February 2008

Rolen arrives, Stewart next?

Dsc01463_2DUNEDIN, Fla. – First, to address some minor simmerings on that pesky hot stove. There’s a report out indicating that the Jays have offered a contract to free-agent outfielder Shannon Stewart.

Well, that offer may or may not still be on the table. Stewart was offered a contract over the winter, when he was a client of Greg Genske. Since then, an unemployed Stewart — seeking a two-year deal — has switched to Barry Praver and Scott Shapiro.

When reached by phone, Shapiro declined to talk about any negotiations. Toronto isn’t likely to offer two years, with Adam Lind waiting in the wings and Travis Snider rising fast. So, while adding Stewart may or may not be out of the question, it seems an unlikely scenario.

As for other goings on today at Jays camp, well, there wasn’t much. Evidence was the paparazzi-like treatment Scott Rolen received upon his arrival. A swarm of photographers nearly tripped over themselves trying to get the perfect shot of Rolen as he made his way around the complex.

After a lengthy "BS" photo shoot (Rolen’s words, as in "before swings"), he dropped his stuff off at his new locker, picked up a bat and immediately headed to the cage. Rolen spent time working with hitting coach Gary Denbo and then entertained reporters with a brief pow wow.

Rolen said he’ll be back in camp on Thursday for Toronto’s first full-squad workout. DH Frank Thomas (working out at Knology Park), catcher Robinzon Diaz (visa issues) and Roy Halladay (away to attend a funeral) should be in camp Thursday as well. Marco Scutaro, David Eckstein and Matt Stairs need to report, but not necessarily attend camp, on Wednesday.

On Wednesday, manager John Gibbons said some of the lower profile pitchers will throw live BP to some minor league hitters. Halladay and some of Toronto’s big-league arms will follow suit on Thursday. Gibbons noted, however, that A.J. Burnett might not throw on either day, so that the team can "build him up more."

Closer B.J. Ryan threw again today in another pain-free bullpen session. He also won’t be throwing on Wednesday or Thursday. He’s on a slower program that will likely call for an eventual sim game and Minor League appearance before he takes the mound in a Jays spring game.

OK, I’m heading out to grab some grub. Feel free to browse the photo album for a few new shots I took today. Gibbons grabbed a glove and did some fielding today.

League impresses, Wells arrives

Dsc01399DUNEDIN, Fla. – The storylines were scarce in the early hours here at Jays’ camp on Monday, but things picked up rapidly as the day progressed.

Center fielder Vernon Wells made his first appearance, Frank Thomas sounded off about the Mitchell Report, and Brandon League (right) turned some heads during a bullpen session.

Jays skip John Gibbons says, not only does League’s velocity seem to be up, but the sinking action on his pitches has improved dramatically from where it was last season. That was one of the major issues League dealt with a year ago, when he lost his job as Toronto’s setup man.

"It looks 100 percent better," Gibbons said. "It’s still just throwing in the bullpen, but we hadn’t seen that in a while. He threw a good little slider today, which was basically what he was missing last year. I mean, he didn’t have the same velocity, yeah, but he couldn’t get his breaking ball working last year, either."

So that’s great news for League, who is in a fight for his life in terms of winning a bullpen job this spring. A successful return for him would allow Casey Janssen to ease back into the rotation more smoothly. It’d also give the Jays another hard-throwing groundball pitcher at the back end of the ‘pen.

Wells arrived and took batting practice and ran through outfield drills, showing no signs of trouble with his left shoulder. He said he’s nearly back to 100 percent after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum, fix a frayed rotator cuff and to decompress a cyst in the shoulder that dogged him last year.

Wells was given a DVD of his operation, and he brought it along to Spring Training, but he has yet to take it in. I’m sure the team could have a big party to watch the footage of all the operations they endured last season. Roy Halladay’s emergency appendectomy might be ESPN Classic material.

