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Wednesday, March 30, 2005; Page H10

The most encouraging news for the Blue Jays this offseason occurred when team ownership announced its plan to increase payroll by a combined $210 million over the next three years. Toronto, which has fallen behind in talent level to the Yankees, Red Sox and Orioles, may soon be able to catch up. General Manager J.P. Ricciardi has said his team is willing to make a trade this season that will increase payroll.

To compete this season the Blue Jays must have a healthy Roy Halladay, the 2003 Cy Young Award winner who missed time last year because of a tired right shoulder. The additions of Corey Koskie (.251, 25, 71) and Shea Hillenbrand (.310, 15, 80) should help offset the loss of Carlos Delgado. But beyond Halladay and Ted Lilly -- who will start the season on the disabled list -- the rotation is young and untested and could get hammered facing the powerful lineups in the division.

Orlando Hudson, left, and the Blue Jays welcome Corey Koskie to his new team. (Frank Gunn -- AP)

Alex Rios, 24, was a rookie of the year candidate last season, but must improve his power numbers -- one home run in 426 at-bats -- if Toronto is to have a winning season. Miguel Batista flopped in 2004 after signing as a free agent, and now moves to the closer role. The bullpen won't be much help.

The Blue Jays will be near the bottom of the division unless they make a big-name acquisition.

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