Trade rumours swirl as Blue Jays prepare for season
Toronto Blue Jays new general manager Ross Atkins answers questions during a press conference in Toronto on Friday, December 4, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Melissa Couto, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, February 23, 2016 10:52AM EST
Last Updated Tuesday, February 23, 2016 4:14PM EST
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins is keeping his lips sealed when it comes to contract negotiations with slugger Jose Bautista.
Atkins addressed the media Tuesday at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, a day after Bautista said he had given management his terms on any potential deal in an earlier meeting.
"If you want me to say the same thing 25 times, I'll say the same thing 25 times: When it comes to a negotiation, a trade rumour, we are not going to discuss them publicly," said Atkins, who repeated some version of that mantra no less than five times within the eight-minute scrum.
After a breakout season in 2010, Bautista signed a five-year contract worth a guaranteed US$65 million. His 2016 option was picked up at $14 million and he could become a free agent at the end of this season.
Bautista said Monday he feels he's outperformed that contract. A media report Tuesday suggested Bautista's proposed deal was a five-year term for $150 million.
Atkins wouldn't reveal anything specific about Bautista's comments or about the earlier meeting he had with the all-star right-fielder.
"All of my interactions with Jose have been incredible," Atkins said. "I love being around the guy. I love talking baseball with him, I love to hear him talking about his career -- it gets me fired up. But in relation to the negotiations, out of respect for him, out of respect for the Blue Jays organization, we just can't get into the specifics of it."
"What I can say is that we're really glad Jose's here, we love the fact that he's a Blue Jay. Beyond that I can't comment on negotiations," he added. "There's nothing we can say. And there's really nothing more to it than that."
Bautista, who led the majors in home runs in 2010 (54) and 2011 (43), hit 40 homers last season while driving in 114 runs. The right-fielder is still very much in his prime at 35 and has said he feels he can play at a high level for several years to come.
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said he expects Bautista to have a "monster year."
"The stakes are so high for us personally as a team and what's at stake for him as a free agent so it might be his best year ever," he said.
Also Tuesday, the Blue Jays announced the additions of Corey Hart, Donnie Murphy and Juan Rincon to the organization's minor-league field staffs for this season. Hart will serve as hitting coach at Dunedin (Class-A Advanced), Murphy will be the hitting coach at single-A Lansing and Rincon will serve as pitching coach for the rookie-level Gulf Coast League Blue Jays.
Outfielder Saunders preparing for season
Blue Jays outfielder Michael Saunders came into spring training thinking 2016 would be a redemption year.
No longer bothered by the knee injury that limited him to just nine games last season, the Canadian felt he had something to prove. After trade rumours circulated that the Blue Jays were close to shipping the Victoria native to the Los Angeles Angels, Saunders hasn't lost that vision.
If anything, it's intensified.
"The natural emotions of me coming here last year, going through what I went through, really wanting to be a Blue Jay and then hearing my name come up in rumours last night, I want to be here," Saunders said Tuesday after working out at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. "I want to be a Blue Jay. It was a dream of mine growing up to play in Toronto and I'm here now and I want to be here to stay."
Reports on Monday night indicated that Toronto would pick up Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jay Bruce in a three-team deal with the Angels, but that the trade later fell through because of medical issues.
The initial speculation was that Saunders -- who injured his left knee during last year's spring training when he stepped on a sprinkler head while shagging fly balls -- was the problem. Reports later indicated that it was a minor-leaguer who had also been involved in the trade.
Saunders had successful surgery last year to repair the torn meniscus, but a nagging bone bruise sidelined him for the rest of the season.
"Physically it was a struggle with my knee, clearly, but more so I felt like I had more hurdles to climb mentally and emotionally," said Saunders, who added that his knee is now "fully healed."
"It was tough to be down in Florida for three or four months, watching the guys have the success they had and just wanting to be a part of that. I think I'll be better for it, for going through something like that."
Saunders didn't see the trade rumour on Twitter -- he's not active on social media -- but he did receive text messages from friends in B.C. asking him what was going on.
He replied: "they're just rumours."
Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins and manager John Gibbons both spoke to Saunders ahead of Tuesday's workouts.
"That's the thing about trade rumours that are unfortunate -- the first thing I think about is the players," Atkins said Tuesday morning. "I immediately communicated with him and said, 'Hey is everything OK? I'm here for you. Is there anything I can do for you?' And he was fine."
Gibbons said he wasn't concerned that Saunders would be distracted by the rumours.
"He'll move past that. He's a very mature guy, I don't think that will be a problem," he said. "Nothing happened, we'll move on. We're glad we have him."
Saunders said he appreciated the conversations with both Atkins and Gibbons. Now he's just focused on the upcoming season.
"Last year was tough for me. I kind of feel like this year is kind of a redemption year," Saunders said. "I was really excited to come here last year and show what I could do and do it with my hometown team. ... I was excited last year but I feel like a kid this year.
"There's a different feel with what I learned last year -- not taking anything for granted, finally being 100 per cent. I'm really looking forward to this year."