December 2006

Happy Holidays

I’m heading to Chicago to spend the holidays with family, so I probably won’t be blogging too often over the next week or so (not that I’ve been posting every day this week or anything). So I hope all of you have a good Christmas and a happy new year and safe travels and all that good stuff.

It’s been pretty quiet on the Jays front since the Wells signing. There aren’t many loose ends to tie up from this point on. Obviously, there are the arbitration cases — Jason Frasor, Alex Rios, Reed Johnson, Scott Downs and Lyle Overbay are all eligible (Frasor and Rios being of the Super 2 category). At the Wells press conference, Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi said that Toronto was interested in possibly looking into signing Overbay to a longer contract. Meanwhile, rumors still are out there that the Jays are shopping Rios for a starter. We’ll see what happens.

Anyway, if anything of interest pops up while I’m away from Toronto, I’ll hop on here and blog away. I’ve enjoyed reading all the comments on the posts lately. Stay tuned for more…

Wells, Jays near $126 million deal

It appears as though the Vernon Wells saga is nearing its end — and it’s a happy ending for both sides. A source with direct knowledge of the negotiations told me today that Wells and the Jays were indeed close to a seven-year deal worth $126 million — or an average of $18 million annually. The extension, which would take effect in 2008, also would include a full trade protection and an opt-out clause after the fourth season.

According to the source, Wells’ representatives approached the Jays with this deal about four months ago. The Jays balked, offering $14 million for only four to five years. Wells stuck by the asking price, even though his reps believed he could get more as a free agent after 2007. Eventually — this brings us to this past week — Toronto matched the original asking price put forward by Wells’ camp. Now, it appears that the sides are just waiting on approval from ownership plus the routine physical — perhaps some more detailed accounting work, too.

I think this is a good move for the Jays. There was talk that Toronto would consider trading Wells this offseason if he didn’t agree to an extension, but if the Jays are serious about making a run at the division, I think Wells has to be a part of the picture. Another positive is the fact that Wells is likely taking less money than he’d get next winter. That shows a commitment to the Jays on his part.

Maybe Wells wouldn’t get more next winter, though. There’s two ways to look at it. There are a number of top-tier center fielders who are eligible to become free agents next winter (Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones, Ichiro, etc;). A big class like that could either push prices up — i.e. one CF signs for X money and now another CF can ask for at least that much. OR a big class of center fielders could pull the price down — for example, CF #1 wants X amount of dollars, but teams say no and instead sign CF #2 for less. In the current market, though, where teams are spending at will, the first scenario seems more likely. That’s one reason why this is a good deal for Toronto. If Wells becomes a free agent, the Jays probably wouldn’t be able to afford him.

So now we wait for the official word. Toronto could hold a press conference to announce the deal as early as Monday, but now that Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi is back home in Worcester, Mass., maybe it won’t be until mid-week or later in the week. Maybe approval from ownership will take some time, too. We’ve seen how long it’s taken to get the payroll approved.

Even though Wells appears to be off the block now, Toronto is still exploring trades for a starter to replace Ted Lilly. Outfielders Reed Johnson and Alex Rios could potentially be moved, along with some pitching prospects. Time will tell.

Stay tuned for more…

Lining Things Up

I’ve been a little too busy to blog lately, but I have a free moment and thought I’d give an update. I’m sure most of you saw the article I wrote the other day on the Vernon Wells situation. Toronto has set a "flexible deadline" of about a month or so for negotiating a contract extension with Wells. After that? Toronto could a)look into trading Wells or, b) keep him and just hold off on discussions until during the spring or during the year. If they can’t reach an agreement, it doesn’t necessarily mean the Jays will trade Wells, but the club will surely at least entertain offers.

So now we wait. Toronto could still look at some of the free agents out there, but in the current market, it might make more sense to explore trades. The Jays could offer Dustin McGowan or some other young pitchers. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear Adam Lind or Reed Johnson’s names in trade rumors either. And teams will definitely inquire about Alex Rios, but it seems very unlikely he’d be dealt. The Jays needs at least one starter. If Wells is traded, Toronto would also need an outfielder — corner outfielder would work fine because Rios can play center. Dodgers and Mets have been rumored teams.

On another subject, it’s getting to the point where we can start guessing what Toronto’s lineup could be. The only spots really in question seem to be the No. 2, Nos. 6-8 spots.

Gregg Zaun might be a good fit for the two hole because of his ability to get on base and he is a switch hitter. He doesn’t move that great around the bases, though, so maybe Lyle Overbay — the only other lefty in the order — might be a better fit. Aaron Hill’s style of hitting might be best suited for the No. 2 spot, too, though. Rios has hit there in the past as well. For argument’s sake, I’ll put Zaun in the No. 2 spot and then the other slots fill out themselves.