Thomas has been in Dunedin for a few days, but he’s stayed over at Knology Park to work with his longtime hitting guro, Walt Hriniak. Hurt’s former coach is leaving town on Wednesday, when Thomas said he’ll join the Jays over at The Mattick.

Thomas said this is the first time in his career he’s come to camp early and he believes the Jays can win the American League East this season. He also spoke passionately about being the lone player who volunteered to talk to Sen. George Mitchell during his investigation.

"I was shocked. I was really shocked. But I think the Players’ Association had a lot to do with that. For me, I’ve always been my own man. No one’s going to tell me not to talk to anyone, especially when I’ve got nothing to hide."

Thomas said he thinks more players would’ve talked had the MLBPA not pressured them to remain quiet. The veteran said he didn’t have a problem with Gregg Zaun — named in the Report — and he also didn’t believe he’d face any "backlash" from other players, who might be upset that he agreed to talk to Mitchell.

"Backlash? Backlash for what? There’s no backlash. I didn’t participate in anything. A congressman called me and asked me a question. What the **** am I going to run for? I had nothing to hide. There’s no backlash. I think no one should’ve been hiding. Nothing needs to be hidden, because that stuff is illegal. I’ve never done anything illegal like that."

You can hear the entire interview Thomas had with reporters here: Download 080218Thomas.WMA

I also added a few more shots to the photo album. And if you haven’t heard about the hardships top prospect Travis Snider has had to deal with in the past few years, he opened up about the personal loss he’s absorbed for a piece I wrote on Sunday.

Catch you all tomorrow…

Ball 'hawk

           Dsc01336

DUNEDIN, Fla. – There might, just might, have been a few cervezas involved and one of Alex Rios’ friends may or may not have ended up with an unwanted tattoo. What we do know for sure is that some late-night shenanigans over the winter in Puerto Rico led to a mohawk for the Jays’ right fielder.

Let Rios explain: "We started talking about mohawks and stuff like that. I was like, ‘You know what? I’m going to grow one.’ I have a friend who has one, but he has good hair. Mine is all kind of nappy. Mine’s a bootleg one."

Rios’ bootleg mohawk was definitely the talk of camp today over at The Mattick. Sure, there were catchers and pitchers working out or something, but the black stripe garnered all of the attention. People were asking about the new ‘do before asking about those negotiations with Rios on a long-term deal (still going, by the way).

Veteran catcher Sal Fasano — bearer of arguably the greatest Fu-Manchu in baseball history — was asked if he’d be able to pull off a mohawk: "If I had a mohawk like that, I’d get arrested for something. I already look like a sc umbag."

Over by the batting cage on one of the practice fields, Jays general manager J.P. Ricciard, shortstop John McDonald and Rios engaged in this entertaining dialogue:

RICCIARDI: "Alex, if you cut your hair, you’d be like Tom Brady. You’d have them all. What do you think Johnny Mac?"

MCDONALD: "The problem is that he’s already had them all."

RIOS: "Aw, c’mon, Johnny."

When asked if there was drinking involved when he decided to grow the ‘hawk, Rios grinned widely and responded: "There were a few"

One reporter laughed and asked if anyone ended up with a tattoo.

"It wasn’t me," Rios replied.

Rios wasn’t sure if he was keeping the hairdo or not, but a decision will probably come quick. Rios was worried if he kept it too long the sides of his head would wind up being darker than the top, thanks to six weeks under the Florida sun. Now that’d be a sweet look.

Check out the 2008 Spring Training photo album to see more goings on from today.

The first workout

       Dsc01217

DUNEDIN, Fla. – I just got back from shooting some pool with a few fellow scribes, while watching my Spartans get creamed by the Hoosiers on one TV and Dwight Howard put on a show in the dunk contest on another.

Before I headed out, I threw together some pictures that I snapped around camp today during Toronto’s first workout of the spring. I’ll be adding more photos throughout Spring Training and you can access the photo album on the left side of the blog. The "2008 Spring Training" link is what you’re looking for.

