mike carlson/associated press


With Roy Halladay leading the way the Blue Jays may have their best team since they won the World Series in 1993.

So I’m in my seat at one of these relatively meaningless exhibition games in Florida, minding my business and feeding my sun-soaked face, when somebody starts breathing down my neck.

“Feel that?” a voice whispers. “That’s what the Blue Jays will be doing all season to the Red Sox and the Yankees.”

I turn around and immediately recognize the source of this unexpected declaration. He’s an American League scout I’ve known for nearly two decades. He’s drinking beer and smells lousy, but he always is aware of what’s happening in the AL and almost always is accurate with his anonymous tips and predictions — and so his views on this occasion are worthy of attention. Here they are:

“Could come down to the final week of the season in the AL East. Toronto will be right there but I figure they’ll finish a few nosehairs behind Boston and maybe the Yankees. Don’t get me wrong. This is probably the best club for Toronto since (capturing the second of back-to-back World Series titles in) 1993. Vernon Wells, Troy Glaus and Lyle Overbay are tough outs. Alex Rios and Reed Johnson proved themselves last year and Aaron Hill’s a decent hitter. But they’ll go into the regular season (next week) with plenty of question marks.

“For instance, you like to get some offence out of your shortstop nowadays, but (37-year-old journeyman) Royce Clayton is pretty well an automatic out. (Designated hitter) Frank Thomas is 38 going on 50. He produced in Oakland last year, but, to me, his bat’s slower. The catcher (Gregg Zaun) calls a decent game, but he’s really a platoon guy.

“I wonder about the pitching, too. Roy Halladay is an ace, definitely, but A.J. Burnett is a .500 pitcher at best and both he and Gustavo Chacin have arm issues. Chacin throws too many pitches. The rest of the rotation comes from rummaging through the bargain bin, with guys like Tomo Ohka and Victor Zambrano. Josh Towers is unreliable. I think the Jays will miss Ted Lilly and, in the bullpen, they’ll miss Justin Speier — two guys they couldn’t afford to lose (as free agents). The bullpen is average with Jason Frasor, Scott Downs, Brian Tallet and Jeremy Accardo. Their quality reliever is (closer) B.J. Ryan, if he stays healthy.”

The scout suggests 85 to 90 wins are likely for the Jays in 2007, and they’ll contend. In the tough AL East, though, they sure could use a few extra nosehairs.

For more on baseball, check out my