November 2006

Busy Busy

I get home from a nice long weekend in Chicago, where I was visiting family for the U.S. Thanksgiving, and the Jays hold press conferences on consecutive days. Needless to say, I’ve been a bit busy lately.

Here’s some news from the last few days:

  • Toronto is thinking about keeping Aaron Hill at second base after all. The Jays are interested in Royce Clayton for shortstop and are also considering going with more than one player at the position.
  • John McDonald is part of the plans for next season, but as the utility player — not as the starting shortstop. Jason Phillips is also in the plans as the backup at catcher and at first base. Both are arbitration eligible.
  • GM J.P. Ricciardi said he didn’t think Toronto would be in the running for Vicente Padilla or Mark Mulder. He said Tony Armas Jr. was a "backburner guy," so there is some limited interest there. Other than that, he acknowledges that there’s a few things going, but won’t get into specifics yet.
  • Toronto had Gil Meche up for a visit on Tuesday. Frank Thomas and Pat Hentgen both met with him to pitch the city and the team. Ricciardi went to a Maple Leafs’ game with Meche during his stay. Meche and Lilly appear to be Toronto’s top two targets.
  • The Jays don’t plan on going after any bullpen help. Brandon League, Jason Frasor and Jeremy Accardo will get the chance to replace Justin Speier, who signed with the Angels.
  • Toronto will be in the market for a fourth outfielder and Ricciardi said he’ll be looking for a cheap solution at the Winter Meetings. The Jays would like to keep rookie Adam Lind at Triple-A so he can get regular playing time.
  • Blue Jays president and CEO Paul Godfrey said the club hopes to make the payroll figure public before Christmas. The Jays have an idea what the number is, but it has to be approved by the Rogers Communication board of directors first.
  • According to Ricciardi, free-agent catcher Rod Barajas signed a terms sheet before backing out of a two-year deal with the Jays. After he signed the agreement, Barajas only needed to pass a physical to complete the deal. The Jays had a press conference planned and were going to fly Barajas’ family to Toronto before the catcher backed out of the agreed deal.

One Frank in, another Frank out

When Frank Thomas signed with Toronto, it became just a matter of time before Frank Catalanotto signed elsewhere. There was little to no chance that the Jays would’ve put him back into a left-field platoon with Reed Johnson after Johnson’s career year in ’06 and, obviously, there wouldn’t be many at-bats for "Cat" as the DH with Thomas around.

So there you have it: Catalanotto signs with the Rangers. From a personal standpoint, I’m sorry to see Frank leave Toronto. He is a genuinely nice guy and he’ll be missed in the clubhouse by his former teammates and by us reporters. We could always count on a quote from  Cat or just a good conversation. Needed to know more about an opposing pitcher? Catalanotto was a great source.

I’m sorry to see him go, but Texas we’ll be a good spot for him. If Gary Matthews Jr. doesn’t re-sign with the Rangers, Catalanotto could get some at-bats as Texas’ leadoff hitter and he should get plenty of action in the outfield — more so than he might’ve with the Jays.

Now, it’ll be interesting to see who becomes Toronto’s fourth outfielder. That could be Adam Lind, who would provide a much-needed left-handed bat off the bench, but he may begin this season at Triple-A. Lind is definitely a part of the future for Toronto, but it’d be a waste to have him riding the pine at the Rogers Centre when he could continue his development with regular playing time with Syracuse. We’ll see what happens.

Speier to the Angels?

Peter Gammons is reporting on ESPN.com that Justin Speier and the Angels agreed on a four-year contract. It’s not officialy, yet, but the likelihood of him returning to the Jays was becoming slimmer and slimmer with each passing day. The Orioles and Indians were among the other teams courting him.

Jays targeting Borowski?

According to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 35-year-old reliever Joe Borowski has garnered interest from the Blue Jays, along with the Indians, Giants and Red Sox. Borowski had a career-best 36 saves last year and prefers closing, but he reportedly is open to a late-inning setup role.

That’s where the Jays could come in. RHP Justin Speier is getting a lot of interest and could get a deal worth $10-15 million. That would probably take Toronto out of the running to re-sign him. On the other hand, Borowski signed for the league minimum ($327,000) with the Marlins last year and made just over $1 million with bonuses. It’d likely take more than that to sign him, considering the market for relievers, but he could be a solid replacement for Speier. Toronto isn’t ruling out using a youngster like Brandon League in the role, either.

