Jays unable to ink three of top four picks
Pitchers Paxton, Eliopoulos, Barrett turn down offers
TORONTO -- Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi shrugs his shoulders and says it is simply a different day and age. This is the only way he can explain how Toronto came up empty in its attempts to sign a handful of its top Draft selections.
When the signing period for this year's First-Year Player Draft came to a close on Monday night, the Blue Jays had not struck deals with three of their first four picks. Toronto felt the offers it had tabled were fair, especially considering the club showed a willingness to exceed Major League Baseball's recommended slot values for the first time.
In the end, though, the Jays were not able to reel in a pair of highly touted Canadian pitchers in left-handers James Paxton and Jake Eliopoulos, or right-hander Jake Barrett. Adding to the disappointment of having so many unsigned picks was the fact that Paxton and Barrett were compensatory picks for having pitcher A.J. Burnett leave Toronto as a free agent over the winter.
"There's a limit on everything," Ricciardi said on Tuesday. "Obviously, you just can't give everything that everybody wants. That wouldn't be good business. So, from our end, we put a monetary figure on it. We thought we were very generous, but it wasn't enough.
"It's just a different world today. Kids say no to a lot of money. What can I tell you?"
Toronto selected Paxton with the 37th overall pick in the compensation round between the first and second rounds, while Eliopoulos and Barrett were taken in the second and third rounds, respectively. Since the Jays did not sign that trio, the club will receive additional picks in the compensation, second and third rounds in next June's Draft.
Ricciardi said the organization was well aware of the risk involved in selecting Paxton (a client of agent Scott Boras) as well as a pair of high school arms. The understanding helped convince the Jays that they could afford to pay above slot in order to sign some of their other picks, including Jake Marisnisk, a talented high school outfielder who slipped to the third round.
According to Ricciardi, the Jays were never really close to reaching agreements with either Paxton or Eliopoulos, whose negotiations were led by Jays interim president and CEO Paul Beeston and assistant general manager Alex Anthopoulos, respectively. Ricciardi added that the club felt it was nearing a deal with Barrett, but the offer was not high enough.
"At the end, we weren't giving them enough money, I guess," Ricciardi said.
Paxton -- a native of Ladner, British Columbia -- is planning on returning to Kentucky for his senior year. Eliopoulos (from Newmarket, Ontario) will pitch for either Chipola College of Long Beach State and Barrett is due to head to Arizona State. All three will be eligible to re-enter the Draft next year.
Ricciardi said the talks with Paxton would not necessarily stop the organization from pursuing Boras' clients in the future.
"No, I don't think so," Ricciardi said. "If the right guy is there, and we like the player, I think we'll take him."
The Jays signed their top selection, Kennesaw State right-hander Chad Jenkins, on Saturday and handed him a $1.359 million bonus -- the suggested slot value for the 20th overall pick. On Monday, Toronto struck deals with Marisnick (third round), outfielder Kristopher Hobson (sixth round), right-hander Andrew Hutchison (15th round) and right-hander Daniel Webb (18th round).
In all, the Blue Jays signed 34 of their picks. Ricciardi said it was disappointing to have so many unsigned selections in the end, but he feels it is a result of the way the Draft is currently set up. More players seem to want to wait until the deadline to sign, costing them a chance to get a head start on their professional careers.
Last week, Ricciardi said he believed that an earlier deadline might help the process.
"As long as the system is the way it is, it's going to be like this," Ricciardi said. "There's nothing that's really going to be able to happen to change it. I think the only thing that could change it is the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. But these are the rules, and you play by them."
"The only way you can get to the big leagues," he later added, "is if you sign and get out and play, so obviously there's an advantage to doing that. You'd like to see the kids sign quick and get out, but we just don't live in that day and age anymore."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.