Obviously, the news of the day was B.J. Ryan (above) throwing in the bullpen for the first time in front of reporters and photogs. Ryan breezed through the session and reported no issues. While his progress is impressive, I’ve got to say that the one person that blew me away on Day 1 was Dustin McGowan.

I stood on the other side of a fence right alongside where he was throwing off the mound and the sound of his arm whipping and the hum of the baseball flying out of his hand was unreal. Sure, it’s just one session, but take it from Sal Fasano, who was catching McGowan.

"He’s one of those special arms. You’ve heard it a million times. But it’s funny, because when he goes from getting loose, so smooth out of his hand, and then he tries to add something … most of the time when someone tries to add something it’s like one or two miles per hour. When he adds, it’s like six. He’s so special. He looked great today."

Gustavo Chacin, Jean Machi and Robinzon Diaz were not in camp for the first workout. Rod Barajas was on hand and Alex Rios (sporting a short mohawk) and John McDonald arrived. The pitchers and catchers worked in the bullpen, ran through PFPs and did some general agility stuff.

More of the same tomorrow. Stay tuned for more…

Camp officially opens

              Zauncheck

DUNEDIN, Fla. – That’s right, Blue Jays Spring Training officially begins today. Sure, that "reporting" day was yesterday, but all that means is the pitchers and catchers had to let the team know they’d arrived (for the most part) in Florida.

On that all-important and much over-hyped reporting day, there certainly wasn’t a shortage of activitiy. The shoddy photocopy of the check (pictured aboce as it appeared in the Mitchell Report) Gregg Zaun was accused of using to buy steroids was the hot topic.

After two months of silence, which the catcher said was needed for him to work out exactly what might’ve happened six years ago, Zaun spoke about being implicated in the report. Basically, to sum it up quickly, he believes he might’ve owed former teammate Jason Grimsley $500 — possibly for losing a bet on a basketball game in 2001.

It’s Zaun’s belief that he hastily scribbled out the check and tossed it to Grimsley in disgust, without penning a name on the pay to section of the check. Then, Zaun thinks it’s plausible that Grimsely wrote the name of former Mets clubhouse steroid dealer Kirk Radomski on said check in order to obtain PEDs.

That’s Zaun’s story, though it’s not what he’s saying DID happen. He’s saying it’s what he believes could’ve happened. It’s an explanation as to why he immediately could tell what was his handwriting on the check compared to someone else’s.

Note Zaun’s careful wording after talking to reporters in Florida: "I wanted to at least offer up an explanation for how my name ends up in that report. Maybe people come away from this and think there’s a possibility that this could’ve happened, because that’s the way I remember it happening."

When he was directly asked if he’d ever used any kind of performance-enchancing drugs, Zaun also chose a vague response: "I have never violated MLB’s drug policy or failed any drug tests."

None of this is to say Zaun is lying. Zaun admits he isn’t sure if his story is precisely what happened six years ago. The only thing he’s adamant about is that he did not write Radomski’s name on the check and he did not receive a package containing steroids at Kansas City’s clubhouse. The basketball bet theory? Just a theory.

The explanation is hardly one that is going to completely satisfy fans or the media, but as far as Zaun’s role in all of this, he said he’s no longer going to speek about the matter. Spring Training is officially on hand and he wants to focus his attention and his quotes on the baseball season at hand. Fair enough.

Fasano_1FASANO UPSET: The situation behind the plate was also a topic yesterday in relation to Sal Fasano. I spoke with him Thursday morning and he relayed some frustration about his current role with the club.

Fasano was under the impression when he signed a Minor League deal in December that he was going to be coming into a situation similar to Matt Stairs a year ago. Yeah, it was a minor deal, but he believed he was still penciled in as the backup catcher. He said GM J.P. Ricciardi gave him his word.

Then, the Jays went and signed Rod Barajas, which surprised Fasano. Now, with Curtis Thigpen and Robinzon Diaz set to be at Triple-A and near the bigs, and Zaun and Barajas with the Jays, Fasano looks to be relegated to limited playing time at Triple-A. "Are they sending me there to play or be a coach?" he said on Thursday.

