The last word

The Blue Jays shelled out big bucks to keep Carlos Delgado in Toronto . It was a wise move, one which may herald a return to the club's glory days.

By BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

NEW YORK -- Some 54 weeks ago, the Blue Jays were in the early stages of trade talks with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Right fielder Shawn Green, a year away from free agency, had told Toronto management he would not sign a long-term deal and wanted to return home to Los Angeles .

The Dodgers wanted to include first baseman Eric Karros in the deal -- if the Jays included Carlos Delgado.

On Nov. 9, Green was dealt for right fielder Raul Mondesi and reliever Pedro Borbon.

It's a good thing the Jays chose not to include Delgado, too.

Rogers Communications put its "yes, we are serious about owning this team" stamp on the Jays yesterday by making Delgado the highest-paid player in baseball.

Delgado signed a four-year, $68-million US contract and the existing two years remaining on the old deal were torn up.

A year ago, the Jays signed Delgado to a three-year deal, as David Sloane, Delgado's agent, came up with a creative "opt-out" clause which bought a year to talk about a long-term package.

Delgado, too, was unsure of re-signing with the Jays, partly because of a previously shaky relationship with former manager and new hitting coach Cito Gaston, as well questions about the direction the team was taking under the old ownership.

Regarding the ownership front, well, ding-dong, the witch is dead. Interbrew SA no longer runs the team via New York lawyer Alan Chapin through Labatt. Now there is local ownership with deep pockets.

Besides all that money -- $103 million Cdn -- the Jays shelled out, Delgado's deal also includes a no-trade clause.

So is this the start of a spending spree? Well, you don't waste money on a chapel unless you're going to have a wedding. Are the Blue Jays returning to the high-rent district of big spenders?

"I don't think anyone in baseball, whether you are in this division or elsewhere, looks upon Toronto as a club heading in a new direction," Chuck LaMarr, Tampa Bay 's general manager, said. "The team gained tremendous respect because of all its young players. I know they may not have won many games, but they are on the verge of being a good team.

"We don't look at a new commitment of money or new ownership differently. They could win our division any year -- next year or this year."

Now, the Jays aren't wondering where their players are headed, save for free-agent shortstop Alex Gonzalez, catcher Darrin Fletcher and right-hander Frank Castillo. Both the Houston Astros and the Dodgers are interested in Gonzalez.

Everyone else is signed to a long-term deal or under control.
Delgado's signing boosts Toronto 's payroll to roughly $60 million US for 2001 without adding a player and they still need to sign a shortstop and a catcher.

The Delgado deal raised the bar and will impact future negotiations, as the Cleveland Indians attempt to re-sign slugging outfielder Manny Ramirez and as the Colorado Rockies continue their talks on a four-year extension with first baseman Todd Helton.

New president and CEO Paul Godfrey called the Delgado signing "a return to the glory days" for the Blue Jays and, to underline his point, brought along Tom Henke to the Toronto news conference. The Jays could have used a reliable arm like Henke's in the bullpen this past season.

Delgado led the American League in doubles (57) total bases (378) and extra-base hits (99). He finished fourth with a .344 average, tied for seventh with 41 homers and tied for fifth with 137 RBIs.

However, not every team was happy with the signing.

"They're paying Carlos Delgado more than Chipper Jones? Who is his agent -- he's a good one," said one executive. "Jones won an MVP for Atlanta ... I thought that would be the ceiling for position players until Alex Rodriguez."

You'd have to go back to 1991 when the Jays signed Jack Morris, to recall the last time teams complained about the Jays' spending habits.

In Toronto , though, Mr. Rogers' neighbourhood became a lot more stable yesterday.