Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos opened his year-end news conference Monday by refusing to get into details of his contract status before targeting impending free-agent pitchers David Price and Marco Estrada as priority signings.
Anthopoulos' contact expires on Saturday, one day before new president Mark Shapiro takes over from Paul Beeston.
"This isn't the day to discuss that," Anthopoulos told reporters at the Rogers Centre, three days after his team was ousted in Game 6 of the American League Championships Series to the Kansas City Royals. "It has been my decision because of the playoff run. That will be addressed at the appropriate time. I didn't want that [contract status] as a distraction."
Anthopoulos's future will obviously have a huge impact on where the franchise goes from here. It's also unclear what kind of stamp Shapiro wants to put on the team, which leads to more questions than answers right now.
Will Shapiro keep the team's policy of five-year maximum deals? Will the club's overall salary go up or down? Does Shapiro plan to bring in his own people or will Anthopoulos, manager John Gibbons and the rest of the coaching staff remain?
Expect things to become clearer over the next few weeks as Shapiro gets settled in.
The talk later shifted Price and Estrada.
After coming to Toronto at the trade deadline, Price made an immediate impact on the team and city. The Cy Young Award candidate put together a 9-1 record, with a stellar 2.30 ERA during the stretch run that helped the Jays secure the American League East title for the first time in 22 years.
However, his post-season performance was a rocky one as he failed to register a win in three starts.
Price won't be easy to sign, nor will he come cheap.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs, both teams likely to spend significant money during free agency, have been mentioned as possible suitors for Price's services. Dodgers Cy Young candidate Zack Greinke has reportedly opted out of his contract, leaving Los Angeles with Clayton Kershaw as the only top-end pitcher at the front of the rotation.
Should Price decide to sign with the Cubs, he would be reunited with Joe Maddon, who managed him when the two were with the Tampa Bay Rays.
With high-profile teams vying to sign Price, the contract is expected to come close to the one Kershaw locked in with the Dodgers in 2014 as he signed a record seven-year, $215-million deal.
"He was great for us … can't say enough," Anthopoulos said of Price. "He pitched four times against [the] New York [Yankees] and won three. He was a huge part of us winning the division. We have strong interest in bringing David back. I think we'll be in the game, but again, with free agency we don't know. I think it's fair to say he'll get a lot of interest from other teams."
Estrada left indelible mark on fans
Estrada didn't start the season in the Jays' rotation but the soft-spoken Mexican left an indelible mark with the team and the fans.
Estrada, acquired on Nov. 1, 2014 for infielder Adam Lind, was Toronto's most reliable starter, going 13-8 with a solid 3.13 ERA in 181 innings. But it's the post-season where Estrada increased his value on the open market. The right-hander went 2-1, with his two wins coming on games where the Jays were facing elimination.
Facing a 3-1 series deficit to the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series, Estrada pitched the game of his life, throwing 7 2/3 innings, allowing only one run and three hits in a 7-1 win.
"I was in on Sunday, talked to him [and] I reiterated to him that we liked to have him back," Anthopoulos said of Estrada. "Hopeful he's going to be here going forward. We're going to do everything we can to have him back here."
Anthopoulos also has a number of players who currently do not have contracts with the club for next season, including Mark Buehrle, Mark Lowe, LaTroy Hawkins, Cliff Pennington and Dioner Navarro.
The organization must also decide on club options for Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnación, R.A. Dickey and Maicer Izturis.
Anthopoulos also made a point to give Gibbons credit for leading the team to an East title despite injuries and early-season bullpen issues.
"I can't give him enough credit for the way he kept it together," he said. "Really it was a reflection too of the way that clubhouse was handled day in and day out. Even if we were under .500, the mood stayed the same."
The team's second-half surge led to regular sellouts and record television ratings. Baseball was finally back in a big way in Toronto.
"It's the talk of the league. It's been the talk of the players. I think we put Toronto back on the map," Anthopoulos said. "And really I think we put the sport in Canada back on the map. That's in direction correlation (to and is) really a credit to the fans."