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Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos chose not to wheel and deal on deadline day. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette (Nathan Denette/CP)
Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos chose not to wheel and deal on deadline day. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette (Nathan Denette/CP)

JEFF BLAIR

Jays send message - in writing - to poachers Add to ...

First it was five-year contract to get a pitcher, Ricky Romero, signed and now it’s a hands-off policy regarding lateral moves to keep John Farrell as manager. So when do the Toronto Blue Jays blow up another of Paul Beeston’s tenets and offer Prince Fielder that 10-year, $180-million to $200-million (all currency U.S.) free-agent contract?

The length and volume of Beeston’s laugh on Tuesday in response to that latter question said it all. “I would not think you’d see that,” he said. Still, neither did the Blue Jays president and chief executive officer think he’d have to issue a formal announcement such as he did Tuesday: “Due to the distraction caused by media speculation regarding our employee permission policy, the Toronto Blue Jays have amended their policy and will not grant permission for lateral moves.” In writing, for Pete’s sake!

Two days after a story in The Boston Globe said that the Boston Red Sox still viewed Farrell as its preferred choice to replace departed manager Terry Francona, Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos was clear: Blue Jays employees will not be able to make lateral moves, even if compensation is offered. “Totally … 100 per cent … it’s exactly the way it reads,” Anthopoulos said.

So Farrell will spend 2012 is the Blue Jays dugout, unless the Red Sox or Chicago Cubs want to make him a front office executive – and there had better be no nudge-nudge, wink-wink do it for a year and we’ll move you back into a manager’s job.

The Blue Jays were like the vast majority of pro sports teams in that they didn’t stand in the way of employees being courted for promotions. And now they will be in lock-step with everyone else when it comes to lateral moves, after Anthopoulos’ suggestion two weeks ago that because of a policy instituted by Blue Jays founding fathers such as Peter Hardy and Beeston – and revived when Beeston replaced Paul Godfrey – any Blue Jays employee was open to approach from another team without prejudice or compensation.

That policy worked back in more honourable times – when the Blue Jays were winning World Series or were at least playoff contenders and had among the highest payrolls in baseball. But now all bets are off. And, yes, there are people in the Blue Jays front office who believe informal approaches had been made to Farrell.

“The game has changed,” Beeston said Tuesday. “When I started with the Blue Jays none of us even had contracts. I just felt that it was time to put this to bed, so we changed our policy. We’re all on board with this, including John [Farrell]”

Anthopoulos still speaks of the Blue Jays adhering to “core values,” and referenced discussions with Beeston in the summer of 2010 leading up to the signing of Romero’s five-year, $30.1-million deal with a club option for a sixth season. “Paul had a long-standing policy that if you pitched, you wouldn’t get more than three years,” Anthopoulos said. “We adjusted it when we did Romero’s contract. But it took time. Pat Gillick had the same policy in Philadelphia … but he changed, too.”

In the end, Anthopoulos sold Beeston by pointing out it wasn’t a free-agent deal at all, that it just ensured cost certainty for a player in which the organization had already invested time and money. It was an approach that bore fruit in February when Beeston signed off on Jose Bautista’s five-year, $65-million contract with a club option for a sixth year. That deal was struck a year ahead of free agency.

Beeston did not argue when it was suggested that holding firm, at not guaranteeing anything beyond five years, effectively removed the Blue Jays from pursuing top free agents, that even offering six-year money spread over five won’t cut it. “You can’t mortgage your franchise,” he said in a statement that left no room for argument.

At any rate, while the debate will continue about how the Blue Jays go about getting people to come here, at least this morning the plan for retaining them is clearer.

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