Jays add The Big Hurt?

It’s after midnight and I’m about to hit the sack, but I thought I should at leats post something short on here about the Frank Thomas signing. ESPN.com first reported that the Jays were close to inking the Big Hurt to a multi-deal worth upwards of $30 million. Later, Foxsports.com reported that it was a two-year deal worth $20-23 million with a club option for a third year.

I made a few calls and got in touch with a club source who said the report was more than a simple rumor, but they wouldn’t confirm nor deny that a deal was close to being reached. The Fan590 cited a different source that did confirm the report. Basically, it appears as though Thomas will be Toronto’s DH next summer.

This could signal the end of Frank Catalanotto’s tenure with the Jays. If re-signed, he would’ve had a bulk of the playing time at DH. This also brings to question whether or not Toronto will bring rookie Adam Lind up at the start of next season. With Thomas as the DH, and Reed Johnson in left field, Lind would be on the bench. The Jays might want him to keep getting experience with regular playing time, which could mean he’d start at Triple-A.

I’m sure we’ll all learn more tomorrow. Also, here’s a story I filed after a lenghty conversation with Ted Lilly’s agent, Larry O’Brien. Goodnight, all.

DeRosa off the Market

  • All right, no more sending me e-mails asking if Mark DeRosa would be a good fit as Toronto’s new second baseman. ESPN.com just reported that the good ol’ Cubbies have scooped him off the market and into their infield.
  • Also, Jeff Blair of the Globe and Mail writes on his blog that Cliff Floyd is not in Toronto’s plans.

Show Me the Money

  • In today’s Toronto Sun, a source told the paper that free-agent Ted Lilly is seeking a four-year deal worth $9 million per year. Late last season, Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi said an asking price of $8 million or more per year for Lilly might be too steep to re-sign the left-hander. Considering that Vicente Padilla reportedly wants $10 million per year, it makes sense that Lilly — considered by many to be one of the better available arms this winter — would seek a similar amount. If he won’t budge on the figures, it might be difficult for the Jays to bring him back.
  • Ricciardi informed the Sun that free-agent shortstop Julio Lugo is seeking a four-year deal worth $32 million. That might be too expensive for the Blue Jays, too, meaning the club could turn its attention towards pursuing a second baseman instead of a shortstop. Ricciardi also told the paper that Toronto had no interest in free-agent Craig Counsell, but that Adam Kennedy is a player the Jays are interested in. “We’ll just have to see what the final figures are,” Ricciardi told the paper. “We know what we can afford and if the bidding gets too high, then we’ll go to Plan B.”
  • On Monday, the Blue Jays signed free-agent reliever Matt Roney to a Major League contract and added him to the 40-man roster. He was mainly in Triple-A last year, but was called up three times briefly by Oakland. Other than three appearances in the Majors last year, Roney hasn’t pitched in the bigs since going 1-9 for the 2003 Tigers. He at least adds more depth to Toronto’s bullpen. Plus, the Jays haven’t ruled out trades this winter. Perhaps adding some depth in arms would allow Toronto to move some other relievers (a lot of teams are looking for bullpen help) to fill its own needs. I’m just thinking outloud here — nothing like that has been reported, yet.
  • From the Denver Post: "The Rockies have also called about former Yankee Octavio Dotel, Scott Williamson, LaTroy Hawkins and Justin Speier. Given the anticipated bullish market for relievers, Speier and Hawkins are expected to land multiyear deals."
  • From today’s Los Angeles Times: "The Dodgers are interested in Luis Gonzalez, Cliff Floyd, Trot Nixon, Aubrey Huff and Frank Catalanotto if they can’t land [Alfonso] Soriano or [Carlos] Lee." … "The Dodgers are targeting a proven middle reliever to help get through the sixth and seventh innings, which were problematic last season. Their wish list includes Ron Villone, Justin Speier, Russ Springer, Chad Bradford and David Weathers."
  • From today’s Chicago Sun-Times: "The Cubs might be aiming lower, with right-hander Vicente Padilla (who’s seeking at least a four-year, $40 million package), about as high as they will top out for pitching. They remain intrigued by Japanese left-hander Kei Igawa of the Hanshin Tigers, and Toronto Blue Jays left-hander Ted Lilly is on their radar."
  • From the Boston Globe’s Web site today: "The [Red] Sox, like several other teams, are also looking to upgrade their bullpen. Names like Justin Speier, Eric Gagne, Scott Schoeneweis have all been mentioned as possible targets. The Sox might also target outfielders J.D. Drew and Frank Catalanotto and infielder Julio Lugo, but Epstein had not made offers to any of them as of Monday."
  • From New York Daily News today: "The Yankees were exploring free agent options including Randy Wolf, Gil Meche, Vicente Padilla and Ted Lilly…"

