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Gibbons expects team to learn from disappointing '13

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- The Blue Jays have been relatively quiet this offseason, but no matter what moves are made away from the diamond, manager John Gibbons expects a different product on the field next year.

Toronto had aspirations for the postseason in 2013 but was essentially eliminated from contention before the end of May. A horrific start to the season completely derailed any lingering momentum from an eventful offseason and relegated the club to yet another year of playing the spoiler role.

The only way to avoid a similar fate is with a much better start to the campaign. There isn't necessarily an easy fix, but Gibbons expects his players to learn from the past and use it to their advantage in 2014.

"We want to turn the page and move on," Gibbons said on Monday during Day 1 of the Winter Meetings at the Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin Resort. "We've got to make sure our focus is, 'Hey, you know, we didn't answer the bell last year, but now it's time to do it.' Are we going to be ready coming out of Spring Training? We need a good start.

"Coming off the year we had, you know, in our division, we buried ourselves early last year, and we can't afford that. ... So, yeah, we've got to be ready and step it up a little in Spring Training."

One major area of concern in 2013 was the lack of execution on defense. Toronto finished the season with the fifth-most errors in the Major Leagues, but in reality, the issues went even deeper than that.

There were countless examples of makeable plays not being executed. A lot of times, those plays didn't necessarily show up in the box score, but they increased the number of outs for opposing teams and made things even tougher on a rotation that was outmatched for most of the season.

The expectation is that next year will be different, even if the position players remain relatively unchanged. Full seasons from Brett Lawrie and Jose Reyes should help solidify the left side of the infield, and a healthy Melky Cabrera can only lead to better results in the outfield.

The biggest area for improvement is second base, where Emilio Bonifacio and Maicer Izturis spent most of the season in a platoon. Neither player lived up to expectations, and it wasn't until late August that rookie Ryan Goins made his debut and the club finally had someone capable of playing the position.

Toronto appears to be in the market for a second baseman, but if an affordable upgrade doesn't present itself, that will be just fine with Gibbons, who took a liking to Goins in his brief audition with the club.

"We've got to play better defense, or forget it," Gibbons said. "It's a big part of it, it's a big part of all sports. You've got to defend. We were bad early on, and that affected us in a big way. So coming out of the gates, we've got to play better defense.

"In September we were much improved. A big part of that was Ryan Goins. But we've got to be ready to do the basics of the game. You're not always necessarily going to hit a pitch early on. Some timing is still an issue for different guys. But you can still play and run the bases well, you can defend."

Gibbons was peppered with questions from the media about possible changes the club needs to make in Spring Training. There have been accusations that the atmosphere around the club was a little too relaxed, potentially one of the reasons behind the sluggish start in April.

But that notion was disputed by Gibbons, who doesn't believe that widespread changes are needed to alter the culture in the clubhouse. He conceded that some minor adjustments will be made but also talked about the previous spring having been a "feeling out" phase for many of the club's new recruits.

Perhaps the biggest change won't have anything to do with how the organization approached the season, as last spring Toronto had five starting players take part in the World Baseball Classic.

"No question that affected us last year, because some [key] guys were gone," Gibbons said.

"I think, for the most part, if you compare most teams in baseball, especially with veteran-type players, you get the same number of at-bats, guys like [Jose] Bautista and Reyes, Reyes has had a history of leg problems. I'm not so sure you want him riding on buses for three hours. It prohibits that he's ready Opening Day. Bautista, too, he's had some hip issues. So the key thing is [that] those guys are ready Opening Day."

Following are some other tidbits from Gibbons' media availability.

• On the retirement of his former ace, Roy Halladay: "Doc's a first-class guy. ... He's a rarity in this business, and in life. He's one of those special guys that comes along and don't come along that often. To be able to play just a very small part in his career is an honor for me. Doc never said a whole lot. The days he pitched, he never said a word. On the days he didn't pitch, he might say 15, 20 in passing. But he always approached it with a professionalism that most guys don't carry."

• Gibbons said that if the season were to begin today, Goins would be his starting second baseman, with Izturis a utility infielder.

"Izturis, to be a utility guy, I think that's his strength. Today that's the way we look at it. [General manager] Alex [Anthopoulos] could go out and make a trade for somebody to bring a second baseman in. I don't know if that's going to happen, but if not, I really like what Goins did."

• There has been a lot of talk recently about Moises Sierra possibly being used at first base in 2014. Sierra has been taking ground balls at the position playing winter ball, but Gibbons isn't overly optimistic about the possibility.

"I heard he's doing OK," he said, "but I have a hard time seeing him out there, to be honest with you. Maybe in a blowout."

• Gibbons on the departure of catcher J.P. Arencibia: "The writing was on the wall for J.P. That was kind of the sentiment. ... But I think he's still got a bright future. It just came to the point in time there where it was probably best to go the other way."

• On the Bautista trade rumors: "I know some teams have asked about him. He's a big part of our team. He's sitting in the center of our lineup and still one of the best hitters in baseball. You can understand why teams are asking about him, but he's still here right now, and we're glad to have him."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB.

Toronto Blue Jays