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After months of expectations, retooled Blue Jays ready to take the field for real

TORONTO - Colby Rasmus' T-shirt showed a Blue Jay between a set of weights, with the words "Nothing is given, everything is earned" on the back.

It's a motto worth remembering this season, even in the luxurious man-cave that serves as the Jays' clubhouse in the bowels of Rogers Centre.

Stocked with talent from Alabama to British Columbia and the Dominican Republic to Venezuela, this Toronto team is already seen as one of the best that money can buy.

The first question manager John Gibbons got Monday was a somewhat glib query from a local TV anchor asking if the news conference format would be the same in the post-season.

Gibbons laughed, a little awkwardly, before answering "Let's hope so."

Expectations are sky-high ahead of Tuesday's soldout opener against the visiting Cleveland Indians.

"Really you can't go anywhere without hearing something about the Blue Jays," acknowledged Gibbons, who starts his second stint at the club's helm. "That's why we're excited to get this going. Opening days are always exciting but it can be a hassle too because you're drawn every which way.

"So we'd like to get that behind us, hopefully get a win out of the way and then move on from there and then play some regular baseball. But we're excited. We're ready, we've got a good team, we'll see what happens."

The high hopes come with a high cost.

Toronto's payroll is north of US$125 million, which only ranks eighth in the crazy money world of major league baseball. The Los Angeles Dodgers and the Yankees are both over $220 million.

"We recognize, the baseball world recognizes, we have a good ball club or we should have a ball club with the talent they brought in," said Gibbons. "We expect to win some things this year ... We've just got to step up and answer the bell and fulfil those things.

"But that won't be easy. There's a lot of good teams in the league."

The injury-plagued club that went 73-89 to finish fourth last season in the AL East has been bolstered by the additions of pitchers R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle.

The infield has been reinforced by all-star shortstop Jose Reyes, Emilo Bonifacio and Maicer Izturis while Melky Cabrera takes over left field.

Slugger and team leader Jose Bautista has recovered from the wrist surgery that cut his 2012 season short. Closers Casey Janssen and Sergio Santos had shoulders cleaned out in the off-season.

And GM Alex Anthopoulos has brought in veterans like Mark DeRosa and Henry Blanco to mentor the likes of third baseman Brett Lawrie (who starts the season on the disabled list) and catcher J.P Arrencibia.

Like a Formula One race car in the starting grid, the Jays are polished and purring waiting for a green light.

Despite all the additions and expectations, the Toronto' spring training locker-room in Dunedin seemed relaxed and comfortable.

Dickey, the cerebral knuckleballer slated to start Tuesday, says figuring out the identity of this Toronto team isn't easy. The 2013 Jays are no one-trick pony.

"We've got great pitching, but we've also got speed and we've also got power and we've also got a good bullpen," he said. "I think it's nice to not be able to have to drive your stake in the sand about what kind of team you're going to be because we can win games in a multiple of ways. And that's exciting.

"And if we can stay healthy, we should make some noise."

Dickey, last year's NL CY Young Award-winner with the New York Mets, gets the opening day start against Cleveland's Justin Masterson.

On the issue of health, Gibbons says Janssen is ready to go Tuesday night if needed after a somewhat stop-and-go spring following his surgery.

"We're going to keep an eye on him," Gibbons said. "There may be some games he can't pitch. If he throws a couple of games in a row, we're going to give him a break simply because it's been a slow spring for him."

If the team need a closer on such a Janssen off night, it could turn to Santos, Steve Delabar or Darren Oliver, he added

"Hopefully we have that problem," Gibbons said with a smile. "That we have enough save situations that we can't use Casey. That would be a good thing."

Gibbons also said the team will take its time with Brett Lawrie, currently on the DL with a rib injury. Bottom line, the third baseman seems several weeks away.

"One he gets here, we don't want that (injury) to be a problem at all the rest of the year. So we're going to be smart with him."

Monday was the lull before the storm, with a leisurely practice under the dome after media responsibilities.

After separate news conferences featuring Gibbons and Dickey, reporters headed to the dressing room where they milled around in the middle like a giant school of fish. A few players sat in front of their lockers, nestled in comfy leather chairs with the Blue Jays' logo emblazoned on the back. Seven big-screen TVs mounted on pillars showed the MLB network.

Miniature versions of the pennants that hang over the stadium's giant video screen are plastered at each end of the clubhouse.

Like the roster, Rogers Centre has also got a facelift. Windows Restaurant, fresh from a $2-million renovation, has been reopened as an open-air food and drinks vantage point in centre field.

Banners showing off a giant-sized Bautista and Dickey, among others, hang outside the domed stadium. Inside, those lucky enough to take in a game from a suite will see newly hung black-and-while photos showing newcomers like Dickey as well as franchise icons like former manager Cito Gaston, not to mention a close-up of a World Series ring the size of a small kitchen appliance.

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