November 2008

Jays won't go wild this winter

Speaking to reporters in Toronto on Thursday afternoon, Blue Jays interim president and CEO Paul Beeston reiterated that the club isn’t likely to go on any type of spending spree this winter. Beeston said the Jays remained focused on re-signing A.J. Burnett, but there’s not much happening beyond that at the moment.

If the Jays can’t retain Burnett, the club might be more inclined to keep the money planned for his contract, rather than use it to reel in any other free agents. Growing concerns about the economy and the decline of the Canadian dollar have Toronto re-evaluating the direction it wants to go. Beeston said the team’s ticket sales are consistent with previous year, but sponsorship is down.

“The biggest decision we have to make is what direction we’re going to go with the team,” Beeston said. “We can spend $100 million, but if it doesn’t make sense, why do it?”

Beeston added that the Blue Jays have a list of about 35-40 candidates — roughly half being “household names” — for the permanent president and CEO position. Beeston said he believes Toronto will have a replacement for outgoing president Paul Godfrey prior to the beginning of Spring Training.

–JB

Blue Jays not in on Manny

Earlier this week, Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi told MLB.com that his club isn’t targeting any big power bats on the free-agent market at the moment. Due to financial constraints, Toronto would prefer to solve its need for offence via trade.

Even so, various reports continue to toss the Blue Jays in as a potential player for free-agent slugger Manny Ramirez. Ricciardi once again attempted to put those rumors to rest in an interview with ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark.

“We won’t be involved with Manny,” Ricciardi said. “That keeps coming up, but it’s not true. I think one reason is that Manny has always liked it in Toronto. He’s hit more home runs here than anybody. And he likes the city, because he can fly under the radar here.

“So he may be asking his agent to try to find a way to put him here. He’s a great hitter, so it’s tempting. But being tempted and being realistic are two separate things.”

–JB 

Ricciardi: "I don't see us getting involved with anybody"

For now, that appears to be the Blue Jays’ take on the free-agent market. Sure, they plan on making a run at re-signing A.J. Burnett. But beyond that? Toronto might not be much of a player on the open market.

If the Jays don’t retain Burnett, Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi told MLB.com that he doesn’t think “there’s anybody else out there that, for what you’d probably have to get involved with from a money standpoint, that we would feel comfortable getting involved with. I think we’d probably stay in-house.”

As for Toronto’s search for more offense, Ricciardi denied that the Jays are targeting free-agent slugger Jason Giambi, or that free-agent Milton Bradley is a top priority. If anything, Ricciardi said that the Blue Jays hope to find what they’re seeking through the trade market and not through free agency.

“We’re still going to keep listening and seeing what’s available to us,” Ricciardi said. “But right now, I don’t see us getting involved with anybody. Something is going to have to really make sense for us and the best way would be via trade.”

That includes a possible search for a shortstop, too. Ricciardi said the Jays don’t plan on getting involved with any shortstops through free agency, nixing the rumors that have pegged Toronto as a suitor for Rafael Furcal.

The Jays don’t have an excess of spending money this winter, though Ricciardi didn’t rule out using trades to possibly free up some more payroll.

“We’ll be open to anything,” Ricciardi said. “We’re not in a slash payroll mode, but we’re in a situation where if we can make ourselves better via trade we’ll look that way. But, if we can’t, this is the team we have and we’ll just be creative with what we’ve got here and try to plug in our holes internally.”

–JB

Blue Jays waiting on Burnett

The Toronto Blue Jays are in a holding pattern when it comes to negotiations with free-agent pitcher A.J. Burnett. The club still hasn’t made a formal offer to Burnett, preferring to wait to see what type of contracts it’s up against.

It’s believed that the Blue Jays are prepared to offer a four-year, $54 million deal for Burnett, but that’s a deal that would easily be topped by the likes of the Yankees — one of the pitcher’s suitors.

“We’re going to let him go out and see what’s out there,” Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi was quoted as saying in Tuesday’s Toronto Star. “That’s what he wants to do – see what teams are interested, see what’s available and, at that point, come back to us and see if we’re even going to be in the ballpark.”

Ricciardi add that, if the Jays fall short in their quest to re-sign Burnett, the team might not be in the mix for any other free-agent starters. Toronto had been rumored to have interest in Brad Penny, Ryan Dempster and Derek Lowe.

“No, I don’t think there’s anything out there that we can get involved in at this point that makes any sense for us,” Ricciardi told the Star.

–JB

Burnett and the Blue Jays

Anyone notice that Blue Jays starter A.J. Burnett still hasn’t filed for free agency? That’s not a mistake, but all it means s Burnett’s contract situation is a tad different than that of other free agents. When Burnett informed Toronto that he was opting out last week, he put in motion a process that will terminate his current contract on Thursday.

“It’s a little different situation,” explained Darek Braunecker, Burnett’s agent. “It’s an actual termination of contract, is what it is. He becomes eligible for free agency via termination of contract, so it’s a little different filing process. We had to notify the club, both verbally and in writing, and then it’s passed on to the Commissioner’s Office.”