Angels still targeting Wells

This is from today’s Los Angeles Times:

"If the Angels’ bid for Japanese right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka falls short, they will probably make a strong push to sign free-agent left-hander Barry Zito and look to use one of their young pitchers — Ervin Santana, Jered Weaver or Joe Saunders — in a trade for a slugger such as Toronto’s Vernon Wells, Baltimore’s Miguel Tejada or possibly Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez."

The Angels were talking about possibly trading for Wells last year. It was written about in the L.A. Times in September. The paper even asked Wells about possibly playing for the Halos:

"It’s a beautiful place," Wells told the newspaper at the time. "At the same time, I’m very comfortable here with Toronto. I’ve been here my whole career. This place is first, and everything else is second."

All that being said, I still think Wells will be in a Toronto uniform in 2007 even if he doesn’t sign an extension. He’s the focal point of the Blue Jays’ offense right now and it would set the team back to trade him right now. Toronto is as close to the Yankees as they have been in a long time and ridding of Wells would hinder that progress.

The Stove is Heating Up

I’m back from vacation and baseball’s Hot Stove is starting to get cooking. Today is the final day in which Toronto has exclusive negotiating rights with its five free agents, but it’s highly doubtful that any of them will re-sign this quickly. As I hear rumors or reads reports, I’ll be posting on the blog to keep all you Jays fans informed.

  • According to the Kansas City Star, the Royals have interest in signing catcher Gregg Zaun, who is acting as his own agent this winter. Toronto would like to bring either Zaun or Molina back in ’07 and Zaun is the more realistic option.
  • The Detroit Free Press recently reported that the Tigers are interested in pursuing Frank Catalanotto. I don’t see this as a good fit. They have Gary Sheffield now, plus Craig Monroe in left field and Catalanotto would prefer to have regular time in the outfield. That’s one thing he said will play a role in where he signs. He didn’t mind being used in a platoon with Reed Johnson, but Cat preferred not to spend a lot of time as the DH, which would probably be his primary role in Toronto in ’07.
  • According to ESPN, free-agent pitcher Vicente Padilla — one of a few starters who the Blue Jays are likely targeting — wants a four-year deal worth $40 million per year. In a weaker crop of available starters, he just might get it, too — just probably not from the Blue Jays. Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi said that paying upwards of $8 million per year would probably be too high to re-sign Ted Lilly and the same can probably be said for pursuing Padilla.
  • On Tuesday, CNNSI’s Tom Verducci wrote that the Blue Jays have interest in free-agent lefty Randy Wolf. He went 4-0 with a 5.56 ERA for the Phillies last year after coming back from Tommy John surgery. Verducci also wrote that Toronto was interested in Sheffield, but we saw how that turned out.
  • Jeff Blair of the Toronto Globe and Mail wrote on his blog yesterday that "Eric Goldschmidt, the agent for [Alex] Gonzalez, said that the Blue Jays were one of five teams with what he described as ‘serious interest,’ in his client…"
  • Blair also reported that Ricciardi is considering using Aaron Hill as Toronto’s shortstop instead of its second baseman. Many within the organization feel Hill is better suited for second, but the free-agent crop of shortstops is lighter than that for second baseman. “We’d like to leave Aaron at second base, but this might be a matter of necessity,” Ricciardi told the newspaper. “David Eckstein has played shortstop for a couple of World Series winners. Sometimes, I think we all have a tendency to over-rate some things when we look at these guys. Aaron is a solid ballplayer, period.” Mark Loretta, Ray Durham, Ronnie Belliard, Mark DeRosa and Adam Kennedy are among the available second baseman. Gonzalez and Julio Lugo — rumored to be a primary target of the Red Sox — are at the top of the list of free-agent shortstops.
  • On Friday, the Jays signed Geremi Gonzalez, Blaine Neal, Jeff Duncan, Beau Kemp, Kevin Barker, Chad Mottola, and Brian Wolfe to Minor League contracts with invites to Spring Training.
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