Toronto slugger Jose Bautista says revamped Blue Jays are in for special season

By Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press

DUNEDIN, Fla. – While some Blue Jays have yet to report for spring training, the team’s swagger has arrived early.

One by one, players who are here have expressed excitement at what lies ahead given Toronto’s off-season trading and spending spree. And slugger Jose Bautista drew his personal line in the sand Tuesday by saying the playoffs and World Series are in the team’s reach.

“It’s an exciting season. Everybody’s seen the moves,” said Bautista. “All the bodies are here now. It’s all on us now to perform.

“We love that challenge and we have a confident, good group of players together. I think we’re going to go out and have a lot of fun and hopefully we remain healthy. If all that happens, the season should take care of itself. We should be in the playoffs and hopefully the World Series.”

That hasn’t happened since the Jays repeated as champions in 1993. The team went 73-89 last season to finish fourth in the American League East.

Bautista’s optimism seems unbounded.

The Jays 40-man roster? “I don’t see a weak link.”

The 25-man roster? “It’s as solid as you can be around the league.”

Experience? “We do have guys with high skill sets that have proven year after year that they’re great players.”

Chemistry? “If everybody just individually does what they need to do, it will come together on its own.”

The acquisitions of R.A. Dickey, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes, Melky Cabrera, Maicer Izturis and Emilio Bonifacio have fuelled the expectations.

Plus players like Bautista, Brett Lawrie, Ricky Romero, Casey Janssen and Sergio Santos are healthy again or nearing full health.

“Just like you guys build expectations, so do we,” Bautista told reporters. “The sky’s the limit for us because I know how many good players we have.

“I’ve been on other teams where I’ve felt like we’ve had a chance to go to the playoffs and contend and we haven’t for whatever reason. And this is by far the best team that I’ve played on. I just don’t see where it can go bad for us.

“So because of those reasons, I think we should and we could be in the playoffs and the World Series.”

Bautista said when he signed his five-year, US$64-million contract extension in early 2011, he took GM Alex Anthopoulos at his word he was going to build a contender.

Bautista, who missed the end of last season due to wrist surgery, said Anthopoulos has done just that.

For his part, Janssen says the blockbuster trade with Miami that netted Reyes, Buerhle, Johnson, Bonifacio and the since-traded catcher John Buck “changed our team into a legitimate contender overnight.”

Other players have talked of the team’s roster strength on paper. And manager John Gibbons, back for his second stint at the Jays’ helm, reminds listeners that the team still has to win games.

Tuesday marked the reporting date for pitchers and catchers, although some players regardless of position were already in camp. The rest of the roster will be here by the end of the week.

“(I’m) still meeting guys but I know just talking to a few of the buddies, we couldn’t wait to get here,” said Janssen. “And can’t wait to get started and see this thing out.”

Earlier Tuesday, Gibbons repeated that Janssen will open the season as the team’s closer. He took over that role last season when Santos went down with a shoulder problem.

Janssen also had shoulder repair work in the off-season.

“Casey’s a little bit behind but it’s nothing to worry about,” said Gibbons. “We’re just going to take him slow. He’s been around the game a while now. As long as he’s ready by opening day, that’s all we’re worried about. But we’re going to be cautious with him.”

While Gibbons pointed to Janssen as closer, he added: “It’s always good having more than one guy that can do those jobs because you’re going to need them both.”

While the talk is big at training camp, there is clearly much work to do.

Asked about several of his players, Gibbons has confessed having seen little of them other than in TV highlights. And introductions continue at camp as more newcomers arrive.

But for Bautista and many fans, a special season awaits.

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