Blue Jays ink Maicer Izturis, acquire Jeremy Jeffress

The Jays signed Maicer Izturis to a three-year contract with an option for a fourth year on...

The Jays signed Maicer Izturis to a three-year contract with an option for a fourth year on Thursday. (Alex Gallardo/Reuters/Files)

BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:37 AM ET

INDIAN WELLS, CALIF. - When it came time for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim to pick their starting shortstop in 2008, they chose Maicer Izturis over Erick Aybar.

Angels manager Mike Scioscia and guru Preston Gomez reasoned an infielder (Izturis) making a routine play was better than one (Aybar) making a spectacular play.

Aybar’s maturity and Izturis’ inability to stay healthy meant Izturis became basically a 100-game-a-year player.

Yet, the Jays’ gaping hole at second has made Izturis a rich man as he landed the richest free-agent contract in general manager Alex Anthopoulos’ tenure. Izturis’ signed a three-year, $9-million deal Thursday with an option for a fourth year.

While Anthopoulos has done multi-year deals in the past for his own players — Ricky Romero, Adam Lind — he’s never spent more in the free-agent pool. Previous highs were $4.5 million to Francisco Cordero, which didn’t work out, and $4.5 million guaranteed to lefty Darren Oliver, which did.

Izturis, 32, is the younger half-brother of Cesar Izturis, a former Jay. He has played nine seasons in the majors. He was not happy relegated to a back-up role this season with the Angels.

Outside of his rookie season with the Montreal Expos (yes he was there, going hitless in the final game at the Olympic Stadium, Sept. 29, 2004), in eight years with the Angels he averaged 79 starts a season, appearing in an average of 88 games per year.

A career .273 hitter with a .718 OPS, he ranks among one of the best Angels hitters with men on base. He owns a .306 (195-for-637) average with men in scoring position — fourth among Angels since 1974.

“He was banged up a little,” said Anthopoulos, referring to the hamstring and left forearm injuries the infielder had.

Kelly Johnson is on the free-agent market and Mike Aviles, acquired for manager John Farrell, was sent to the Cleveland Indians as reliever Esmil Rogers joined the Rogers Communications family.

Anthopoulos said there was interest for Aviles and “the Indians weren’t the only team that asked about him.”

“He’s a similar player to Aviles, who has more power,” said Anthopoulos. “The salaries will probably be similar once Mike gets finished with salary arbitration. He was the only guy out there who we thought could do what Mike could do.”

Izturis has made 221 career starts at second, 252 at third and 162 at shortstop.

“A lot of money to pay for a guy who could be a backup infielder,” said a scout from a rival team. “Does it mean they are going to be players this off season and spend, like they always say they are going to spend ... when the time comes?”

The fast sign by quick-draw Anthopoulos might mean that or it might mean that no one else would go as long on a deal for the infielder.

“Going to the third year got it done early,” said Anthopoulos. “There was value to getting it done early.”

JEFFRESS HIGH ON JOINING JAYS

Jeremy Jeffress is ready to come to Toronto.

The wild reliever was acquired from the Kansas City Royals for $20,000.

“The last time I was supposed to go, I couldn’t, I didn’t have my passport,” Jeffress told the Kansas City Star, referring to the Royals’ trip in June. “I’ve got my passport now.”

Locked and loaded ... all he needs to do is to win a spot in the Jays’ bullpen.

Jeffress, 25, a former No. 1 pick of the Milwaukee Brewers in 2006, said Jays assistant Jay Sartori called him with the news.

“He said it’s my job to lose, I’m out of options,” said Jeffress. “They traded for me when they knew I was out of options. They’re looking for good things.

In parts of three seasons with Milwaukee and Kansas City, he had a 4.89 ERA in 37 appearances. Since turning pro, Jeffress has walked 267 and fanned 481 in 460 1/3 innings.

“I’ve played in Dunedin (in the minors), I’ve been to their spring training facility. I’m excited,” said Jeffress.

Jeffress, designated for assignment by the Royals last week, leaves Tuesday for winter ball Venezuela.

“It’s the equivalent of a waiver claim, there’s really no downside,” said general manager Alex Anthopoulos.

Well ...

Jeffress has tested positive for marijuana twice. If a minor-leaguer is suspended a third time he could be wearing the suspenders for a year, under the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.

If a player on a 40-man roster tests positive for drug abuse, he enrolls part in a treatment program. Jeffress is currently on the Jays’ 40-man roster.

The Jays designated lefty Scott Maine for assignment to make room.

NO UPTON

Don’t expect to see Justin Upton of the Arizona Diamondbacks coming to Toronto. He has a no-trade list which consists of four teams, the Jays and the Red Sox are on his new list.

MORE MONEY

Left-fielder Jason Bay hit the open market Wednesday when the New York Mets bought him out of next year’s contract. After hitting .165 with eight home runs and 20 RBIs in 70 games, Bay, a native of Trail, B.C., gets the $19 million US owed on his contract and is free to earn anything he can with a new deal. Most released players are paid the minimum by their new team, with their former team playing the rest of the contract.


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