The New Look Blue Jays

Hopefully in 2006 we can start calling "The Graveyard Centre," "The Rogers Centre" again. The Jays of 2006 will be a different team in many capacities. The club has improved their team in several areas. First was the signing of the 6'6, 250 pound left-handed pitcher B.J. Ryan. He should provide for what will be a significant upgrade over former and recently departed closer Miguel Batista, who in 2005 was responsible for eight blown saves, and the growth of many grey hairs on the heads of fans.

Next was the signing of right-handed pitcher A.J. Burnett. A.J will provide the Jays with a legitimate No. 2 starter to pitch behind Roy Halladay in the rotation. He brings to the table "ace like stuff" as described by many scouts around the game, and he will join former pitching coach, and good friend Brad Arnsberg who he pitched for as a member of the Florida Marlins.

J.P. Riccardi's next move was the acquisition of left-handed first baseman Lyle Overbay from the Milwaukee Brewers in return for David Bush, Gabe Gross, and minor leaguer Zach Jackson. Overbay, who has drawn many comparisons to former Blue Jay first baseman John Olerud, (minus the shiny helmet), provides solid defense and as a line drive hitter, Overbay should fall in love with the power alley's at The Rogers Centre.

The most recent move by the Toronto general manager was the packaging of Miguel Batista and Orlando Hudson in return for power hitting third baseman Troy Glaus and minor league shortstop Sergio Santos. Glaus plugs a hole which has arguably been the team's greatest weakness since the departure of Carlos Delgado, and that weakness is the protection of Vernon Wells.

It is likely that Riccardi is not done with his off-season activities. With the addition of Glaus, a log jam is created at the corner infield positions. Several baseball officials believe that Corey Koskie, Eric Hinske, or Shea Hillenbrand will be sent packing in order to free up roster space, as well as payroll.

For the first time in many years the Jays have a team that possesses good enough talent to compete with the free spending Yankees and Red Sox. Both of the Yankees and Red Sox have a considerable number of concerns at this point in the off-season.

The Yankees No. 1 starter, Randy Johnson, is 42-years-old. Mike Mussina has arguably had his best years - as his prime seems to be in the rear view. Carl Pavano and Jared Wright are nothing more than one year wonders, which were ordered with super sized contracts. The rest of the pitchers, not named Mariano Rivera, are for the most part unproven. The Yankees have little chance of making a trade to land pitching; as their farm system has been decimated over the years by trading away prospects for immediate help. The Yankees would have to trade a player such as Gary Sheffield to land some pitching, and the possibility of that seems unlikely at best.

The Red Sox have their problems as well. As of right now they have no shortstop, no center fielder, and an unhappy Manny Ramirez demanding to be traded out of town. Another potential issue is that the current rotation of Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, David Wells, Tim Wakefield, and Matt Clement share an average age of thirty-five, and a history of injury problems.

Riccardi, who is responsible for this current Jays roster, has accomplished exactly what he set out to from his very first day. He said he would cut salary, and rebuild the organization back to where it was when Pat Gillick was at the helm. He said he would field a competitive team and is in the process of doing much more than that. Before the beginning of this off-season Riccardi's goal was to add two quality pitchers, as well as adding two quality bats. He has done so. When Ricciardi was named general manager he offered a plan and said the Jays would be a playoff caliber team soon if they stick to the plan. Well here we are approaching what very well could be a playoff season. It would be a wonderful thing fans everywhere if the next stage of the plan comes true, as the others to this point have.

This has been easily the most exciting off-season for the Jays since their days of winning championships in the early 90s. Now all that the club has to do is wait and see if all of this new talent on paper can convert to success on the field. Will the players and coaching staff be able to handle the pressure to win? John Gibbons seems to run an exemplary clubhouse and chances are the Jays will play relaxed and will play to have fun. Spring training is around the corner, and Blue Jay nation should have plenty to cheer about in 2006.

It's time to remove the cobwebs from the concession stands and get ready for what should be an exciting season.

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