10/28/2003 5:55 PM ET
Catalanotto signs one-year deal
By Spencer Fordin / MLB.com
Frank Catalanotto hit .299 last season. (Mark Duncan/AP)
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays kept busy on Tuesday, announcing their second re-signing in as many days. This time, Frank Catalanotto was welcomed back into the fold with a one-year contract worth $2.3 million.
The outfielder, who signed with Toronto last December, still wasn't eligible for free agency. The Jays were only able to originally acquire him because Texas didn't offer him a contract, and his new team learned from that mistake. Catalanotto hit .299 last season and figures in as Toronto's regular left fielder and likely leadoff hitter.
"I wanted to be with the Blue Jays. I wasn't sure whether they were going to offer me a contract or not," he said. "I don't think anyone is looking forward to being on that list."
With that comment, Catalanotto was referring to the list of non-tendered players who will come out in late December. He said that if he had held out for more cash or an arbitration hearing, he could've been on the outside looking in. Last season, Catalanotto didn't sign until the day before New Year's Eve, and he said it was an uncomfortable situation.
In the weeks after that, he said that he kept track of several similar players on the open market. The lesson he learned, he shared in a Tuesday conference call, was that nearly all of them signed for less than they were worth. That made this year's decision -- his last before full-blown free agency -- an easy one.
"If I would've gone to arbitration, there's no doubt I would've done better monetarily. But I don't know whether I would've made it to arbitration," he said. "[That's] a lot of money. I'm not going to complain about it. I'm just happy to be back with the Jays."
This deal comes 24 hours after the team retained Greg Myers, who had a career season for Toronto in 2002. Catalanotto, much like Myers, allows the Jays to take it slow with some of their prized prospects. Next year, the Blue Jays will probably have three former first-round picks patrolling the outfield at Triple-A Syracuse -- Gabe Gross, Alexis Rios and John-Ford Griffin.
"That team is going to be loaded with prospects. We're not going to rush them here," said J.P. Ricciardi, Toronto's general manager, in his season-ending press conference. "It would be nice to have Frank hold the fort down for them for a year or two."
Frank Catalanotto / LF
Blue Jays site
Now, that's exactly what they'll get. Catalanotto set career highs in several categories last season, including home runs (13), runs (83), doubles (34) and extra-base hits (53). The left-handed hitter will likely sit down against southpaw pitchers, giving some playing time to Reed Johnson, but otherwise he'll set the table for Carlos Delgado and company.
His skilled batting eye and consistent hitting stroke make him a no-brainer at the top of the lineup, but Catalanotto refuses to assume anything. He said that he has experience at the top of the order, though, and that he could adjust quickly to whatever spot the team wants him in.
"I like being at the top of the lineup, whether it's batting first or second. The year I hit .330, I was actually batting leadoff," he said, referring to the 2001 season.
That season may have been the high-water mark, but Catalanotto's career batting average (.297) is still pretty impressive. In fact, most of the downside regarding his career, as limited as it is, centers around his health. He's had back problems in the past, and last year, he was concerned that SkyDome's artificial playing surface might aggravate that injury. After playing on it for a full season, he has a more informed opinion.
"I thought it might be, but as far as health was concerned, I was pretty much fine all year," he said. "It didn't bother me like I thought it would."
Another health-related issue did bother him, though. Catalanotto has had two laser-corrective surgeries designed to help his eyesight, and he went through a span last season where he thought he might need a third. The ailment, which kept him from picking up the spin on incoming pitches, has been fixed with some eyedrops normally prescribed for glaucoma patients.
He said that he'll likely see his doctor again in late December or early January to decide if another surgery is in the offing. Otherwise, he'll just go about his business, getting ready for Spring Training. The outfielder said that watching an unheralded team like the Florida Marlins go all the way to glory has pumped him up about next season.
Last year was his first run with a winning team, which only succeeded in whetting his appetite. Catalanotto said he doesn't see any reason why the Jays can't pick up where the Anaheim Angels and Marlins left off. More to the point, he said he's never been in a more fun-filled clubhouse. Those reasons -- and several others -- explain why coming back to Toronto was his best-case scenario.
I think this is a good move for Catalanotto and the Jays.