Now, while I understand Sal’s frustration, and Sal’s definitely one of my favorite guys in the clubhouse (being a fellow Chicagoan helps), I can’t completely side with him here. If Ricciardi gave him his word, OK, that carries some weight. But Fasano did sign a Minor League deal and us scribes were actively writing that Toronto was still searching for a backup. The writing was on the wall.

I just think Sal sees the extent of his situation and he wouldn’t mind seeing if he could find a better opportunity elsewhere. Ricciardi said he’d be willing to oblige if need be: "I’ll talk to Sal. Butwe made it really clear to his representative that, obviously, if things don’t work out here, we’d do everything in our power to trade him or to let him go. We’re not here to hurt Sal. If someone else wants him, we would not stand in the way."

—————–

OK, with that, I’m going to get ready to head over to The Mattick. The first official workout set for today isn’t scheduled until 2 p.m. ET. Before that, pitchers and catchers have physicals and some meetings. I’ll be heading over early to see if anything is going on.

The only no-shows so far have been Robinzon Diaz (visa issues), Gus Chacin (Ricciardi believes he’ll be in camp today) and Barajas (don’t see why he wouldn’t be there today, too). A.J. Burnett and pitching coach Brad Arnsberg arrived yesterday, as well as Reed Johnson and Frank Thomas.

Also, if you didn’t read Bob Elliott’s piece on Roy Halladay the other day, do so. Halladay’s close mentor, Bus Campbell, passed away at the age of 87 at his home in Colorado. A lot of who Halladay is today the pitcher credits to Campbell.

Zaun addresses allegations

Zaun_1DUNEDIN, Fla. – In Friday’s addition of the National Post, Blue Jays catcher Gregg Zaun offered his explantation for being implicated in the Mitchell Report. A team spokesman said that the catcher wouldn’t field any follow-up questions.

To read Zaun’s account of the matter, you can read reporter John Lott’s entire interview via e-mail on the paper’s Web site. Zaun offered his side of the story involving his ties to Kirk Radomski and Luis Perez.

"I usually have a lot to say about things, but in this case, my breath was completely taken from me at that moment and I needed time to completely digest it all. I was rendered speechless."

Spring has sprung

          Stbobbymattick

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Ah, the Bobby Mattick Training Center at Englebert Complex. Never has a place with a name of such stratosphericly ridiculous proportions been so welcomed by this reporter. I’m not one to bash honoring those worth of doing so, but that title is a proverbial killjoy to otherwise decent paragraphs.

I escaped the snow in Toronto on Wednesday, and arrived at the Bobby Mattick and Cecil B. Englebert Memorial Baseball Training Center Complex Site early this morning, strolling by the watchful eye of the elderly security personnel and into the media workroom at roughly 7:15. I supposed I was eager to get out in the sunshine on my first day here, considering I beat the other media types by a good hour or so.

By 9 am, gloves were popping and bats were cracking. The Jays don’t technically have to be present in camp until the first workout on Saturday, but early arrivals included B.J. Ryan, Roy Halladay, Aaron Hill, Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum, Scott Downs, Casey Janssen, Jesse Litsch, Brian Tallet, Jeremy Accardo, Gregg Zaun, Sal Fasano, Brian Wolfe, among others, including recent first-round draft picks Travis Snider and J.P. Arencibia.

My first observation? It must be nearly baseball season, because McGowan had some light fuzz growing in, beginning to resemble the significant muttonchops he made famous in Toronto last season. Spring Training was officially underway when the topics of politics and baseball once again fused into one during manager John Gibbons’ first media sit-down of 2008.

The most notable nugget from Gibby’s first session came when he was asked if he had heard Halladay’s comments earlier in the week. To refresh, Halladay championed the additions of players like Scott Rolen and David Eckstein, because:

"I think there were times last year where there just wasn’t that sense of urgency, where things were kind of taken lightly. So that’s a huge difference for me. I think just those two … are going to make a big difference."

