Shapiro upbeat, Anthopoulos, Axford, Francis Lawrie, Rutckyj, Wolfe

By Bob Elliott

NASHVILLE _ For a man who has seen one rival improve greatly and another division improve, new Blue Jays Mark Shapiro was upbeat on Wednesday.

No matter that the Boston Red Sox have added lefty ace David Price plus experienced closer Craig Kimbrel ...

Big whoop that the New York Yankees have acquired second baseman, Starlin Castro and outfielder Aaron Hicks without dealing a member of their 1-2 bullpen knock-out bullpen punch of Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances ...

President Shapirio, in the first presidential briefing since Paul Godfrey signed free agent Alex Gonzalez at the 2000 winter meeting in Dallas, told reporters that:

_ The Blue Jays payroll is going up an unspecified amount compared to last year.

_ This year’s rotation (Marucs Stroman, Marco Estrada, J.A. Happ, R.A. Dickey, Drew Hutchison or Jesse Chavez) to start the season is better than last year’s (Hutchison, Dickey, Daniel Norris, Mark Buehrle and Aaron Sanchez).

_ He has three of the best relievers in the game (Roberto Osuna, Brett Cecil and Sanchez) and one of the best lefty specialists in the game (Aaron Loup).

_ Drew Hutchison, 25, who wasn’t on either post-season roster, was in demand explaining a number of clubs had called inquiring about the right-hander’s availability in trade talks, indicating a bounce-back season was expected 

_ It was shocking to look at the triple-A depth chart up on the board.

“We had five blanks in the Buffalo rotation,” Shapiro said. “And usually you don’t get a lot of results from guys named blank.”

Aside from lefty Matt Blank (2000-01 Montreal Expos) and Fred Blank (1894 Cincinnati Reds) of course. 

_ Shapiro said that significant progress had been made to making the team better on one player and some progress on another player.

Who knew?

A couple of hours later Rogers Sportsnet reported that the Jays had added infielder Darwin Barney, 29. He hit .259 with one homer and two RBIs (15 games with the Jays and two games with the Los Angeles Dodgers). 

Surely there was more to the day than that?

Or was that all there is?

It was thought maybe the Jays were chasing San Francisco Giants free-agent reliever Yusmeiro Petit. Nope. He signed with the Washington Nationals. 

Oh, and one other thing, Shapiro is “excited that Edwin Encarnacion in the lineup for 2016.” 

Shapiro said if Encarnacion puts up big numbers, if the team does well, if the team wins, then the Jays will be able to re-sign Encanracion. The problem is if Encarnacion sticks with his opening day deadline the Jays won’t know any numbers: crowd, wins or how the DH performs.

“We have some things to take care of,” Shapiro said, explaining why there is not any planned meeting with Encarnacion’s agent Paul Kinzer, citing the presidental’s “1,000 balls in the air” line.

“To be successful you have to prioritize, extensions are looming but, we have to fill some spots on this team,” Shapiro said. “To have the best team possible, to ensure the best source of revenue, the most excitement, we need to focus on 2016.”

Shapiro said come spring training and past the salary arbitration dates (in February), there would be contractual issues to think abut before the start of the season.

“We’re not in that part of the cycle right now,” he said. “The underlying desire is to keep a player here and we’re going to be open-minded to finding a deal that does that.”


HALLWAY PASSING: Super agent Joel Wolfe was walking in the hallway with a Toronto writer as they approached former Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi.

Wolfe: “I’m lobbying to see if I can get ahead of Alex Anthopoulos on the 2015 top 101 most influential Canadians in baseball list.”

Ricciardi: “Alex should have his name on the ring of honor (Level of Excellence).”


RE-NAMING RIGHTS: An opposing scout asked “how things were covering the Cleveland Jostens?”

Both new pres Shapiro and GM Ross Atkins are former Cleveland Indians, while the Jostens reference refers to the ring company catering to college and high school graduation classes -- not World Series rings, usually commissioned by Tiffany & Co. and the L.G. Balfour Company. 


SIGNING: A year ago John Axford signed a one-year $2.6 million deal with the Oakland A’s. After going 4-5 with a 4.20 ERA in 60 games he signed a two-year $10 million deal with the Oakland A’s. Axford walked 32 and struck out 62 in 55 2/3 innings and had 25 saves in 31 chances (81%).


TALKING: The Chicago White Sox are attempting to acquire infielder Brett Lawrie, of Langley, B.C. from the Oakland ... Former Jay Adam Lind was dealt by the Milwaukee Brewers to the Seattle Mariners ... The Jays spoke to reliever Trevor Cahill, 27 (1-3, 5.40 in 26 games combined between the Atlanta Braves and the Chicago Cubs) before Cahill signed with Cubs pending a medical ... Jays select 21st in the Rule V draft Thursday morn.


BRIEFLY: Windsor lefty Evan Rutckyj, 23, a New York Yankees farmhand is expected to be selected in the Rlve V draft, once a staple of the Blue Jays building process. This year Rutckyj was 1-0, with one save and a 3.06 at Double-A Trenton as well as 2-2, 2.45 at single A Tampa. Combined he was 3-2 with a 3.50 ERA in 36 games ... Lefty Jeff Francis, 34, a key piece of Canada’s gold medal winning team at the Pan Am Games, has decided not to pitch next season. He will become the eighth member of Baseball Canada’s Wall of Excellence, presented by RBC Wealth Management at the annual fund raiser Jan. 9 ... Toronto catcher Maxx Tissenbaum of the Brisbane Bandits former Stony Brook Seawolves was named to the Australia League all-star team. He hit .402 with a homer, 12 RBIs and a .402 average in 23 games.