346 for the San Francisco Giants last season before being suspended on August 15 for a positive testosterone test. The outfielder arrives in Toronto ready to prove he can bounce back.
The off-season moves bumped Toronto's salary commitment in 2013 to more than $122 million US, up from $83.7 million at the start of 2012.
It all adds up to a buzz around the Blue Jays not felt in decades.
Dickey leads the charge
Key to the Jays fortunes this year will be the play of Dickey, a knuckleballer who won the Cy Young award as the National League's top pitcher last year.
Dickey said pitching opening day is always an honour and one made more special this year on a new team with a revamped starting rotation.
"There’s a lot of pedigree there," Dickey said of the other starters on the Jays staff. "Any of them could be a starter and no one would bat an eye."
Like Gibbons, Dickey said he's also well aware of Toronto's desire to again see the team contend for a championship. He was watching the TV broadcast when Joe Carter hit the walk-off home run that gave the Jays the 1993 title.
"I remember what a special moment it was and what a special moment it was for baseball in general: A Canadian team winning what is perceived as an American sport," said Dickey. "It’s a big deal and it meant a lot for this city. And that’s the reason that I’m here. To win a World Series championship."
The season kicks off Tuesday evening when Dickey takes the mound against Justin Masterson and the Cleveland Indians at Rogers Centre in a sold-out home opener.