Gibbons response: "I didnt see [Halladay's comments]. Hey, coming from him, that carries some weight. I think the more guys you can add who have been through the ropes and been on winning teams, that’s what separates teams."

Also of note from the skipper was some minimal insight into the potential lineup. Eckstein is going to leadoff, nothing new there, but Gibbons said he might be leaning toward putting the left-field platoon of Reed Johnson and Matt Stairs in the No. 2 spot. Gibbons noted that Lyle Overbay won’t bat second. The rest remains up in the air for now.

Gibbons also said he’d like to see the club put more emphasis on speed this season, naming Vernon Wells, Alex Rios, Johnson, Eckstein and Rolen as guys who could swipe some bags. "Yeah I think we need to try to do a little bit more of that — no question. How much? I don’t know," said Gibbons, when asked if Toronto might steal more in 2008.

Besides between reporters, there wasn’t much talk about the Roger Clemes/Brian McNamee the day after the soap opera on Capitol Hill. I asked Jays catcher Gregg Zaun if he was willing to discuss his being mentioned in the Mitchell Report, and he respectfully declined, saying he’d address the matter "how I want to do it and when I want to do it." He wasn’t avoiding the media, though. Zaun was more than willing to discuss anything not Mitchell related.

Ryan On Ryan’s rapid recovery from Tommy John surgery, Zaun said: "I’m astonished. That’s the only way I can say it. He’s way ahead of where I expected him to be, based on what little I know about th einjury. The one thing I do know about that surgery is these guys seem to come back with a better elbow then they had before."

Ryan has thrown five bullpens, including one on Monday with Zaun, and he’s fully expecting to be ready to go by Opening Day. Ryan said on Thursday that’d there’s no doubt he’d be upset if the Jays told him he couldn’t head north with the club: "That’s definitely something we’ll have to look at and that’s a road that’s going to be crossed. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m just going to go and work hard and put myself in a position to break camp with the team."

ABOUT THOSE HEARINGS: As for my reaction to the congressional hooey, I didn’t see the hearings with Clemens live, but I caught the highlights when I finally got settled into my condo last night. All I know is that I’m going to work the word "misremembered" into my vocabulary. No one is guilty until proven innocent, but I’m finding Clemens harder and harder to believe.

The fact that Pettitte corroborated McNamee’s story and Clemens’ response was that his good friend must have "misremembered" appeared a little weak on Clemens’ part. Then again, I think it’s funny how Pettitte admitted to initially lying about the extent of his HGH use, but he’s being painted as such an honest person.

And don’t get me started on Clemens signing autographs for some members of Congress. That is so blatantly wrong and just makes it look like he was trying to pull some of the congressmen into his corner. Then again, why are these idiots asking for his autograph under the circumstances in the first place?

The only thing Wednesday’s hearing accomplished was further establishing that one of these clowns is lying through their teeth. One of them has dug such a deep hole of lies that he can’t turn back. As of right now, Clemens is looking more like that person. He said it himself, whether he’s ever proven innocent or not, his image is forever tarnished.

Does that mean he shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame? By no means. Unless he’s proven guilty, you can’t keep him out. You can’t keep a person out because you think he might be lying or he doesn’t seem like a good person (Ty Cobb, anyone?). Of course, I’m from the school of thought that Pete Rose, Barry Bonds — heck, let Shoeless Joe in while we’re at it — are Hall of Famers, too.

Pitchers and catchers report to Dunedin tomorrow. That just means they have to be in the area. I’ll report on any new arrivals manana. Until then…

Due South

Bmtc_3 TORONTO – It’s about that time. I’ve got one last load of laundry to do before I can finish packing up my bags for my trip to Florida.

I leave Toronto and its freeeezing temps tomorrow morning and am due to arrive at six-week home early evening. It’s been a long offseason and I’m definitely ready to get back to working the ball fields.

