Jays have the look of a dynasty Two pitchers are off-season objective


TORONTO -- In the last year of its baseball contract, CBS is finding out it has a lot in common with the American League. Both are tired of looking at the Toronto Blue Jays.

CBS doesn't have to worry after the World Series, but the rest of the AL better get used to it because the Blue Jays don't figure to go away any time soon.

The presence of a Canadian team has been blamed, at least in part, for the low TV ratings the past two World Series. "We can't pick the teams," said one CBS executive.

And, as much as it might like to, neither can the AL rotate its representative. People are very careful about avoiding use of the "D" word, but the Blue Jays have the makings of the kind of dynasty baseball hasn't seen in decades.

They are two pitchers -- a starter and a middle reliever or a pair of starters -- away from continuing as the dominant force in the American League, perhaps for the next several years.

Despite general manager Pat Gillick's admission that some players will go in order to trim the payroll from $51 million to a more manageable $45 million, it won't be a dismantling process.

The changes will constitute more of a tuneup than an overhaul, and Gillick already has experience with the technique.

In fact, changes for next year will be minor compared to a year ago, with the very real possibility that the Blue Jays will improve. "I didn't think this team was as strong as last year's," Gillick admitted.

"We didn't expect to lose as many players as we did, and some we weren't able to replace. We'll have to make some changes, but it won't be as severe as a year ago."

Of the 25 players on Toronto's World Series roster, only 13 have rings from last year's championship. That's an unprecedented turnover for a defending champion, and one that won't have to be duplicated.

The Blue Jays took an especially heavy hit on their pitching staff after the 1992 season. They lost starters David Cone (Kansas City) and Jimmy Key (Yankees) and closer Tom Henke (Texas) to free agency.

The addition of Dave Stewart paid off during the ALCS, but he came up short during the regular season, possibly because of age-induced injuries. When Jack Morris came up empty the Blue Jays were in trouble until rookie Pat Hentgen moved out of the bullpen to win 19 games.

It will cost the Blue Jays $1 million to buy out the option on Morris' contract, but that move will reduce the payroll by $4 million. Outfielder Rickey Henderson, this year's "hired gun" who mostly shot blanks, is history and his departure will take another slice out of the overhead.

Those moves will only strengthen the Blue Jays' position. They already have a solid nucleus of young veterans. With the exception of designated hitter Paul Molitor (37), outfielder Joe Carter is the oldest regular at 33.

First baseman John Olerud (25), second baseman Roberto Alomar (25), third baseman Ed Sprague (26), and center fielder Devon White (31) are solid performers who figure to get better. Sprague even presents another viable option -- returning to the position, catcher, that influenced the Blue Jays to make him their 1 draft pick in 1988.

If the Blue Jays decide to reduce their salary structure by promoting young players, they have attractive choices. They have two shortstop prospects, Domingo Cedeno and Alex Gonzalez, if they decide not to keep Tony Fernandez, who's only 31 but has been traded away before.

Catcher Pat Borders may be expendable, because of the presence of Sprague, Randy Knorr and Carlos Delgado, though the latter has yet to play above Double-A.

Gillick himself could figure as a key ingredient in the mix. He has indicated next year will be his last, and it can be assumed he'll go the extra yard to leave a legacy of three straight AL championships.

If he turns over six players on the roster, as he has indicated, Gillick figures to have the financial flexibility to use free agency to plug the holes in the pitching staff.

The Blue Jays won't make the mistake of expecting Stewart (36) to anchor the starting rotation, as they did with Morris this year.

But Juan Guzman (27) and Hentgen (25) should have their best years ahead of them, and Al Leiter (28) may finally have rid himself of the injuries that have kept him from developing his considerable potential.

The Blue Jays don't face as many obstacles as they did a year ago. The changes won't be as drastic, and could offer even more improvement.

And that's the scary part. It isn't CBS's problem any more, but it doesn't figure to go away for the rest of the American League. It may be time to start thinking about the "D" word.

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