Izturis thrust into competition at second base

Early acquisition signed before flurry of moves, now battling for starting job

Izturis thrust into competition at second base

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- When the Blue Jays agreed to sign infielder Maicer Izturis in November, they never could have envisioned just how eventful their offseason was about to become.

General manager Alex Anthopoulos made Izturis an early target after evaluating the free-agent market and realizing there weren't many reliable options up the middle.

The goal was to strike quickly and get Izturis under contract before other teams could swoop in and leave the Blue Jays scrambling. There were no internal options, and the starting job appeared to be his, even though the organization made a point of not saying exactly that.

"We told him we're not going to promise you anything, we're not going to guarantee you anything," Anthopoulos said. "What we will promise is the chance to compete. We didn't foresee bringing in an All-Star-caliber second baseman, we knew we were going to have to spend our money in the rotation.

"We weren't going to guarantee him everyday ABs, but with the contract and the fact that he can play all of those positions, we figured he would get playing time one way or the other."

What Anthopoulos didn't envision at the time of the deal with Izturis was just how quickly things would change for the Blue Jays. Several days after verbally agreeing to the deal, Toronto opened trade discussions with Miami that would eventually lead to a dramatic overhaul of the roster.

The negotiations with the Marlins originally centered around right-hander Josh Johnson but then expanded to include Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle. One of the final pieces added to the puzzle was Emilio Bonifacio, who came up through Miami's system as a second baseman.

All of a sudden, Izturis' starting job was no longer guaranteed. The club quickly labeled him the early front-runner, but manager John Gibbons recently appeared to downgrade that assertion by saying the position was "up for grabs."

In a Spring Training that is void of major storylines -- because the 25-man roster is almost locked in -- second base has become the position to watch. But even if Izturis does not prove to be the eventual winner, that doesn't mean Anthopoulos will regret the signing.

"He's just a smart, heady player," Anthopoulos said of Izturis, who is set to earn $10 million over three years. "The price had to be right, too. I think it was priced right in that area between 'could be an everyday player, could be utility.' It gave us the flexibility that, either way, the contract was still going to work."

There were several other factors at play when Anthopoulos and his front-office staff opted to make a run at Izturis. Toronto was coming off a 2012 season in which it had the fifth-most strikeouts in the American League.

Last year's starting second baseman, Kelly Johnson, was the biggest culprit as he struck out 159 times in 507 at-bats. That was seventh highest in the AL and tied Jose Canseco for the worst mark in franchise history.

Since the Blue Jays were looking to find ways to make more contact and Johnson was a pending free agent, their parting of ways was a foregone conclusion. That's where Izturis enters the mix, as he struck out just 38 times last year and for his career has been rung up only 313 times in 2,613 at-bats.

"He can draw a walk, he can put the ball in play, he can run," Anthopoulos said of Izturis, who owns a career .337 on-base percentage. "Doing all of those things, and then also defensively he's a pretty good defensive player as well, he's a good teammate.

"So you add all of it, you guys watched just as much as I did last year, we struck out a lot, so we tried to get more contact in the lineup wherever we could."

The final component of Toronto's decision to sign Izturis was the way players with similar skill sets appear to age. There are multiple examples across the Major Leagues of middle infielders playing well into their late-30s.

Izturis will be 35 when his contract expires in Toronto -- 36 if the club option in 2016 is picked up -- and while that may be concerning for other players, it's not for the slick fielder, according to Anthopoulos.

The willingness to commit to Izturis long term also is what made all of the difference during the negotiations. Other teams were offering only two-year deals, but the Blue Jays were willing to guarantee three as long as the deal could get signed quickly.

Perhaps with a little bit of fear that the offer might disappear over time, Izturis opted not to wait for other teams to enter the bidding. Instead, he went with the sure thing and the possibility of a lot of playing time in Toronto.

"You look at some of these other [infielders], whether it's Willie Bloomquist, John McDonald, they have long careers," Anthopoulos said. "They get to 36, 37, 38, they just keep going. That was the thought.

"We figured everyone was going to be at a two-year deal on him. At 32 years old, we weren't afraid of the third year because of the track record of the guys in that spot."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.