Blue Jays lock up their core
Rios gets six-year pact, while Hill nets four years in his deal
TORONTO -- Aaron Hill and Alex Rios swear that they didn't start playing baseball for the money, but they certainly aren't about to complain now. On Friday, the pair of Blue Jays teammates each received a lucrative contract extension prior to Toronto's home opener against Boston.
The contracts handed to Hill and Rios by Toronto could potentially be worth a combined $115.5 million and could keep both in the fold through at least 2014. Not bad, considering that Rios was nearly traded to the Giants in December, and negotiations with Hill were believed to be dead earlier this week.
"Every baseball player would agree," Hill said, "that you never picked up a bat when you were a little kid to become the richest baseball player. You wanted to become a big leaguer and that's just what you wanted to do."
Still, it was hard for the players not to be in awe of their newfound wealth.
"I still can't believe it," said Rios, smiling widely and beginning to laugh. "I never knew that I was going to be making so much money."
Rios was rewarded with a six-year pact worth $64 million, which takes effect next season. The deal runs through 2014 and includes a $13.5 club option for the '15 season or a $1 million buyout after six years. In all, the right fielder's contract could potentially be worth as much as $77.5 million -- or an average of more than $11 million per year.
Hill's four-year, $12 million extension, which begins with the current season, is a little bit more complicated, considering it includes club options for 2012, '13 and '14. By Opening Day 2011 -- Hill's final year before possibly becoming eligible for free agency -- the Blue Jays must decide whether they want to pick up a three-year option worth $26 million.
Should Toronto decide against giving Hill an additional three seasons under his new contract, the club has until 10 days following the 2011 World Series to go one of three routes. At that point, the Jays could either decline to renew Hill's contract or elect to exercise a one-year option worth $8 million or a two-year option worth $16 million.
Hill is under contract for $410,000 this season, and he's scheduled to make $2.59 million, $4 million and $5 million in each of the next three years, respectively. That covers what would've been Hill's three arbitration years, leading up to his first year of free agency.
"We didn't want all the options at first, because nobody really likes club options," Hill said. "But the way it's set up is actually a lot in my favor. The fact that they have to [pick all three years] up and they get one shot at it is great. That and the fact that they can't go year to year."
The structuring of the option years -- headed by Blue Jays assistant general manager Alex Anthopoulos -- helped revive negotiations between Hill and Toronto. Earlier this week, Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi indicated that the team was planning on waiting until the offseason to resume discussions with the second baseman.
"The Hill one, yeah. There were a couple times we were on life support, so to speak," Ricciardi said, "as far as if [the negotiations were] going to be alive or not. I have to give Alex a lot of credit."
Hill wasn't even sure a deal was going to come to fruition.
"It was tough," he said. "We didn't think we were going to do it -- we really didn't. We thought we were going to [wait until] next year, and there was no hard feelings whatever way it went. We were both very happy with what happened, and I'm just glad to be a part of it."
For the 26-year-old Hill, who hit .291 with 17 home runs and 78 RBIs in 160 games for Toronto last season, it was a chance to help form a core of talented players beyond the 2010 season. The Jays have Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, B.J. Ryan, Scott Downs, Scott Rolen and Lyle Overbay all under contract through '10, though Burnett can opt out after this season.
Past 2010, which is also the final year under Ricciardi's current contract, Toronto only has Hill, Rios and Vernon Wells locked up. Wells signed a seven-year, $126 million extension two winters ago that could keep him in the fold through 2014. The Jays have every intention of contending now, but the club is keeping an eye toward the future as well.
"If you look at the way our club is structured through '10," Ricciardi said, "we have a number of players tied up. Now, going forward with these two players, along with Vernon and, hopefully, Roy, we'll be able to continue that nucleus and continue to have a good club and core players to build around."
That group includes the 27-year-old Rios, who had his doubts that he'd be back in Toronto this season. It was a long negotiation process for Rios and the Jays, who first floated an offer in October. Wanting to see how other contract situations played out over the offseason, Rios opted to hold off on signing.
In December, Toronto pursued a trade that would've sent Rios to San Francisco for pitcher Tim Lincecum. When those discussions fell apart, the Blue Jays resumed negotiations with Rios, but the sides were forced to settle on a one-year, $4.835 million contract for the 2008 season through the arbitration process in February.
During Spring Training, the Jays set an unofficial deadline for agreeing to a long-term contract with Rios, indicating that the talks would have to be picked up next winter if a deal wasn't reached before the season began. When the sides came a few details short of finalizing the current contract, the Jays allowed discussions to carry on until Friday.
"I'll be here for six or seven more years, and I'm just glad and I'm very thankful," Rios said. "It's more of a security issue. You want to put as many years in the big leagues as you can. You want financial security, but also I wanted to stay here for a long time.
"I like this organization and I had an opportunity to be here for a while. So I decided it was a good chance to be a part of this team."
Rios enters this season as Toronto's No. 3 hitter, following a breakout showing in '07. Last season, Rios hit .297 with 24 home runs and 85 RBIs in 161 games for the Jays, and he was named to his second American League All-Star team.
That showing earned Rios a big payday. During Friday's press conference, which was attended by a handful of the right fielder's teammates, one reporter asked Rios if he'd pick up the tab at the next team dinner.
"Yeah, I'll take it," Rios said with a laugh. "No, wait, Vernon's got it."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.