Blue Jays open camp with lofty goals for 2016

Toronto a confident club after snapping postseason drought last year

February 21st, 2016
The Blue Jays hope to repeat as AL East champions this year. (AP)

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- The long wait is finally over and the Blue Jays can begin laying the groundwork to defend their American League East title as Spring Training officially opened Sunday morning.

Pitchers and catchers were required to report Sunday morning for their annual physicals. Position players are scheduled to follow on Thursday, with the first full-squad workout planned for Friday at the Bobby Mattick complex.

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The official Day 1 of Spring Training is always a slow one with pitchers and catchers reporting off site to undergo medical evaluations, but some players did begin to trickle in throughout the day. The theme with everyone was the same: After getting a taste of the postseason last year, the Blue Jays want more.

"I think our hope is consistency from the get-go," knuckleballer R.A. Dickey said. "We had a great finish last year, but we didn't start very well. When we were breaking camp last year, and no disrespect to anybody, but you had [Miguel Castro], who was unproven, [Roberto] Osuna, who at the time was unproven -- we basically broke camp with six guys 21 or younger.

"This year, you're not going to have that question mark floating out there. You have established guys who you can pretty much know what to expect from."

The real action in Florida will get underway Monday morning when pitchers and catchers go through their first official workout starting at 9:30 a.m. ET. Toronto will then have eight days to prepare for the Grapefruit League season, which begins March 1 with a game against the Phillies at 1:05 p.m. ET.

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has gone through this routine every year -- including Minor League Spring Training -- since 1981. He has been there, done that more times than he can count, but the veteran skipper might be more excited about this season than any of the ones that came before it.

The level of excitement stems from the fact that Toronto snapped its 22-year postseason drought last season by claiming the AL East title. The dream was eventually cut short with a loss to the Royals in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series, but with experience now on the Blue Jays' side, the expectation is for even bigger things in 2016.

"We still came up short last year, but our first goal was to get to the playoffs, because it had been so long," Gibbons said. "Every year we were basically staring at that, we thought we could get there, we hoped we could get there, but we didn't. I think it's important.

"I realize that's behind us, that's in the past, but I think it gives everybody the feeling that we can do this. If we play good baseball, we can do that. We got over that hump and now it's, 'Let's go one step further.'"

Toronto is returning the vast majority of its 25-man roster from a year ago. No. 1 starter David Price and veteran Mark Buehrle are gone, but in their place is a group of pitchers headlined by J.A. Happ, Jesse Chavez, Drew Storen and Gavin Floyd.

Happ spent parts of three seasons with the Blue Jays from 2012-14 before returning this offseason as a free agent. He was dealt to the Mariners prior to the 2015 season for outfielder Michael Saunders, so Happ missed out on Toronto's memorable run, but he is looking forward to starting something new after a successful stint with the Pirates following the non-waiver Trade Deadline.

"It's really good being back, it's nice to see some familiar faces and get to know some of the new ones," said Happ, who went 7-2 with a 1.85 ERA in 11 starts for the Pirates. "It's always excitement, the beginning of camp. I've been down here for a couple of months, so it's good to see everybody and get started."