TORONTO — Plenty of Blue Jays banter to cover today. I’m still waiting on word if we’re going to get Rod Barajas (pictured right) on a conference call today or not. We did get Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi, who discussed the club’s latest head-turner.
As much as many of us who follows the Jays didn’t see the David Eckstein signing coming, we REALLY couldn’t have predicted Toronto signing Barajas. Well, we couldv’e predicted it, but would you have believed me? I didn’t believe myself when my brain pondered the possibility earlier this week (see previous post).
To recap briefly: The Jays offered Barajas a two-year, $5.25 million deal last winter and he agreed to sign, then switched agents and tried to re-open negotiations. Not happy, Toronto said no way Jose — or Rod, in this case — and re-signed Gregg Zaun to a two-year deal worth $7.25. Barajas went on to get a one-year, $2.5 mil deal with the Phils, found himself as a third string by the end of 2007 and became a free agent when Philly chose not to pick up his option. Ricciardi acknowledged last winter that he had "more than a handshake" with Barajas and that the Blue Jays would "remember this one."
They remember it, sure, but apparently it isn’t a big deal anymore. And apparently Barajas wasn’t overly upset at Ricciardi’s comments last winter, because he came to the Jays this winter. Ricciardi summarized it as follows: Jays Assistant GM Alex Anthopoulos mentioned to Barajas’ agency that Toronto was looking for a backup catcher and, shortly thereafter, Barajas’ agent contacted the Jays and the rest is history. It’s a $1.2 million deal for 2008 with an option for ’09.
Basically, Barajas is a slight upgrade over Sal Fasano (although I can’t think of anyone who could be an upgrade of Chicago-loving Sal in the clubhouse) and provides some depth for the Jays. Last year, Toronto ran into depth issues behind the plate with Zaun, Jason Phillips and Fasano, thanks to injuries to Zaun and Lyle Overbay at first base.
Barajas can get into the lineup against left-handed pitchers (even though his .233 lifetime average vs. LHP leaves something to be desired) and he can get some added playing time vs. teams who run. Barajas has a career caught-stealing percentage of 33.7, which is nice, but we’ll see how that holds up when he’s working with A.J. Burnett, Dustin McGowan and Roy Halladay. The guys can pitch, but the runners go wild.
The signing also allows catching prospects Robinzon Diaz and Curtis Thigpen to stay at Triple-A Syrcause. Ricciardi once again noted that perhaps one of those two could "push the envelope" and be ready for The Show by June or July, but adding Barajas means the Jays might not have to turn to a youngin’ prematurely in the case of an injury.
So, on those levels, this move makes sense. Barajas comes cheap, offers solid defense and helps provide more time for the prospects. Could a better catcher have been found? Maybe, but this isn’t a long-term solution. The bigger question is who will be behind the plate next season?
— I chatted with Overbay yesterday (dude’s a Denver Broncos fan it turns out), and he said his recovering right hand is healing nicely. He’s hitting 5-6 times per week, doing light front-toss sessions. He hasn’t fielded grounders or seen live pitching, because he wants to wait to see how his hand (broken in June by a pitch from John Danks) responds, while coaches and trainers are there to watch.
— Ricciardi said that the Barajas signing likely wraps up Toronto’s movement this winter: "I think we’re pretty much done now. I know I’ve said that in the past and things have always popped up. But I just don’t see anything that we’ve had our fingers on that is going to really lead to anything. I think this is our club."
— As for the fifth starter spot, it looks like Casey Janssen, Jesse Litsch and Gustavo Chacin remain the top three candidates. Ricciardi emphasized that Janssen is being stretched out to compete for the job, but his status hinges on how close B.J. Ryan is to returning to the closer’s role, nothing’s changed there.
— Speaking of Ryan, he’s set to throw off a mound on Monday for the first time since his Tommy John surgery in May. This is a good step, and all indications are that Ryan is progressing well and ahead of schedule, but the Jays will be extra cautious with him this spring. Considering TJ recoveries can take more than a year, I don’t see Ryan in the bullpen until May. Prove me wrong, B.J.
— Ricciardi also said that Vernon Wells (season-ending surgery on left shoulder in Septemner) has been hitting and running through sessions with new hitting coach Gary Denbo. Wells has full range of motion again with his left shoulder (sound familiar? Scott Rolen, anyone?) and should be OK to go in Spring Training.
— As for those contract talks with right fielder Alex Rios, they’re "ongoing," according to Ricciardi. Again, it’s looking like the Jays will settle on a one-year deal to avoid arbitration and then pick up talks on a mulityear contract during the spring. Said Ricciardi: "It’s kind of a two-in-one deal. We do have to get a one-year deal done if we’re hoping to avoid arbitration. The big picture and the smaller picture, we’re trying to grasp at the same time."
That should be enough to tide you over for now. There will be a notebook and story on both Barajas and some of these other items on bluejays.com today, if you want to read more of what was said today by Ricciardi. Who’s counting down to Spring Training? I know I am.