DUNEDIN — A top Toronto Blue Jays official confirmed Friday that the club is exploring potential changes to Dunedin's spring training facilities that might persuade the team not to move.
Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said the team's "No. 1 desire" was to consolidate its stadium and practice space, which are 3.5 miles apart. That was the reason the team gave for exploring a partnership with the Houston Astros on a joint-use stadium on Florida's east coast.
However, he said the Jays are also weighing their lengthy relationship with Dunedin, where the team has trained since 1977. The team, he said, is "committed" to exploring whether it can "make things work" in Dunedin.
"To be completely candid," Anthopoulos said, "we're still going to be open-minded if someone does approach us about an unbelievable opportunity where we can merge both facilities. … With that said, it's not going to be done at all costs. It's important to have a good location, it's important to have a good partner."
He added, "I'm optimistic and I think the ideas that have been presented to us make us very excited and it would make it very easy for us to stay if some of those things could come forward."
Anthopoulos' comments came during the Dunedin Council of Organizations' monthly breakfast meeting Friday, where most of the audience's questions focused on the Jays' months-long exploration of moving to Palm Beach Gardens.
"Sitting here today, I don't believe that's going to go forward," Anthopoulos said.
His job is managing the players, but he said he's been privy to conversations by executives and attorneys regarding spring training negotiations. Dunedin's stadium "is older and needs work," but he said he believed that issue could be addressed. Rather, he said, the distance between facilities was the driver behind exploring other locations.
Anthopoulos said, about 60 major- and minor-league affiliated players are in training camp now. But the stadium has only 1 1/2 fields, meaning all the players can't practice at the same time, and the Englebert training complex has no showers, resulting in frequent shuttling between the two locations.
However, the Jays love Dunedin's close proximity to other teams, the Tampa airport's direct flights from Toronto, and the team's longtime relationships with local doctors, he said. Several players have homes here and team officials understand there would be a tradeoff associated with moving someplace new.
The Jays initially thought remaining in Dunedin was a "nonstarter" because the team believed there wasn't enough room to expand. But he noted the city's persistence, including a September visit to Canada to present preliminary architectural renderings to Jays president Paul Beeston, and the city's "creative ideas."
Those ideas include a 20,000-square-foot expansion at the Englebert complex. The city also floated the idea of adding a full field at the stadium.
Said Anthopoulos: "We realize it may not be possible in Dunedin to merge both the minor-league complex and the big league complex. But … we may be able to expand some things, change some things, meet in the middle … If they can do some of those things, why move?"
City officials say Anthopoulos' talk renewed their optimism.
Mayor Dave Eggers said he and staff hope to meet with Beeston, the team president, this week.