Blue Jays ready to fly

General manager Alex Anthopoulos feels the Toronto Blue Jays are in a better position than last year despite finishing fourth in the American League East for a second straight season.

The Toronto Blue Jays are hoping Jose Bautista can lead them to the playoffs next year.

The Toronto Blue Jays are hoping Jose Bautista can lead them to the playoffs next year.

TORONTO — General manager Alex Anthopoulos feels the Toronto Blue Jays are in a better position than last year despite finishing fourth in the American League East for a second straight season.

“Although the wins aren’t the same, I think we’re in a similar place,” he said Thursday at a media conference. “But I think our jumping off point is much better. I think we have a better core in place right now.”

The Blue Jays posted an 81-81 record this season under new manager John Farrell after defeating the Chicago White Sox 3-2 on Wednesday.

Last year, under Cito Gaston, who was retiring as manager, the club finished 85-77.

Anthopoulos said all the coaches from this season will be offered contracts. He expects them all to return, saying they did the best with what they had to work with.

He also praised Farrell for the job he did and appreciated his frank self-appraisals as a first-year manager.

“You look at our monthly wins and we’ve been pretty much in the same spot the whole time, although we didn’t get there in the same way,” Anthopoulos said comparing 2011 to 2010. “There’s a lot of comparisons to last season.

“I think we’re in a very similar spot, one was 85 wins and one was 81 wins.”

The 2010 season featured a 54-homer breakout year by right-fielder Jose Bautista. He came back this year with 43 homers and a better overall season. Some of the top performers in 2010 were more experienced players who left as free agents or were traded like long-time centre-fielder Vernon Wells and starting pitcher Shaun Marcum.

But younger players have emerged such as third baseman Brett Lawrie of Langley, B.C., who was acquired from Milwaukee in a trade for Marcum last December and was impressive after making his major-league debut Aug. 5.

Outfielder Eric Thames also emerged, putting himself in the picture for left field in 2012. Ricky Romero established himself as the ace of the staff and late-season call-up Henderson Alvarez has earned his way into the projected starting rotation for next season.

While the 2010 team led the majors in home runs, Anthopoulos said the Blue Jays did not dominate in any one area in 2011 so he is looking for improvements in all aspects.

“We can improve pretty much in all areas,” he said. “I don’t think there’s one area this season where we ranked first or were just a dominant club. We’ll look at all of them.

“We’re not going to be stuck on what we have to do in one area and we ignore the others.”

The bullpen could again be hit by free-agent defections including Frank Francisco who had a strong finish to reach 17 saves.

“It’s definitely an area that we need to improve and you like to have someone who start to finish is a bona fide closer.” Anthopoulos said. “That’s something we’re going to look to add if we can.”

Starting pitching could use an upgrade, but Anthopoulos said if that comes from outside the organization it would be someone who could pitch in the middle or front-end of the rotation.

The Jays GM feels there is enough depth in young pitchers who could benefit from the experience of pitching in the back end of the rotation if needed.

“We have to feel there’s a clear upgrade, especially because of the depth we’re starting to compile,” he said.

The depth that is building in the minors could also be used for trades.

“We think we have the prospects to line up a trade,” Anthopoulos said. “Being able to do it is certainly harder. We’re open-minded to that if there’s a trade that can make us better, and we’re going to use our prospects to make us better, we’d definitely look to do that.”

As for spending money on free agents, Anthopoulos said the Blue Jays CEO and president Paul Beeston always says to him, “Make your case.”

Anthopoulos said there are a lot of good players available in free agency including Blue Jays’ current second baseman Kelly Johnson and Francisco.

“Again it has to line up,” he said. “The best way to explain it is we like a lot of players but we like them at a certain price.”

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