So, on Friday, Burnett can begin listening to new contract offers from other clubs. The Blue Jays are still interesting in retaining Burnett, as unlikely a scenario as that is beginning to seem, but the club will likely have competition for the pitcher in the Yankees, Orioles and possibly the Braves, among others.

As the free-agent period opens, the Jays are also in the mix for a power bat, a shortstop and possibly a backup catcher — the latter an issue Toronto may be content with solving internally. As for the bat, Toronto has some interest in Manny Ramirez, though the club probably can’t afford him, while Jason Giambi, Milton Bradley and Raul Ibanez might also be targets. At short, the Jays have been rumored to have interest in Rafael Furcal and also talked to the Padres about a possible trade for Khalil Greene.

In the pitching department, if the Blue Jays insist that they can’t get into a bidding war to keep Burnett, it seems unlikely that the club will be able to make a push for the top available arms. Even so, it’s been reported that Toronto is believed to have already approached the representatives for Ryan Dempster, Derek Lowe and maybe even Ben Sheets. The Jays are rumored to have interest in Brad Penny as well.

–JB

Zaun won't be returning to Toronto

TORONTO — Free-agent catcher Gregg Zaun vented some frustration with the Blue Jays in an article that appeared in the National Post on Monday. In July, Zaun admitted to being open to a trade out of Toronto, but general manager J.P. Ricciardi countered by saying there were no interested parties. Zaun told the newspaper that the Jays “had a trade in place” and backed out.

“It sure wasn’t easy to take when J.P. in the papers was telling everybody in the baseball world that nobody wanted me, when I knew that that was in fact not the truth,” Zaun told the newspaper. “To say that nobody was interested in me was inaccurate and embarrassing and it really made me look bad. I wasn’t happy with that.”

Zaun also expressed some frustration about an apparent lack of communication from the Blue Jays, who handed the starting catching job to Rod Barajas after Zaun returned from a stint on the disabled list midway through the season. Earlier this offseason, the Jays picked up Barajas’ $2.5 million club option to bring him back in 2009.

The 37-year-old Zaun, who made $3.75 million last year, finished the 2008 season hitting .237 with six homers and 30 RBIs in 245 at-bats — the fewest trips to the plate in his five-year tour with Toronto. Zaun and Ricciardi ruled out a return to Toronto and the catcher said he hopes to land a backup job with a contender or a regular role on a team with a young pitching staff.

“That would be a fun job for me,” Zaun said. “It’s what I did when I started with the Blue Jays. I was a part of the maturing process of all those young pitchers.”

~JB

Overbay on the block?

Reports out of Seattle are that the Blue Jays have shown a willingness to trade first baseman Lyle Overbay — a native of Centralia, Wash. — to the Mariners. According to the Seattle Times, Toronto is even willing to pick up some of the $14 million Overbay is owed through 2010.

The Tacoma News-Tribune has reported that the Blue Jays have been met with a “decided lack of enthusiasm” from Seattle. It’s been rumored that Overbay was part of the package that Toronto tried to use to acquire outfielder Raul Ibanez prior to the July 31 Trade Deadline this past season. Ibanez is a free agent this winter.

The Blue Jays are trying to upgrade their offense this winter and first base is an area that the club can address. Since having his right hand broken by a pitch midway through the 2007 season, Overbay’s offensive numbers, especially his power production, have declined. Toronto acquired Overbay in a five-player trade with the Brewers prior to the ’06 season.

The Blue Jays have also been rumored to be in on possible trade talks with the Padres for shortstop Khalil Greene. Without an excess of cash to spend this winter, Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi has made it known that the club does plan on exploring the trade market in an attempt to meet some of its offseason goals.

–JB

Burnett to opt out

Blue Jays pitcher A.J. Burnett is going to be a free agent. On Tuesday, Darek Braunecker, Burnett’s agent confirmed that Burnett will opt out of his current contract. Braunecker met with the Blue Jays at the GM Meetings in Dana Point, Calif., on Tuesday to inform the club of the pitcher’s decision.

Burnett immediately becomes arguable the top available arm behind free-agent C.C. Sabathia. Last season, Burnett set career highs with 18 wins, 34 starts, 221 1/3 innings and an American League-high 231 strikeouts. By opting out, Burnett leaves the $24 million he was owed over the next two years on the table.

Maybe the biggest part of Burnett’s 2008 season was his absence from the disabled list. Only twice in Burnett’s 10 seasons has he avoided the DL — thanks to numerous arm injuries — and both happened to be contract seasons. His only other injury-free campaign was in 2005, when he won 12 games for the Marlins and then signed a five-year, $55 million deal with Toronto.

So Burnett comes with some risk, even with the sound season he just logged. Braunecker offered a no comment when asked if the Jays had already tabled a new offer to retain the pitcher.

It’s likely that Burnett waits to see what free-agent pitchers like Derek Lowe and Ryan Dempster can get on the open market, considering Burnett could make a case to earn more. The Yankees, Red Sox and Orioles are all rumored to have interest in Burnett, who makes his offseason home outside of Baltimore.

~JB

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