Blue Jays, McDonald reach deal

Blue Jays, McDonald reach deal

TORONTO -- John McDonald had no illusions of being the Blue Jays' full-time shortstop when he signed a two-year contract to remain with the ballclub. The veteran is fully aware that general manager Alex Anthopoulos' search for a starter at the position is ongoing.

"It's Alex's job to try to make this club better any way he can," McDonald said on Wednesday evening. "Finding another shortstop is definitely something that's on Alex's plate."

Keeping McDonald in the fold through the 2011 season with a contract worth $3 million provides the Blue Jays with depth around the infield, but it does not solve the situation at shortstop. If needed, McDonald has the ability to step up as a starter, but his intended role is as a utility player off the bench.

While discussing the deal, Anthopoulos confirmed that he is searching for a starting shortstop for 2010. The rookie GM indicated that the hole will likely be filled through free agency, providing the club with a short-term solution. He hopes to have a deal completed soon.

"We're still actively looking for help at shortstop," Anthopoulos said. "At this stage I feel like we're making great strides and getting close to trying to get something done. I probably can't get into any more specifics than that right now."

The Blue Jays have a familiar option in free agent Marco Scutaro, who can likely net multiyear offers after putting together a career year in 2009 as Toronto's leadoff man and shortstop. Scutaro has drawn interest from the Red Sox, among other teams, and it is looking more and more as though he will not re-sign with the Jays.

"We'd still love to have him back," Anthopoulos said. "It looks like, if we are going to have him back, it'll probably be on a one-year deal. Right now, with respect to our negotiations with Marco, they've really stalled more than anything else."

That would seem to indicate that the Blue Jays only plan on offering Scutaro a one-year arbitration offer. Considering that Scutaro is eligible as a Type A free agent, Toronto would receive a pair of compensatory picks in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft if Scutaro declines arbitration and elects to sign with a new team.

When Toronto traded for Scutaro in November 2007, the organization did not anticipate him developing into a Type A player. That being the case, the Blue Jays may be content with taking the extra selections in what will be an important first Draft for Anthopoulos. Extra picks also help if the Jays sign a high-profile shortstop this winter.

The options are limited through free agency, but that is Anthopoulos' focus.

"Right now we're more active from a free-agent standpoint," he said. "We're still actively looking for someone we feel can solidify the position from a starting standpoint for years to come. When you look with respect to free agents, obviously, they're older guys and probably not someone you're potentially going to have for an extended period.

"Right now, currently, it's more going to be a short-term type of fit that we're actively going after in the free-agent market."

Miguel Tejada and Orlando Cabrera -- both Type A free agents -- are the two best starting shortstops on the open market. Cabrera could also fill the leadoff role vacated by Scutaro. Second-tier options, and ones that would not cost Toronto any Draft picks, include such players as Alex Gonzalez and Adam Everett.

As the Jays listen to trade offers for ace pitcher Roy Halladay, they will likely target top shortstop prospects as part of potential packages in an effort to address an organizational need, as they do not have a big league-ready shortstop in the farm system. The Jays claimed infielder Mike McCoy off waivers earlier this winter, but Anthopoulos admitted that it is not clear if shortstop is McCoy's best position.

"There's no question, long-term, [shortstop is] a position of need," Anthopoulos said. "We have some players that are far away. We still don't know. ... To find someone who can play premium shortstop at the big league level, even in a utility role, it's tough to find."

That is a main reason for Anthopoulos wanting to retain the 35-year-old McDonald, who has become a fan favorite over the course of his five seasons with Toronto.

McDonald is widely considered to be one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball, and he can also man second and third base. Last year the strong seasons turned in by Scutaro and second baseman Aaron Hill kept McDonald on the bench for long stretches, but the veteran was always accepting of his role.

Over just 73 games, McDonald hit .258 with four home runs and 13 RBIs, but it's not his skills in the batter's box that make him important to the Blue Jays. Beyond providing Toronto with a skilled defender at multiple spots around the diamond, McDonald serves as a mentor to other infielders in the Jays' system.

"I'd love to play more," McDonald said, "but I also look forward to helping mentor some of the younger kids that have been in our organization, some younger players that will look to be the future of the organization."

McDonald said that he received one multiyear contract offer from another team and also had a handful of one-year proposals on the table, adding that "the grass is not always greener on the other side."

For Anthopoulos, McDonald's work ethic and attitude made it easy to offer a two-year deal.

"He prepares as hard and as well as anybody that I've been around," Anthopoulos said. "[I think] that he's going to have a long career in this role because of how diligently he does prepare, how much he cares, the example he sets for the younger players. That's why, at his age, he still plays outstanding defense, and we expect him to continue to do so."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.