After rapping the knuckles of his agent for trying to play hardball with the Toronto Blue Jays, veteran reliever Darren Oliver says he welcomes the opportunity to return to a team reconstructed for a playoff run.
The American League club announced Wednesday the 42-year-old will honour the final part of the two-year deal he signed prior to the 2012 baseball season.
And with all the eye-popping moves Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos made during the off-season, Oliver believes the opportunity to win a World Series ring appears closer than ever for a pitcher whose career has spanned 19 seasons.
"Obviously, at this point in my career, I want to be a part of that," Oliver said during a telephone conference call with reporters. "I've been playing for a long time and I'm still chasing the ring.
"I've been close to it a few times. I'd definitely love to walk away with one on my hand."
The left-handed specialist enjoyed a great 2012 with the Blue Jays, posting a 2.06 earned-run average, the lowest of his career, and tied for third best in the AL for pitchers with a minimum of 50 innings of work.
He held opponents to a .214 batting average, including a miserly .196 mark against right-handed hitters, going 3-4 in 56 2/3 innings.
"It blows my mind what he continues to do," Anthopoulos said. "He's a rare breed."
When Oliver signed with the Jays he figured it might be his last contract, and accepted a front-loaded deal of $4.5-million (U.S.) in the first year and a $3-million option for the second.
Toward the end of 2012, Oliver hinted at retirement because of family reasons – but that did not deter the Blue Jays from exercising the contract option for 2013, knowing a good deal when they see one.
During the off-season, agent Jeff Frye let it be known the player felt he deserved a raise and if his demands were not met he would prefer to be traded to the Texas Rangers so he could play closer to his family. (Oliver lives in Southlake, Tex.)
"It's going to take a lot more money for Darren to play in Toronto than play in Texas," Frey was quoted in a story on MLB.com. "We're waiting on the Blue Jays to pay him what he deserves. If not, we have asked them to trade him to Texas if the Rangers are interested."
Oliver says he was away when the story broke, and wishes he wasn't.
"I didn't say those things, that was from Jeff Frye, my agent," the pitcher said. "If I had something to say I would have said it a long time ago. Not once did I ever demand anything from the Blue Jays or Alex."
Oliver's return will make for a fierce bullpen competition when spring training opens in Florida next month.
Anthopoulos says he views the likes of Oliver, Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos and the recently acquired Esmil Rogers as "locks" for four of the seven bullpen spots. That leaves Steve Delabar, Brad Lincoln, Brett Cecil, Aaron Loup, Jeremy Jeffress and J.A. Happ (who may factor in the rotation as a sixth starter) vying for three spots.
"It's going to be a very competitive camp," Anthopoulos said.
The GM says the plan come spring training is to stretch out Lincoln to give the Blue Jays added depth. If Lincoln does not cut it in the bullpen, he will pitch as a starter with Toronto's Triple-A affiliate in Buffalo.