Alex Rios and Reed Johnson know their roles with the 2007 Toronto Blue Jays. Scott Downs doesn't know what his role will be - but one thing all three have in common is they will avoid an arbitration hearing with the team after agreeing to terms of one-year contracts Friday.
Rios, slated to be the Opening Day right-fielder, will make $2.535 million (all figures U.S.) after submitting a salary request of $3.1 million compared to the Blue Jays offer of $2 million.
Johnson, the Blue Jays left fielder and lead-off hitter who will make $3.075 million, submitted a salary request of $3.6 million, but the Blue Jays countered with $2.5 million. Downs, who settled at $1.025 million, asked for $1.2 million, compared to the Blue Jays offer of $925,000.
The Blue Jays haven't gone to an arbitration hearing with a player since 1997, when the team beat pitcher Bill Risley.
Rios and Johnson had career years in 2006. Rios, who missed a month with a staph infection in his leg, was an American League All-Star. Johnson's .319 batting average led the Blue Jays and he had a .390 on-base percentage.
For now, Downs is ticketed for a bullpen spot. But manager John Gibbons intimated recently he might also use the left-hander as a starter in spring training, seeing him as a potential candidate for the fourth and fifth starter's vacancies along with the likes of Tomo Ohka, John Thomson, Shaun Marcum, Casey Janssen, Josh Towers and possibly Victor Zambrano.
Ohka, Thomson and Zambrano all have health issues.
Downs won six games in 2006 when he made a career-high 59 appearances. His earned run average was 4.09 overall but 2.77 in relief.
Both Rios and Johnson were the subject of trade rumours during the winter as the Blue Jays tried to address the gap in their starting rotation created by the departure of Ted Lilly. Rios, in particular, attracted the interest of teams but not enough that clubs were willing to part with the kind of young starting pitching the Blue Jays needed.
"It was just tough to get value for value in the market," a club source said. "Nobody was going to give up a pitcher with two years service time for a player with two years service time. One's worth way more than the other the way the market is these days."
It is not out of the question that the Blue Jays would still deal either Johnson or Rios for pitching help. Injuries do happen in spring training, and the club has a left-hand hitting outfielder (Adam Lind) who is on the cusp of the majors, although indications lately are that the Blue Jays would not mind him starting out at Triple-A Syracuse and playing every day.