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Blue Jays start training camp early, aiming to progress after leaving wild card last fall cafe madrid

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Blue Jays begin training camp early, aiming to progress after leaving the wild card last fall

Feelings of optimism, joy and excitement were ever present in the Toronto Blue Jays player development complex on Monday as several dozen players began spring training ahead of the 2023 season.

With light winds gently swaying the tops of the palm trees on a glorious mid-February morning, the mood was as breezy as the Sunshine State’s favorable conditions for Day 1 of early camp.

Distractions seemed virtually non-existent in a welcome change from this time last year, when MLB was mired in a lockout and COVID-19 protocols were still held in high esteem.

The sting of last fall’s wild card sweep has long since faded, the Blue Jays trained under blue skies and bright sunshine with a clean sheet for 2023.

“It has been hectic and busy, but [I’m] exactly where I want to be,” said manager John Schneider. “I feel like getting started.”

Pitchers and catchers were busy in part of the sprawling complex during the morning session. Other players swung in the batting cages or played soft toss in the outfield.

The camp seemed devoid of all the pre-season challenges — injury woes, trade requests, positional concerns, and the like — that can sometimes linger during spring training.

General manager Ross Atkins deserves some credit for the exuberant mood as he made some intriguing moves in the off-season to help improve run prevention, versatility and team depth.

“I think we have a pretty solid team”

“We have a pretty stable team I think,” Schneider said. “There will be competition for a few spots and you want to look at that and dive into certain positions. Just look at how the boys also play together and how they interlock.

“Building on the last month of the season last year and taking it this year and seeing them come together as a team, I think it’s also important at this time of year.”

Kevin Kiermaier, Chris Bassitt, Daulton Varsho and Brandon Belt are among the key additions. Out are Teoscar Hernandez, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Ross Stripling and Gabriel Moreno.

“I’m really excited to see the new guys,” said shortstop Bo Bichette. “I am very optimistic about how our season is going to go this year. I just can’t wait to get started and work with them and just go after it.”

Toronto Blue Jays manager John Schneider, right, smiles and laughs as he arrives with a member of the Blue Jays organization during baseball spring training in Florida.
Toronto Blue Jays manager John Schneider, right, smiles as he arrives with his team at baseball practice in Dunedin, Florida, on Monday, February 13, 2023. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Bichette, Blue Jays avoid arbitration

The Blue Jays avoided arbitration with Bichette last week when the two sides agreed on a three-year contract. The $33.6 million US deal covered his remaining arbitration years and prevented a hearing.

“I think arbitration is an incredibly flawed process and not very good for the game, players, owners or teams,” Bichette said in his first public comment since the deal was announced.

“To avoid it is good, but it’s also nice to just be on the same wavelength with the team.”

Bichette’s contract, which includes a $3.25 million signing bonus, has base salary of $2.85 million this year, $11 million in 2024 and $16.5 million in 2025.

He and fellow franchise cornerstone Vladimir Guerrero Jr. will still become unrestricted free agents after the 2025 season. Atkins has said he is open to exploring the possibility of long-term deals with the team’s young stars.

The focus now is on the preparation and steady build-up to the Grapefruit League opener on Feb. 25 against Pittsburgh and ultimately the March 30 regular season opener in St. Louis.

However, the schedule is slightly different for some players this year, as the World Baseball Classic is scheduled for next month. Four Blue Jays regulars will play in the tournament.

Guerrero and reliever Yimi Garcia will represent the Dominican Republic, righthander Jose Berrios will play for Puerto Rico and catcher Alejandro Kirk will play for Mexico. Minor-league infielders Otto Lopez and Damiano Palmegiani will play for Canada.



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