Jays trying to be creative in Vegas
Ricciardi weighing his options at annual Winter Meetings
LAS VEGAS -- The Blue Jays' finances are under the microscope more than ever right now, forcing the club to get its creative juices flowing as the Winter Meetings continue to gain steam at the Bellagio. Toronto wants to upgrade its roster, but the franchise is currently handcuffed by the economic climate.
As the week moves along and baseball's decision-makers talk shop on the Las Vegas Strip, Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi may have a few tricks up his sleeve. He'll have to if he wants to meet Toronto's offseason goals while operating on a slimmer budget. Given his financial limitations, Ricciardi was weighing his options on Day 1 of the Meetings.
"We're trying to do something right now," Ricciardi said. "But, obviously, anybody we add we're going to have to subtract. I don't think we're able to take on a lot of payroll. So if we want to do some things, we're going to have to eliminate some payroll.
"Obviously, that means a trade, and that's what we're trying to do right now to make the club better."
The Jays -- suffering from a weakened Canadian dollar and a decrease in team sponsorship -- are preparing as though they're going to lose free-agent starter A.J. Burnett to another club, and that's the likely scenario with each passing day. Ricciardi maintains that acquiring pitching help is Toronto's top priority, but the top-tier free agents aren't on the club's radar at the moment.
The team is also in a transition phase, with the recent passing of team owner Ted Rogers and the club searching for a new team president and CEO. The Jays operated on a $97 million payroll last season, but that figure won't be as high this time around.
"From a financial standpoint, we're probably in a little different bind than we were the last few years," Ricciardi said.
Beyond pitching, a report on Yahoo! Sports late Monday indicated that the Blue Jays have interest in free-agent shortstop Rafael Furcal. Ricciardi has said all offseason that the club is content using Marco Scutaro as its regular shortstop, but the report, citing an unspecified source, claims that Toronto might still be a player for Furcal.
Ricciardi noted that Toronto will look to the trade route for rotation help and the Jays will also consider reclamation projects on the free-agent market. In the case of the latter, the Jays sat down with the agent for oft-injured starter Carl Pavano on Monday and showed "significant interest," according to the pitcher's agent, Tom O'Connell.
"It was a great meeting," O'Connell said. "I think they have significant interest in Carl, so we'll see how it all plays out. We're still at the stage where I want to meet with all the teams that have interest. We don't want to leave any stone unturned in this process."
Ricciardi said Toronto might look at other free-agent starters as the offseason progresses.
"As it plays out, and maybe some guys don't get what they're looking for," Ricciardi said, "we might be able to have a little bit more money, if we stay on the sidelines now."
Without Burnett, the Jays' rotation has two vacancies behind ace Roy Halladay, Jesse Litsch and David Purcey. Ricciardi said he's willing to discuss deals for most of his players in an effort to find more starting depth. That apparently doesn't include closer B.J. Ryan, though, even though shedding the $20 million he's owed through 2010 would free up some spending money.
Ricciardi shot down an online report claiming that the Blue Jays had discussed Ryan's availability with the Mets and said that Toronto didn't plan on moving its closer. One reason is that relievers Scott Downs and Brian Tallet are candidates to move from the bullpen to the rotation if the Jays fall short in their search for pitching.
"I don't see us trading B.J., to be honest with you," Ricciardi said. "It's tough to fill that spot."
That doesn't mean that other Toronto relievers are off the hook. Ricciardi said he might be able to include one of his relievers in a trade package in order to free up some payroll. The Jays would probably also consider moving first baseman Lyle Overbay (owed $14 million through 2010), given the right opportunity.
As for Alex Rios, who was nearly moved to San Francisco in exchange for right-hander Tim Lincecum at last year's Winter Meetings, Ricciardi said the right fielder isn't necessarily being shopped by the Jays. Rios is an integral part of Toronto's offense, which labored through the 2008 season.
"If you trade a guy like Rios, how do you replace him, too?" Ricciardi said. "It's got to be something that fits. We're not actively shopping Rios. Last year, it made sense, because we knew Burnett may leave and Lincecum would've stepped right in. I don't know if there's that type of deal out there that would make sense for us."
Ricciardi said opposing clubs have been inquiring about what direction Toronto wants to take this winter.
"Teams are asking us what we want to do," Ricciardi said. "So we're telling them what we'd be willing to do. But teams aren't coming to us saying, 'Hey, would you trade this guy or that guy?'"
The fact of the matter is that the Blue Jays will have to trade one or two players to get something done.
"We can get involved," Ricciardi said. "But it's at the expense of also knowing that we're going to have to take away."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.