As I did last year, I’m planning on toting my camera around camp and snapping pictures for the first couple weeks. I’ll start up a photo album that you can check out similar to last spring. Unlike most of the newspaper beat guys, I’m down for the duration. They tend to send writers down in waves. So I’ll be bringing coverage starting on Feb. 14 through March 27 or so. Toward the end, I’ll be taking a day or two to catch my breathe before Opening Day in the Bronx.

And I’ve been following all the reaction and uproar in the Jays blogosphere on the recent ticket sales situation (opening sales to Red Sox fans for April 5-6 and tigers fans for April 18-21). My stance on the issue is basically that I can understand why the Jays would do it, considering the attendance following Opening Day at Rogers Centre tends to drop off significantly. It’s definitely an easy way to grab some additional dough to pump into the franchise.

What I don’t get, and I’m with you fans on this one, is why would the Jays open sales to opposing teams’ fan bases before single game tix go on sale for Jays fans on March 2? At least Opening Day at the Dome isn’t included in the advance ticket availablity for BoSox fans. But is this going to be enough for Jays fans to boycott buying tickets? I doubt it. Maybe it seems shady, and mainly it’s the principle of the thing, I get that, but there’s always plenty of open seats at the Rogers Centre.

Anyways, enough on that for now. I’m sure we’ll be talking about it more once we get down to Dunedin, where we can ask team prez Paul Godfrey more about the matter when he arrives. Until then, I’ve got some packing and planning to do. I’ll fire up the blog once I get settled in Florida.

I’m interested in seeing what Roger Clemens and Brian McNamee have to say during the Congressional hearing tomorrow. Too bad I’ll be flying when that’s all going down. I’ll have to catch the Sportscenter highlights when I get to Tampa. Talk about a soap opera, huh? Taped phone calls and bloody guaze and needles stored for nearly a decade in crushed beer cans. You can’t make up stuff like this. And once Congress is involved, well, one of these guys is going down for the count when it’s all said and done.

Enjoy this cold weather while I’m gone.

UPDATE — 11:15 p.m. ET: For those of you who are upset with the recent Jays ticket issue, it’s worth noting that single-game tickets are available to fans online on Feb. 15. So, that’s one way to get your paws on tix quickly, and well before they’re available elsewhere on March 2.

State of the Franchise

BetterTORONTO – So I was simply too glued to CNN watching coverage of Super Tuesday last night to blog after coming home from the Jays’ State of the Franchise gathering downtown.

My biggest complaint about the event was the food. For those of us training for a marathon, is it too much to ask for a veggie spread? OK, even for those of us not in my shoes, hot dogs, pizza, wings and fries were not what the doctor ordered. I know they were going for the whole ballpark feel, but I was at a fine hotel establishment, not in line for a slice of pizza at the Rogers Centre. But I digress…

There were plenty of softballs heaved at Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi and team prez Paul Godfrey, but  there were also some interesting remarks made on Tuesday night. The most "heated" complaint from the fans (two grabbed the mic to bring it up and each got some claps from the crowd) was Ricciardi’s insistance on backing John Gibbons as the manager. To make his case, all Ricciardi had to do was point out Gibby’s career record and the fact that he’s fielded winning clubs in spite of injuries over the past two seasons. Touche.

"If you brought Connie Mack back, he wouldn’t get you 100 wins with those types of injuries," Ricciardi said.

Another item by Ricciardi raised some brows and it hardly flew over the heads of fans, especially some of the more well-known Jays bloggers out there. A fan asked why Ricciardi would even consider trading someone as talented as Alex Rios to the Giants for Tim Lincecum. Ricciardi responded with this mind-boggler:

"When we were presented with that, we thought long and hard. And obviously we value Rios more than we valued the other guy, and that’s why he’s still here."

Then what was all that talk at the Winter Meetings about the decision to pull the trigger being in the hands of Giants GM Brian Sabean? Ricciardi indicated back then that if the Giants agreed to the trade, it was a done deal. Then, when San Francisco signed Aaron Rowand, Sabean said the trade with the Jays was off. Ricciardi’s latest seems a little contradictory.

