Blue Jays trying to fill hole left by Halladay

For the first time in years, the Toronto Blue Jays are reporting

to spring training wondering who will anchor the starting

rotation.

Fearful of losing him to free agency, Toronto traded Roy

Halladay to Philadelphia in perhaps the biggest move of the

offseason.

Now, the team is looking at Ricky Romero and Shaun Marcum to

take over the No. 1 spot in the starting rotation. Also in the mix

is reliver-turned-starter Brandon Morrow, Brett Cecil, Marc

Rzepczynski, Dustin McGowan, Brian Tallett, Scott Richmond, Dana

Eveland and David Purcey.

Talk about a wide open competition.

“With Roy Halladay it was kind of fun last season,” Blue Jays

pitching coach Bruce Walton said. “We took for granted that we

pretty much had a day off when he started. We knew Doc was going to

get us back on track if we had a two-game skid, or keep that

three-game streak alive.”

Halladay was 17-10 with a 2.39 ERA last year, including a major

league-leading nine complete games.

Halladay didn’t want to return unless he thought the Blue Jays,

75-87 last season, would be serious contenders. With little chance

of re-signing after this season, Toronto sent him to the Phillies,

who gave Halladay a three-year, $60 million extension on top of the

$15.75 million he’ll get this year.

The likely front-runners to replace him are Romero, who was 13-9

as a rookie last year, and Marcum, who went 12-13 in 2007-08 before

right-shoulder surgery benched him last season.

Purcey, Richmond, Cecil, Rzepczynski and Brad Mills each have

fewer than three years in the majors – or roughly what Halladay had

combined.

“We’ve got a bunch of guys with quality arms,” Walton said.

“We’re just lacking experience. Experience is what you look for in

a No. 1.

“We’ve got a bunch of guys fighting to be No. 1 right now,”

Walton added. “It’ll all play out, but I’m not going into spring

training trying to find a No. 1. It’s not hugely important who’s

No. 1 or who’s No. 2 or No. 3. I’m just going to find the best five

I can find.”

Whoever is throwing in the rotation or out of the bullpen, John

Buck will probably catch them most of the time. Buck signed a

one-year, $2 million contract in December.

On Friday, Toronto signed Jose Molina to a one-year, $400,000

deal. The 10-year veteran has two World Series rings, with the

Yankees last year and the Angels in 2002, and will press Buck for

playing time while serving as a strong defensive backup.