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Fans support Blue Jays' plan at State of Franchise gathering

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The Canadian Press
1/27/2011 10:02:45 PM
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TORONTO -- Toronto Blue Jays season-ticket holders gave general manager Alex Anthopoulos's winter performance a ringing endorsement during the club's annual State of the Franchise gathering Thursday night.

Despite trading away all-star centre-fielder Vernon Wells primarily for financial flexibility in coming years, and dealing 2010 opening day starter Shaun Marcum for Canadian infield prospect Brett Lawrie, a group of about 500 fans largely approved the team's direction and focus on the long-term.

While a few of his moves were questioned, and one fan aggressively lobbied for the signing of free agent slugger Vladimir Guerrero "as a bone" during a Q-and-A session, Anthopoulos was provided with more leeway to continue with his vision for building the club.

Their understanding and patience, despite a playoff drought stretching back to 1993, is a key for the organization, he said.

"We're really pleased, we're happy, we're excited about the direction," Anthopoulos said of the message he received in subsequent 1-on-1 conversations with fans. "I said, 'Well, a lot of it is possible because fans do understand what we're doing.' They're not always going to agree with it, but they understand the process."

The Blue Jays were expected to be active this off-season after a surprising 85-77 campaign, and they were in ways no one really saw coming.

Wells was dealt Friday for outfielder Juan Rivera and catcher Mike Napoli, who was later flipped to Texas for reliever Frank Francisco. Free-agent relievers Jon Rauch and Octavio Dotel were added to the bullpen, while speedy outfielder Rajai Davis was added via trade from Oakland for prospects.

There were other small tinkerings, but rather than a buildup, it seemed like a step backwards. He later told reporters that he didn't expect any more changes, aside from a few minor moves.

In response to the Guerrero question Anthopoulos, without being specific, said all moves the team makes consider whether or not the incoming player might block the progress of others.

Earlier, he said the team was committed to a first base-DH combo of Adam Lind and Edwin Encarnacion, whom he suggested could hit 30 home runs this year.

Anthopoulos added that the savings from the Wells deal -- even after the Blue Jays apparently included US$5 million in the trade to the Angels -- can potentially be used this year on international free agents and in the draft, further strenthening a farm system he described as the "lifeblood" of the franchise.

"What we won't do is short cut," he told fans, "because once we get it there, it will be a freight train and it's not going to stop."

Blue Jays president Paul Beeston and new manager John Farrell also took questions from fans, while Hall of Fame bound second baseman Roberto Alomar also attended and received three standing ovations.

In response to one question on player spending and the need for a salary cap, Beeston said he envisioned the Blue Jays one day spending US$140-$150 million on its payroll.

"This city can support that," he said.

Farrell, meanwhile, offered fans some insight into the style of baseball he anticipated the team playing, saying he didn't want to move away from the power game of 2010, but rather allowing players to be "more aggressive on the basepaths," drawing applause.

"There are a lot of good pitchers in this division, we can't sit around waiting for the home run," he said, before adding a quip: "It doesn't mean we're going to try and turn (notoriously lead-footed catcher) Jose Molina into a base-stealer."

Farrell settled on a waterfront condo earlier in the day, said he was looking forward to becoming a part of the city, and was impressed by the turnout.

"Educated, a lot of good questions," Farrell said. "Any time you're in a setting like this, when people have the ability to interact with you, you get the sense of the passion that exists here.

"But at the same time ... we've got a lot of work to make the group that was 400-strong tonight, become a year from now 1,000."

Alex Anthopoulos (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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