Blue Jays sign five of six players
Rios, lone arbitration-eligible player, Jays at $1 million impasse
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays' list of unsettled contracts has been whittled down to one. On Friday, Toronto announced that it had signed five of its six remaining arbitration-eligible players to new deals.
Among those with new contracts, left-handed reliever Scott Downs was rewarded with a three-year deal worth $10 million. The Blue Jays signed infielder Marco Scutaro to a two-year, $2.65 million contract and also agreed on one-year pacts with Jason Frasor, Gustavo Chacin and Brian Tallet.
The lone player left unsigned is right fielder Alex Rios, but the Blue Jays have been discussing a multiyear extension with the budding star. On Friday, the Blue Jays exchanged salary figures with Rios' representatives and the two sides were separated by a gap of more than $1 million.
Rios' camp requested a 2008 salary of $5.65 million, while Toronto countered with an offer of $4.535 million. Last winter, Rios earned a $2.535 million salary in his first year of arbitration eligibility. If necessary, the arbitration hearings are scheduled to take place between Feb. 1-21, but the Jays haven't gone to arbitration with a player since 1997.
"We've exchanged figures with a lot of players throughout the years and have avoided arbitration," Ricciardi said. "But you never know. There's always the situation that if you don't work anything out, you do go to arbitration. I think everybody accepts that this is part of the process.
"The nice thing is we do have Alex here for the next three years, and we are going to talk to him and continue to talk to him about a multiyear deal. We'll see how it plays out."
At the news conference to unveil Scott Rolen as Toronto's new third baseman on Tuesday night, Ricciardi said that the negotiations with Rios weren't necessarily going good, but that didn't mean they were going bad, either. Considering Rios is contractually controllable through the 2010 season, the Jays have no reason to rush.
"We've got all of Spring Training to continue to talk and we've got the course of the year to continue to talk," Ricciardi said. "But we don't like to talk to a player during the year and I'm sure a player doesn't really want to talk about it during the year.
"We've got all of February and all of March to try to work a long-term deal out, and if it doesn't come to fruition, we've got him for the next two years and we can continue to try to work on it. We're putting our best foot forward."
Rios, who turns 27 in February, is certainly due for a raise after hitting .297 with 24 home runs, 43 doubles and 85 RBIs last season. He also traveled to San Francisco as Toronto's lone All-Star representative on the American League's squad, and Rios finished as the runner-up during the Home Run Derby.
Downs, 31, was eligible to become a free agent after the 2008 season, but Toronto decided to keep him in the fold through at least 2010. Under his new contract, the left-hander is scheduled to make $2.25 million in '08, $3.75 million in '09 and another $4 million in '10. He made $1.025 million in 2007.
"It's a big shock," Downs said. "I'm still kind of in awe with the whole thing, and my family and myself are very grateful that we know we're going to be coming back to Toronto for the next three years. We're very happy that something got done.
"I enjoy the team that I'm with -- the nucleus of guys that I'll be with the next three years, the nucleus of guys that this team wants to keep together to win a championship. It worked out good for myself and the team, and we were able to get something done prior to free agency."
Toronto handed Downs the three-year deal after his stellar showing last season, when he went 4-2 with a 2.17 ERA out of the Jays' bullpen. Downs made 81 appearances, which was tied for the most in the American League, and he ranked fourth in the league with 24 holds. Downs led AL left-handers by limiting left-handed batters to a .209 average.
"We like the job he's done," Ricciardi said. "You look at the market for these guys out there and the market is kind of going through the roof, when you see the guys that are out there and some of the things they're demanding.
"This is a guy who's been healthy with us, knock on wood, and really settled into a role in our bullpen. Sometimes it's the animal that you have that you really like, as opposed to trying to recreate that. We just thought that this was the best time for us to extend on a guy like this."
Scutaro's two-year contract includes a $1.55 million base salary for 2008, matching his '07 deal with Oakland. Scutaro is set to make $1.1 million in '09 and he can earn another $425,000 in performance bonuses over the next two seasons.
The Blue Jays sent two pitching prospects to the A's in order to acquire the 32-year-old Scutaro in November. Last season, the versatile utilityman hit .260 with seven homers and 41 RBIs in 104 games.
The Blue Jays also reached an agreement with Frasor on a one-year deal worth $1.125 million, representing a $300,000 raise for the right-hander. Last season, the 30-year-old reliever went 1-5 with a 4.58 ERA and 59 strikeouts over 57 innings for Toronto.
Chacin, 27, who has been limited to 22 starts over the past two seasons due to various arm injuries, signed a one-year deal worth $725,000. Last year, Chacin went 2-1 with a 5.60 ERA in five starts before landing on the disabled list for good in April. The left-hander underwent season-ending surgery on his throwing shoulder in August.
Tallet earned a one-year deal worth $640,000 in his first year of arbitration eligibility. Last season, the 30-year-old lefty went 2-4 with a 3.47 ERA in 48 games for the Jays. He made 28 appearances lasting an inning or more, posted a 1.97 ERA at home and surrendered just one home run all season.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.