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Jays have good base but still need help for future playoff push

Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Zack Greinke delivers a pitch against the Texas Rangers during the first inning of their baseball game in Anaheim, California September 20, 2012.

ALEX GALLARDO/REUTERS

Paul Beeston, president of the Toronto Blue Jays, stood in front of the team's season-ticket holders in February and told them what they wanted to hear: Fans could expect a return to the playoffs on two or three occasions over the next five years.

There is still time to make good on that promise, but it won't be this year. Hindered by a lengthy injury list and subpar performances by key players, the Blue Jays have marked the 20th anniversary of their first World Series title by vying with the Boston Red Sox for last place in the AL East division.

The Blue Jays insist they have the right plan for success – continue to stockpile minor-league talent and when the time is right, add the free agent or make the trade that can lift the team over the top.

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"I think we've still got some very high expectations," Beeston said. "And we've got to start delivering on those expectations."

The Blue Jays will need to ponder these issues in the off-season:

Whither the manager? John Farrell has one year left on a three-year contract and the Blue Jays have to decide if his work warrants an extension. The Blue Jays could think twice, should the Boston Red Sox put out feelers.

Armed and ready? General manager Alex Anthopoulos says he wants to add a couple of quality pitchers to his starting rotation. The top peding free-agent appears to be Zack Greinke, 28, of the Los Angeles Angels. It would take a long-term deal in excess of $100-million (all currency U.S.) to get it done.

Who will be the starting five next season? As it stands, the rotation will be headed by Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow and J.A. Happ. After that, roll the dice. Carlos Villanueva, should he re-sign with the club, is a possibility, with one of Henderson Alvarez, Aaron Laffey and maybe Chad Jenkins bringing up the rear.

When will they be back? Starter Kyle Drabek, who underwent ligament-replacement surgery this season, could return as early as June, while pitcher Drew Hutchison, who had the same procedure in August, might not be ready until 2014. There is no time line on when, or if, Dustin McGowan will return from his most recent shoulder surgery.

Trade bait? If Anthopoulos goes the trade route to strengthen his club, catcher J.P. Arencibia is the most likely candidate to leave town what with top prospect Travis d'Arnaud ready to move up. Shortstop Yunel Escobar could join him in a package deal that might land a left-handed power bat to complement Jose Bautista.

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The second baseman will be? With 157 strikeouts through 139 games, two shy of tying Toronto's single-season high of 159 set by Jose Canseco in 1998, Kelly Johnson isn't expected back. If Escobar remains a Blue Jay, the club will look at Adeiny Hechavarria at second for 2013.

Who's at first? After a spectacular season in which he excelled not only with the bat and defensively as well, Edwin Encarnacion is a lock at this corner. With suggestions by Anthopoulos that d'Arnaud could see some at-bats in 2013 as the designated hitter, Adam Lind could also find himself on the trade block.

Is there room for two? Perhaps the toughest decision the Blue Jays will have to make is whether there is enough room for both the youngsters – Hechavarria, 23, and Anthony Gose, 22 – on the 25-man roster. Hechavarria has shown he can probably handle both shortstop and second base, while Gose, with his speed, can play anywhere in the outfield.

Who will close? Sergio Santos missed almost the entire season after undergoing shoulder surgery and should be ready to go by spring training. Casey Janssen, who did an outstanding job after replacing Santos, could slide seamlessly into the setup role, with competition from Steve Delabar.

Is centre field in good hands? Colby Rasmus was an enigma this season, gifted defensively but often a liability with the bat as evidenced by his .225 batting average and high strikeout rate mitigating his 22 homers. While the Jays have identified the 26-year-old as a core player, he could be dealt if the right offer comes around.

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