Barajas in limbo as Jays reset
Toronto remains first choice for free-agent catcher
TORONTO -- As Rod Barajas prepared to head home for the offseason, his gear packed and ready to go inside Baltimore's Camden Yards after the Blue Jays' final game of 2009, the veteran catcher still had no idea what his immediate future held.
Toronto exited the regular season with a pile of issues to tackle, and the club's free agents were hardly the first item on the Jays' offseason agenda. With a new general manager in Alex Anthopoulos, an announcement expected soon about the hiring of a permanent team president, sorting out the organization's infrastructure has been the first priority.
Anthopoulos has been working at a furious pace, reorganizing sectors of Toronto's front office before evaluating other tasks. Under the circumstances, it made sense that Barajas -- one of the Jays' free agents along with shortstops Marco Scutaro and John McDonald -- had not had any talks with the team about possibly returning for 2010.
"I have not heard anything," Barajas said at the end of the season. "If you're going to hear something at this time, it's going to be from your own team and that hasn't been the case. As of right now, it's still all out in the open. I have no feeling any way whatsoever of whether I'm coming back or whether I'm not coming back.
"I continue to say I'd like to come back, but it takes the Blue Jays having to want me to come back in order for that to actually happen."
The Blue Jays have exclusive negotiating rights with their own free agents until 15 days following the conclusion of the World Series. At that point, the players eligible for the open market can begin talking to other clubs. In Barajas' case, he is set to be a Type B free agent, meaning Toronto would receive a compensatory pick in the next First-Year Player Draft if he signs with another team.
Ask Barajas and Toronto remains his first choice.
"Absolutely," Barajas said. "I'm in. Like I've said, I've enjoyed my time here. I've enjoyed my teammates, and I enjoy the city. From Day 1, I wasn't thinking of going elsewhere. My first choice has always been here and I'd love to come back and hang out with my teammates. This is a great group of guys. I have a blast when I'm inside this clubhouse. For me, I see no reason for me to want to leave."
At his introductory press conference, Anthopoulos was asked about Barajas and Scutaro, considering the Jays have said all along that they have interest in retaining the players. The new GM was also asked about the status of ace pitcher Roy Halladay, who continues to come up in trade rumors.
"I really think all of the choices that we make with those three players are going to be contingent upon dollars, contingent upon the direction of the team," Anthopoulos said. "It's really going to tie into what the philosophy is. We like all those players. We'd like to keep all those players. Will they fit into the direction of what we're trying to do going forward? I can't answer that right now."
This past season, the 34-year-old Barajas appeared in a career-high 125 games. He hit .226, launched 19 home runs -- his most since belting 21 with the Rangers in 2005 -- and set a career best with 71 RBIs. In two seasons with the Blue Jays, Barajas has hit .237 with 30 homers and 120 RBIs over 229 games.
Beyond his offensive showing, Barajas is proud of the work he has done with Toronto's pitching staff. In 2008, the rotation was riddled with injuries -- a trend that continued into this past season when the Jays cycled through 12 different starters (five rookies). In '08, the Jays boasted the best pitching staff in baseball, and the club's patchwork cast remained respectable in '09.
"For the last two years," Barajas said, "I've felt like with all the question marks that we had -- the injuries, guys going down, not just the starting rotation but the bullpen -- I felt like I was able to help guide these guys and go out there and was able to get the most out of them. It's a tough game, especially when you're young and pitching in this division against the caliber teams that we play day in and day out.
"They held their own. They went out there and they had some bad games, but they had some great games and I feel like I was a part of that. I feel like I helped guide them. I helped show them. I believe that they had confidence in my ability to call games and they kind of went with me. Overall, they had a pretty good season."
Barajas has sounded as if he'd like to get a similar opportunity with the Blue Jays in 2010 for his 12th season in the big leagues. As this past campaign wrapped up, the catcher was content on heading home and leaving it up to the ballclub to contact him.
"I'm not that type of guy who is going to go around and lobby," he said. "I'm just going to sit back and wait and once they're ready to start the process, I'll be sitting there waiting. ... I'm going to go home and enjoy my family time and sit there and wait and hopefully get that call."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.