Blue Jays ink shortstop Gonzalez
Club will offer arbitration to free-agent catcher Barajas
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays would love nothing more than to have a shortstop in place who fits within the organization's long-term blueprint. For now, Toronto is content with having a short-term solution while the club continues to assess its future.
On Thursday, the Blue Jays signed free-agent shortstop Alex Gonzalex to a one-year contract that includes a club option for the 2011 season. The move came one day after the Blue Jays re-signed veteran shortstop John McDonald to a two-year deal.
The low-risk moves solve an immediate hole and give the Jays a pair of strong defensive shortstops who can help Toronto's young pitching staff. Gonzalez is scheduled to earn $2.75 million in 2010, and he could be in line for another $2.5 million the following season if his performance convinces the Jays to keep him around.
In the meantime, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos is still searching for a long-term option for shortstop. It is likely that the Blue Jays will target top shortstop prospects in any trade involving ace pitcher Roy Halladay, but Anthopoulos stuck to his policy of not commenting on the specifics of such a scenario.
"There's no doubt we'd like to have a long-term solution," Anthopoulos said, "somebody that can be here for multiple years at a time going forward and be part of the next core of players, but we're very excited to have Alex and we like the flexibility that the contract allows."
Now that Anthopoulos has seemingly concluded addressing the shortstop position for 2010, he said his top priority is to find a starting catcher. The Blue Jays' GM said that it is looking unlikely that free-agent catcher Rod Barajas will re-sign with the team, but Toronto still plans on offering the 34-year-old veteran arbitration before Tuesday's deadline.
Barajas is a Type B free agent, so the Jays would receive a sandwich pick between the first and second round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft if he declines arbitration and signs with a new team. Toronto also will offer arbitration to shortstop Marco Scutaro, who is a Type A free agent, meaning the Jays would net two compensatory picks if he declines and signs elsewhere.
Earlier this week, it was revealed that the Jays have interest in free-agent catcher Yorvit Torreabla, who also has garnered interest from the Giants and Rockies. A source indicated that Toronto was expected to extend an offer to Torrealba soon.
Anthopoulos said it appears that accepting arbitration is the only way that Barajas or Scutaro will be back with the Blue Jays next season.
"From having talked to Rod's agent and from Marco's agent, the only opportunity that we have to bring both of them back is going to be on one-year, non-guaranteed deals," Anthopoulos said. "That's the way it looks right now, but we'll see how it goes.
"My understanding is that there's significant interest in [Barajas], and it seems as though he's got a very good opportunity to get a multiyear deal. So, it's probably unlikely that we'll be able to see him back here."
The same goes for Scutaro, who fashioned a career year last season with the Jays and has a suitor in the Red Sox, among others. Anthopoulos said the Jays would welcome Scutaro back and find a way to divide up the playing time, but the reality is that the shortstop likely has a multiyear contract available.
That became clear as negotiations between Toronto and Scutaro began to break down.
"We just couldn't come to terms," Anthopoulos said. "I don't think anyone's right or wrong. He had a tremendous year and obviously his agent and Marco are evaluating the market place. The values that we placed, with the alternatives and so on, weren't able to align with what Marco and his agent felt was appropriate at this time."
The Blue Jays were in discussions with free-agent shortstop Orlando Cabrera, but a source said that he was asking for a two-year contract worth around $12 million. Reports on Cabrera indicate that his defensive range and arm strength are diminishing, leading Toronto to turn to the more affordable and defensively-sound Gonzalez.
Gonzalez did not qualify as a ranked free-agent, so his signing will not cost the Blue Jays any Draft picks.
The 32-year-old Gonzalez only hit .238 between stints with the Reds and Red Sox last season, but he did post a .284 average with five home runs in 148 at-bats after being acquired by Boston in an August trade. If Gonzalez performs better than expected, the Jays might possess a good trade chip, or at least a possible starter for 2011.
"We felt at this time bringing Alex Gonzalez on board with a one-year deal and a club option made a lot of sense for us," Anthopoulos said. "We certainly feel that there's a lot of upside to this player. Look at the way he played for Boston the last six weeks and into the postseason. He played very good defense. We had a lot of our scouts see him. Offensively, he swung the bat very well."
One problem, though, is the potential loss of Scutaro leaves a hole in the Blue Jays' leadoff spot. Anthopoulos said he will continue to look for a new leadoff man this winter, but added that would likely be a longer process. The GM noted that he is also looking for help in the outfield and possibly in the rotation and bullpen.
While discussing his club's needs, Anthopoulos also said that he has informed young outfielder Travis Snider -- the Jays' top pick in 2006 -- that he is not guaranteed a spot on the Opening Day roster. Snider began last year as Toronto's left fielder, but he endured an inconsistent season and bounced between the Major and Minor Leagues.
"I told him he needed to make the team," Anthopoulos said. "There's certainly no assurances that he's going to be an everyday player for us. His Spring Training is going to dictate a lot of that, so we do want to be prepared. I don't think we necessarily want to hand out jobs. Certain guys are obviously entitled to that from their past performance, but we do want to try to create a little bit of a level of competition going forward."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.