Will Blue Jays take a pass on extensions?

Colby Rasmus swings July 31, 2013, in Oakland, Calif. (Eric Risberg/AP)
February 5, 2014, 8:12 AM

The Toronto Blue Jays’ off-seasons have ranged from uneventful to hyper-aggressive under Alex Anthopoulos, but one consistent pattern has emerged: the GM has signed at least one player to a contract extension during each of his first four winters as GM.

Adam Lind signed a four-year deal in 2010, as Anthopoulos’s first off-season on the job was ending. The next year it was Rajai Davis and Jose Bautista. In 2012 the Blue Jays extended right-handers Brandon Morrow, Casey Janssen, and Dustin McGowan. Last year Josh Thole and J.A. Happ obtained extensions.

So who’s next? Though the Blue Jays have a number of extension candidates on their roster, Anthopoulos could take a pass on completing an off-season extension  for the first time since he was named GM in 2009.

The eight off-season extensions Anthopoulos has completed suggest he targets arbitration eligible players instead of veterans or rookies. In the past he hasn’t hesitated to lock up role players as well as stars.

Colby Rasmus, Brett Cecil and Esmil Rogers were the Blue Jays’ arbitration-eligible players this year, yet there’s no indication that extension talks have taken place. The Blue Jays seem increasingly willing to wait.

“With the payroll we have we’re able to wait now with extending players and we don’t have to rush into it,” Anthopoulos recently said. “We always have the ability to have dialogue and we certainly have the resources to sign these guys.

“Hopefully Colby comes out and has a great year, hopefully he’s here for a long time, but if we do engage, that’s something we would keep private unless we were to announce something.”

Extending Rasmus would cost upwards of $50 million, and could push the Blue Jays’ five-year policy to its limit. The centre fielder’s agency, Excel Sports Management, recently brokered deals of $100-million plus for Freddie Freeman, Clayton Kershaw and Masahiro Tanaka. Now that Rasmus is just one season removed from a potentially massive free agent payday, his representatives may advise him to test the open market unless the Blue Jays make an offer he can’t refuse.

Instead of spending big on the 27-year-old, the Blue Jays could adopt the strategy preferred by large-market teams such as the New York Yankees and wait.

“We don’t mind paying a little more to be sure we get a little more information,” Anthopoulos said at the Winter Meetings in December. “I think we’re getting to that position now.”

A reliever such as Cecil could also be a candidate for an extension, but recent history suggests he might need some patience. In the period since Anthopoulos became GM, 11 relievers with four-plus years of service have signed extensions and just one — Kyle Kendrick — signed with three-plus years of service. Cecil, who has three-plus years of service, may have to show the Blue Jays he can stay healthy and effective for another year before obtaining additional security.

The same likely goes for Rogers, who’s in the same service class as Cecil. That said, the Blue Jays are flexible with the timing of the deals.

“We’ve done extensions at any time,” Anthopoulos said. “We’ve done guys with two years of control left, one year, three months left. We’ve been all over the place. We have the ability to do it. Sometimes it’s just the right time.”

The team’s stance means Brett Lawrie may have to play the waiting game. The aggressiveness that led to early-career deals for the likes of Lind, Aaron Hill, Vernon Wells and Ricky Romero has diminished, and the Blue Jays may prefer to see more from their pre-arbitration eligible players before making a substantial commitment.

In other words, it could be a quiet year for Blue Jays extensions. Rasmus would be expensive, and their other arbitration-eligible players are far enough from the open market to give Anthopoulos the option of passing on contract extension season for the first time in his tenure as GM.

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Blue Jays Off-Season Extensions Under Anthopoulos

J.A. Happ – March, 2013 – one year, $5.4 million

Josh Thole – January, 2013 –  two years, $2.5 million

Dustin McGowan – March, 2012 – two years, $3.5 million

Casey Janssen – February, 2012 – two years, $5.9 million

Brandon Morrow – January, 2012 – three years, $21 million

Jose Bautista – February, 2011 – five years, $65 million

Rajai Davis – January, 2011 – two years, $5.75 million

Adam Lind – April, 2010 – four years, $18 million

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