Ross Atkins tight-lipped on Jose Bautista contract talks
Talk of slugger's career gets Jays GM 'fired up'
Toronto Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins is keeping his lips sealed when it comes to contract negotiations and trade rumours.
Atkins addressed the media Tuesday morning at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium, a day after slugger Jose Bautista said he had recently given management his terms on any potential contract extension. The availability also focused on reports from Monday night that the Blue Jays were set to move outfielder Michael Saunders in a three-team trade before things fell apart due to medical concerns involving a prospect included in the deal.
"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.
According to reports, Toronto was set to ship Saunders to the Los Angeles Angels with Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jay Bruce coming to the Blue Jays. At least one minor-leaguer was also set to switch clubs in the three-team deal.
Trade talks unravel
The initial speculation was that Saunders, who injured his knee during last year's spring training and was limited to just nine games with the Blue Jays in 2015, was the problem. But reports later indicated that the medical issue involved a prospect.
Atkins said he had spoken with Saunders about the ordeal personally.
"That's the thing about trade rumours that are unfortunate – the first thing I think about is the players," Atkins said. "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. He was great and he'll be working out today."
Bautista got the news cycle churning Monday with his comments about negotiations for a potential extension. Bautista, who could become a free agent at season's end, said he felt he has outperformed the five-year, $65-million contract he signed after his breakout season in 2010.
He didn't disclose the dollars or term he was seeking. Atkins wouldn't reveal anything specific about Bautista's comments or about the recent meeting he had with the all-star right-fielder.
Jose Bautista on report he asked for $150m over five years: "False." <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BlueJays?src=hash">#BlueJays</a>—@ShiDavidi
"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."
In the off-season, the Blue Jays picked up the 2016 option on Bautista's contract for $14 million.
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.