Rios contract talks heating up
Club, outfielder reportedly close to six-year deal
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Alex Rios stood in front of his locker inside the clubhouse at Knology Park, where the Blue Jays' right fielder was surrounded by a crowd of reporters. While discussing his contract situation, Rios paused and cracked a smile.
"What's Rod doing back there?" Rios said with a laugh.
The media turned to see Blue Jays catcher Rod Barajas, grinning widely and flipping through a handful of $100 bills. Barajas was poking fun at Rios, who appears to be closing in on a lucrative six-year contract extension with Toronto.
On Tuesday, Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said that the club had not reached a deal with Rios, but that the negotiations were progressing. Rios went as far as saying he believed there could possibly be an agreement in place within the next few days.
"It's the closest it's been since we started," said Rios, assessing the negotiations. "I like the organization. I've always liked it. If I sign a deal like that, it's because I want it -- I want to be here."
Ricciardi's view varied slightly from Rios' take on the situation.
"I don't know if it's as close now as it's ever been," Ricciardi said. "Obviously, when you're talking, all of these things are subject to change at any minute. We're getting closer, I'll put it that way.
"Most of our stuff we start usually gets done, and I think this will get done eventually. But it's been a circuitous route to get to where we need to get to. We're getting there, though."
An online report that surfaced on Monday night indicated that the six-year extension, which would begin with the 2009 season, was worth roughly $65 million and included an option for 2015 that could push the contract's value to near $80 million. Rios did not dispute those figures, but said there were issues beyond just money that were still be discussed.
One sticking point could involve some form of a no-trade clause for the 27-year-old Rios, who had his name come up in trade rumors over the past offseason. Ricciardi noted that Rios was unlikely to receive a full no-trade clause, which is something only two Blue Jays players (Roy Halladay and Vernon Wells) have included in their deals.
"We're talking about that," said Rios, who added that his agent, Paul Kinzer, was not currently in Florida. "We haven't set anything yet, but we're discussing that. There's a few things that we're discussing at the same time."
In December, the Blue Jays approached the San Francisco Giants with a trade proposal that would've sent Rios to the National League club in exchange for highly-touted pitcher Tim Lincecum. Rios, who was selected to his second straight American League All-Star team last season, said he wasn't discouraged by the trade talk.
"The way I see it, it's a business," Rios said. "You never know when you're going to get traded. It's not because they don't like you or anything. It's something where they thought they could get something good out of me. I don't see anything bad about it."
Before those trade discussions, the Blue Jays first approached Rios with a proposal in October, but that initial offer included fewer than the six years that are now being discussed.
"I didnt want to sign in October," Rios said. "You've got to see how the market is going to set first and then you go from there. I don't know why it's taking so long, but it's my first time."
Ricciardi added that Toronto is still talking to the representatives for second baseman Aaron Hill about a contract extension as well. Toronto's GM reiterated that the negotiations for both players will be postponed until next offseason if agreements aren't in place before Toronto's season opener on March 31.
Including Tuesday, that leaves six days for the Blue Jays to try to finalize the extensions for Rios and Hill. Based on past experience, Ricciardi doesn't want to have the negotiations take place during the season.
"I see some of these guys, how they've reacted, and I think if it's not done, it's not done," Ricciardi said. "I don't want it hanging over anybody's head. It's not really as much of a burden on us as it is probably on the player. So I don't want to do that to the player. I don't think it's fair to them."
Currently, the Blue Jays have Halladay, Scott Rolen, B.J. Ryan, Lyle Overbay, Scott Downs and A.J. Burnett signed through the 2010 season, though Burnett's contract allows him to opt out after this year. Only Wells, who signed a $126 million extension two offseasons ago that will keep him in the fold through 2014, is inked beyond 2010.
Ricciardi said that the Blue Jays are keeping an eye on the future beyond '10, locking up Wells and hoping to reach deals with Rios and Hill that will last past their first free-agent years. Rios is not eligible to become a free agent until after the 2010 season and Hill can follow suit the following winter.
"The core group is through '10," Ricciardi said. "Then, what we're trying to do is look at the next group going forward beyond '10. Obviously, Vernon's in that class and if we can get Rios and Hill, that's a nice core going forward with the young players we've got coming."
Last season, Rios hit .297 with 24 home runs and 85 RBIs in 161 games for the Blue Jays. Hill, who turned 26 on March 21, hit .291 with 17 homers, 47 doubles and 78 RBIs in 160 games for Toronto a year ago.
"I don't want us to be an organization that is so dependant on one player," Ricciardi said. "We're trying to be proactive to keep our good players here. That's what's important."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.