This isn’t to say that the Jays don’t value Rios a lot. Obviously, they do. They’re still talking to him about a long-term deal. It’s Ricciardi’s job to also entertain trade offers for players like Rios — "It’s always brought up, ‘Would you trade Rios? Would you trade Rios?’ As a general your manager, your response is , ‘Well, what are you willing to give us?’" — but saying now that the Jays put the kibosh on the proposed Giants deal doesn’t line up.

Some other items from the event to note:

–Ricciardi believes B.J. Ryan will be ready for Opening Day
–The Jays are still talking to Aaron Hill about a multiyear deal
–Jays are just under $1 million tix sold, higher than recent years
–Jays are only one of two teams to increase attendance over past five years
–Frank Thomas is going to head to camp earlier than usual
–Ricciardi said David Purcey could join the Jays as a reliever or starter this year

Ricciardi also reiterated that the Jays are done making moves, saying: "We don’t have any more money. We’re done. What we’ve got is what we’ve got. Someone would have to be really, really be looking for a job and would have to come to us on a Minor League deal. I don’t see that happening right now."

Godfrey chimed in multiple times as well, tackling issues like a salary cap, unbalanced schedules and how the Canadian dollar has helped payroll. In short, he would support a salary cap even though players wouldn’t, he’s fought with MLB about changing to a balanced schedule ("I think [Bud Selig has] other things on his mind these days.") and he claims the strength of the loonie is a reason why the Jays’ payroll has jumped from roughly $50 million to more than $90 million. That last one also didn’t completely compute, but Mike Wilner already did the math, so I’ll point you in his direction.

With that, I’ll leave you with this fine exchange between a fan and Ricciardi:

Fan No. 1: "One year after the fact, do you still see the Wells signing being worth the $17 million per year, or whatever the exact figure is? To me, he’s Xavier Nady with slightly better defense."

Ricciardi: "Yeah, we’re very happy with the Wells signing. I think when you look back at the end of that signing, when you see where salaries are going and the direction threy’re going for those types of players, we’ll end up having a good player and he’ll end up performing really well over those seven years. I don’t think he’s Xavier Nady. I think he’s a pretty good player."

Fan No. 2: "I just wanted to comment about that Xavier Nady comparison. Buddy, you don’t need to kick J.P. between the legs."

Now, back to those political races…

Rios avoids arbitration

AlexriostallTORONTO – After enduring an offseason that churned him up considerably in that pesky rumor mill, Alex Rios is officially on the books with the Blue Jays for the 2008 season.

On Tuesday, Toronto avoided arbitration with Rios, setttling on a one-year deal worth $4.835 million. For those without enough fingers to do the math with at home, that’s a $2.3 million raise over what the right fielder took home in 2007, when he cashed in with the arbtration process for the first time.

I know, what about all that long-term contract talk? It’s still on. This one-year deal was simply a stage in the process to forego an arbitration hearing. This way, Rios’ contract for ’08 is done and the Jays and Rios’ reps can continue to discuss a multiyear deal during Spring Training.

If it doesn’t get done before Opening Day, it’ll probably have to wait until next offseason. Teams and players don’t generally delve into negotiations during a season if they don’t have to and Rios is controllable through 2010. So, if it ain’t done now, it’ll be a topic later on. Plenty of time.

Rios, who was seeking $5.6 million compared to Toronto’s offer of $4.535 million, gets a signing bonus of $3.5 million and has a base salary of $1.335 million. He’ll also make another $15K if he heads to the Bronx as an American League All-Star in July.

No feedback from GM J.P. Ricciardi for now, but us media types will surely get some comment from the man at tonight’s State of the Franchise event in Toronto. I’m looking forward to some of the questions/complaints that fans might offer up tonight at this townhall meeting-like gathering. There’s usually a few gems.

Stay tuned…

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