So here is one possible lineup:

1. LF Reed Johnson, R
2. C Gregg Zaun, S
3. CF Vernon Wells, R
4. DH Frank Thomas, R
5. 3B Troy Glaus, R
6. 1B Lyle Overbay, L
7. RF Alex Rios, R
8. 2B Aaron Hill, R
9. SS Royce Clayton, R

If Rios picks up where he left off last season, Wells-Thomas-Glaus-Overbay-Rios is quite an impressive row of hitters. What are some lineup thoughts that you all have? Get those posts going…

Day 2 and into 3…

I’m sitting in the workroom at the Dolphin Hotel, killing some time before meeting up with Larry O’Brien, Ted Lilly’s agent. A few minutes ago, Cubs manager Lou Piniella held court in the larger media workroom next door, discussing his club and, among other things, Lilly and free agent Gil Meche. As you know, Lilly and Meche are Toronto’s top two targets right now.

Piniella was in Seattle when Pete O’Brien, Larry’s brother, was a pitcher with the Mariners. That’s one small connection that could help sway Lilly to the North Side if Pete is talking Lou up to Larry, who is frequently reporting back to the pitcher. Lilly obviously has more familiarity with Toronto and the American League East — that’s one reason why a) the Jays aren’t out of the picture, yet, and b) the Yankees could be a bigger player than we’ve been led to believe at this point.

O’Brien said late Tuesday night that New York hadn’t tabled an offer, but rumors have questioned that. The Yankees were thought to be cooling on Lilly after winning the negotiating rights to lefty Kei Igawa, but New York is a place Lilly has pitched before — not to mention a place he enjoyed. If the Andy Pettitte to New York rumblings turn out to be nothing more than rumors, the Yankees might quickly become stronger competition for Lilly.

As far as Meche goes, he pitched for Piniella in Seattle, too. That could make the Cubs a very high priority team for the right-hander. Basically, Lilly and Meche have plenty of big-market suitors who could leave the Jays going 0-for-2. Backup plans? Jeff Suppan and Mark Redman’s names have been batted around.

Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi said on Tuesday night that he was interested in free agent outfielder Matt Stairs. Stairs could provide a much-needed left-handed bat off the bench and would serve as a fourth outfielder. He could also possibly provide another backup at first base.

There’s also rumors that free agent reliever, and former National League Cy Young Award winner, Eric Gagne — a native of Quebec — has listed the Jays as a team he’s interested in. On Tuesday, Scott Boras, who represents Gagne, said, "It doesn’t hurt to have a hockey town involved." Ricciardi said no one from Gagne’s side had contacted the Jays and the Jays hadn’t contacted them. Right now, Toronto plans on having Brandon League serve as the setup man and B.J. Ryan is locked in as the closer. There doesn’t appear to be room in the bullpen or in the budget for Gagne, so don’t get your hopes up.

Day 1

Ted Lilly hasn’t signed a contract with the Cubs. Despite that fact — not to mention the other notable tidbit being that his agent, Larry O’Brien, hadn’t arrived in Orlando yet — rumors swirled around the lobby inside Disney’s Swan Resort here this afternoon that Lilly had indeed signed up to pitch for Chicago. OK, maybe "swirled" is a bit much. The rumor lasted a solid 15-20 minutes and was quickly rubbed out after a few phone calls.

Reports indicated later, though, that O’Brien did meet with the Jays once he arrived at the hotel late Monday night and the Jays may have made an offer. One thing that’s known is that Lilly’s agent plans on meeting with the Cubs, Giants and Yankees, along with Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi on Tuesday. O’Brien has said that the Cubs have offered a four-year deal to Lilly and the pitcher is seeking something near $37 million. Now that Vicente Padilla has agreed to a three-year deal worth $33 million, Lilly could command upwards of $40 million easily.

Toronto also reportedly met with the reps for free-agent starter Gil Meche on Monday. Ricciardi and some other front office sources denied that they met with the pitcher, but such a meeting doesn’t seem too farfetched. If the Jays seriously want to sign both Lilly and Meche, they might need to get one contract done before these Meetings are done on Thursday. Ricciardi has acknowledged that Jeff Suppan and Mark Redman could be backup plans.

Ricciardi was invisible for much of the day, opting to stay in his suite rather than test his luck in the lobby, where the media horde was waiting and watching for any of their sources to show up. It’ll be more of the same on Day 2, but perhaps a little more clarity will be shed on the Lilly and Meche situations. With both agents now in Orlando, there’s bound to be discussions taking place.

What will be interesting is to see how high Toronto’s payroll is actually going to go. It’s been speculated that the payroll would be between $90-95 million, but if Ricciardi is intent on signing two starters — one of whom could require an annual salary of around $10-11 million — that figure might actually be more around $100 million. We just have to keep waiting. Toronto won’t make the payroll public until the Rogers Communications board of directors approves it. But Jays president and CEO Paul Godfrey did say this:

"I do believe that J.P. should be able to do the things that he wants to do with the number that’s being suggested."

So stay tuned…

Off to Florida

I’m heading down to Florida tomorrow afternoon for the Winter Meetings. I’ll be giving daily updates from the Meetings on and I’ll try to blog as much as I can down there, too. That’s really all for right now. I have to help my wife decorate our Christmas Tree tonight before packing and watching the second half of Superman Returns. Talk to you all from Orlando.