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Vlad begins journey back to the big leagues

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Working out in the Dominican Republic this winter, Vladimir Guerrero never allowed himself to think his Major League career might be over. He had joined the Rangers in January 2010 and the Orioles in February 2011, so he knew he could always sign late in the offseason.

"It was all about taking the right opportunity," Guerrero said through representative Orlando Ventura after his first workout at the Bobby Mattick Training Center.

Guerrero received non-guaranteed Spring Training invitations from the Indians, Royals and D-backs, but finally found that opportunity he was looking for last week with the Blue Jays, signing a Minor League deal and reporting here on Tuesday morning.

As it turns out, however, this opportunity actually presented itself twice.

The Blue Jays reached out to the 37-year-old's former representatives at SFX Baseball during Spring Training, but Guerrero said he never heard about that offer. He left SFX for Proformance representatives Ventura and Bean Stringfellow, who relayed another offer from Toronto. Guerrero jumped at the chance, just as he would have the first time around.

"Of course," Guerrero said. "I was always expecting a phone call, but nothing came. [The Toronto offer] was never really brought to my attention."

But Guerrero is here now, getting himself into baseball shape with the hopes of making it to the Majors with the Blue Jays. Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos said last week that the nine-time All-Star was given no guarantees about a potential role on the big league club, and the move was simply a matter of adding depth.

"There's no such thing as a bad Minor League contract," Anthopoulos said. "Any time we have a chance to get someone on a Minor League contract, we almost always explore it, because you never know if someone can get lighting in a bottle. ... There's really no downside from the club's standpoint. He was an everyday player last year."

Anthopoulos said June was the earliest he could see Guerrero being added to the big league roster, and his $1.3 million contract will be prorated based on the amount of time Guerrero spends in the Majors. If it's June, as Anthopoulos estimated, Guerrero would make around $800,000 this season.

But again, there is no guarantee, and Guerrero is comfortable with that position, saying he'll continue to work hard and let the Blue Jays proceed as they see fit. He spent a lot of time this offseason working in the outfield and said he will be ready to play there if the opportunity arises. He was strictly a designated hitter with Baltimore in 2011.

Whether Guerrero can still hit isn't much of a question. He bashed 13 homers with a .290 average and .733 OPS in 145 games last season and batted .300 with an .841 OPS and 29 homers for Texas in 2010.

He displayed his usual powerful swing here, crushing a home run during batting practice that went over the batter's eye in center field. Ventura estimated the blast at 495 feet, and people inside the Blue Jays' offices there said it sounded like hail falling on the roof. Guerrero should begin playing in extended spring games later this week, when he'll begin to get reacquainted with live pitching.

"Right now it's all about getting in shape," he said. "Even though I was doing a lot of BP in the Dominican and continue to do it here, the first thing will be to start facing live pitchers."

And Guerrero still has one personal goal he'd like to accomplish. He is a career .318 hitter with a .931 OPS over parts of 16 seasons in the Majors, won the 2004 American League MVP Award and last September became the all-time hits leader among players from the Dominican Republic. He wants to add 51 more homers to his record, bringing his career total to an even 500.

"My main goal, if it is God's wish, is to get to 500 home runs," he said. "That's what this is all about."

Toronto Blue Jays, Vladimir Guerrero