Chemistry, cohesion key cogs to Blue Jays’ mission

On paper, the new-look Toronto Blue Jays appear to be the team

to beat in a tough AL East.

But don’t crown them champions just yet. After all, even in

their own clubhouse, they don’t believe that.

”The Yankees are the team to beat because they are the team who

wins the division almost every year,” said dynamic shortstop Jose

Reyes, one of Toronto’s five big-name acquisitions in the

offseason. ”We know it’s not going to be easy. We believe in the

talent we’re going to put on the field and we’ll go from there. We

feel very good about our club.”

The Blue Jays haven’t reached the postseason since Joe Carter’s

homer off Philadelphia’s Mitch Williams clinched their second

consecutive World Series title in 1993.

Hoping to end that drought, general manager Alex Anthopoulos

dramatically reshaped the roster in a wild spending spree in the

offseason.

He acquired reigning NL Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey in a

trade with the New York Mets, and landed Reyes, pitchers Mark

Buehrle and Josh Johnson, and utilityman Emilio Bonifacio in a deal

with Miami. Anthopoulos also signed reigning All-Star game MVP

Melky Cabrera in free agency.

Those five players have 14 All-Star games, four Gold Gloves, one

Cy Young Award and one Silver Slugger Award on their resumes. Add

sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion and pitchers Brandon

Morrow, Casey Janssen and Sergio Santos to the mix, and these Blue

Jays seem quite formidable.

”We don’t worry about paper; we worry about our effort on the

baseball field,” said Encarnacion, who hit a career-best 42 homers

last year. ”We have to keep working hard, forget about looking

good on paper like everybody says and we have to do our individual

work on the field.”

Either way, Toronto has tons of talent, and with that, comes

expectations. Finding a way to manage all of it – while blending in

the new players to an already sound base of returnees to form the

right cohesion – will be key for the Blue Jays.

After finishing 73-89 last year, Toronto will also have a

new-but-familiar face in charge in the dugout. John Gibbons

returned for his second stint with the club, replacing John

Farrell, who left to manage Boston.

Gibbons was Toronto’s skipper from 2004-07 and led them to their

best finish – 87-75 in 2006 – since 1993. That came after the Blue

Jays’ previous major offseason splash when they acquired starter

A.J. Burnett, closer B.J. Ryan, catcher Bengie Molina and third

baseman Troy Glaus.

”There’s no guarantee that you if you get a talented group that

they’re going to win anything,” Gibbons said. ”You’ve still got

to go out and do it.”

Finding the right time for all that talent won’t be easy. Where

to play who to play and for how long are easier decisions in

baseball than in some other sports, but if injuries take their

toll, and Gibbons has to mix and match, you never know.

But there’s plenty of depth on the club, which will help.

Outfielder Rajai Davis, for instance, played in 142 games last

year. As it stands now, he’s not even a starter this year.

”We have a lot of talented players on this team, but they don’t

play these games on paper,” outfielder Rajai Davis said. ”We have

to go out there and really focus on what we’re trying to do and our

goal is to win.”

The Blue Jays finally put their full team together on Friday

after Reyes and Encarnacion returned from helping the Dominican

Republic win the World Baseball Classic. For a team with so many

new players, it’s important to build chemistry in camp

But it doesn’t seem to be a problem for this bunch. The

enthusiastic Reyes seems to fit right in with his new teammates.

Buehrle and Johnson share lockers next to each other. And Dickey

has former teammates on the roster.

”We have a good group,” designated hitter Adam Lind said. ”A

lot of guys are just getting back from WBC, so we’re still learning

each other. It’s time to get ready for the season. It’s a division

we can win. Hopefully it’s our time, so to speak. We have the team

to win.”

Toronto’s lineup should score plenty of runs with Reyes setting

the tone from the leadoff spot and Cabrera, Bautista and

Encarnacion in the middle of the order.

The rotation is so deep that Ricky Romero, an All-Star in 2011

and the opening-day starter, is still fighting to win the fifth

starter spot.

”You still have to play the season,” Lind said. ”You never

know.”

Follow Rob Maaddi on Twitter: https://twitter.com/RobMaaddi