Blue Jays’ Manoah in spotlight with pitchers, catchers set to report to spring training | CBC Sports

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The Toronto Blue Jays begin spring training this week looking ahead to the season while trying to erase the memory of their latest post-season exit.

The first official workout is set for Thursday at the Player Development Complex in Dunedin, Fla., as the team prepares for the Grapefruit League opener against the Philadelphia Phillies on Feb. 24.

The Blue Jays, who have been swept in the wild-card round in three of the last four years, will open the regular season March 28 at Tampa Bay. Here’s a look at five storylines entering camp:

Manoah returns

Starting pitcher Alek Manoah has kept a low profile since he was demoted to the minor leagues for a second time last summer.

He was a 2022 American League Cy Young Award finalist but struggled mightily last year. He’ll soon get a chance to speak publicly on what transpired after he was sent to triple-A Buffalo in August.

Manoah reportedly refused to report to the Bisons and didn’t pitch once he eventually decided to show up in Buffalo. In mid-September, the Blue Jays said he was shut down for the season after receiving multiple injections in his pitching arm.

So is he ready to pitch? How is his relationship with the team? Does he feel he can return to his all-star form?

We’ll soon find out from the big right-hander himself.

Arbitration record

The Blue Jays lost their arbitration case with first baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. last week as a three-person panel awarded the slugger the $19.9 million US he requested.

The team had offered $18.05 million, which also would have been a record amount in MLB salary arbitration.

It was a head-scratching decision by the team considering Guerrero is a franchise cornerstone who’s slated to become a free agent after the 2025 season. Arbitration can sometimes ruffle feathers since a team has to voice its case for why it doesn’t feel a player is worth the salary being requested.

The Blue Jays avoided the process last year with star shortstop Bo Bichette, who signed a three-year that covered his remaining arbitration seasons. Unless signed to an extension, Bichette is also scheduled to become a free agent after the 2025 campaign.

Quiet off-season

An underwhelming off-season for the Toronto front office finally picked up over the last couple weeks with the signing of veteran slugger Justin Turner to a one-year contract and pitcher Yariel Rodriguez to a five-year deal.

Turner is 39 but is coming off a strong season with the Boston Red Sox. He hit .276 last year with 23 homers and 96 runs batted in.

The two-time all-star won a World Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2020 and was a co-winner of the National League Championship Series MVP award in 2017.

Rodriguez, 26, pitched for Cuba at the World Baseball Classic last year. He previously pitched in Japanese and Cuban leagues.

Earlier in the off-season, the Blue Jays signed infielder Isiah Kiner-Falefa to a two-year contract and brought back centre-fielder Kevin Kiermaier on a one-year deal.

Donnie Baseball

Bench coach Don Mattingly will take on a larger role with the Blue Jays this season after the club added the newly created position of offensive co-ordinator to his title.

He’ll work with returning hitting coach Guillermo Martinez to try to improve an offence that was inconsistent last season and struggled in the playoffs.

Mattingly was a six-time all-star over his 14-year playing career with the New York Yankees. He later managed the Dodgers and the Miami Marlins.

Carlos Febles will serve as third-base coach this season after the retirement of Luis Rivera. Febles held the same role with the Boston Red Sox for six seasons.

Radio waves

There will be a new radio voice for the Blue Jays in 2024.

Ben Shulman, who called 31 games last season, succeeds Ben Wagner in the position.

Sportsnet parted ways with Wagner last November. He spent six seasons as the team’s play-by-play broadcaster, but the network did not renew his contract.

Shulman is the son of Dan Shulman, who handles Blue Jays play-by-play duties for the television broadcast.

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