GM: Jays won't re-sign Wells for Beltran-type money

Updated: October 3, 2006, 1:09 AM ET
Associated Press

TORONTO -- If All-Star center fielder Vernon Wells wants a contract similar to what Carlos Beltran got with the New York Mets two years ago, the Toronto Blue Jays won't re-sign him, general manager J.P. Ricciardi said Monday.

Center Field
Toronto Blue Jays

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The team has called signing Wells to an extension their biggest offseason priority. He's due $5.6 million next year, the final season of a five-year contact.

Wells hit .303 with 32 homers, 106 RBI and 17 stolen bases while playing Gold Glove defense. He's a similar player to Beltran, who signed a $119 million, seven-year deal.

"I can tell you this: If it is a Beltran type deal then it's something we wouldn't be able to handle," Ricciardi said.

Ricciardi hasn't talked with Wells or his agent yet. Ownership has agreed to bump the team payroll past $80 million next season, but Ricciardi won't know for two weeks how much more.

"One thing with Wells is that we have him under contract for next year. Worst case scenario is that we have him for one more year," Ricciardi said.

"I can tell you this: If it is a Beltran type deal then it's something we wouldn't be able to handle. "
-- Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi

Ricciardi will try to close the gap between New York and Boston this offseason. He thinks they made a step this year by finishing higher than third place in the AL East for the first time since 1993. Toronto finished with an 87-76 record and secured second place in the AL East -- ahead of Boston but behind New York.

"I'm not going to sit here and tell you that we popped champagne for finishing in second place," Ricciardi said. "But it's something we haven't done here in a long time. We finished ahead of the Red Sox. It's just a nice stepping stone. I know the guys were really driven to get to that spot. We're closer to where we think we can be."

Ricciardi spent millions last offseason to help close the gap.

He raised eyebrows when he gave B.J. Ryan the most lucrative contract ever for a reliever -- $47 million over five years. Ryan had 37 saves and a 1.37 ERA, but he blew an important game in Oakland on July 30 -- just before the Blue Jays fell out of contention after being swept in New York.

Ricciardi also gave starter A.J. Burnett a five-year, $55 million deal. Burnett missed more than two months with an elbow injury, but he finished strong (10-8 with a 3.98 ERA.)

That early season injury and a similar injury to left-hander Gustavo Chacin derailed Toronto's chances more than anything, Ricciardi said.

"It would really nice if we could stay healthy for the whole year. I think if we can bring this whole team back totally healthy then we can make a legitimate run at winning this division," Ricciardi said.

"We have a number that we feel comfortable that we would go after [pitcher] Ted [Lilly] with. But if somebody goes out and just blows that number out of the water we're obviously not going to get involved."
-- Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi

Ricciardi wants to add depth to the rotation, especially with left-hander Ted Lilly (15-13 4.31 ERA) headed for free agency.

He won't get in a bidding war for Lilly, who got into a physical altercation with manager John Gibbons in August.

"We have a number that we feel comfortable that we would go after Ted with. But if somebody goes out and just blows that number out of the water we're obviously not going to get involved," Ricciardi said.

Ricciardi added the market for free agent starters is thin so they'll be probably overpaid.

Ricciardi said they can't afford to bring back both Bengie Molina and Gregg Zaun. Ricciardi won't pick up Molina's option for next year and he doesn't want to spend another $5.5 million for catchers.

Zaun is looking for around $3 million per season and will likely re-sign. Ricciardi said he's comfortable with Jason Phillips as the backup.

Ricciardi is also comfortable with his corner outfielders. Left fielder Reed Johnson (.319, .390 on-base percentage) and right fielder Alex Rios (.302, 17 home runs, 82 RBI) had breakout seasons.

And Ricciardi hasn't ruled out re-signing free agent Frank Catalanotto (.300, 7, 56).

"We had four outfielders that hit .300. I thought Rios had a real coming out year. It's a shame that he got hurt from a staph infection standpoint, but we expect bigger and better things from him next year," he said. "I thought Reed had a great year. With those two guys in the lineup I like our outfield."

He also happy with third baseman Troy Glaus (.252, 38, 104). But the GM said Glaus needs to work out in the offseason to prevent himself from tiring like he did in the second half.

"Every player gets to a point in their career where they decide I'd better start working out a little harder and I think Troy is at that point now," Ricciardi said.

Ricciardi will try to add a middle infielder. He called Aaron Hill (.291, 6, 51) an adequate shortstop, but he prefers him at second base.

He'll have at least $12 million to spend and maybe as much as $30 million if ownership bumps the payroll to around $100 million as speculated. A large portion of the increase could go to Wells, who says he wants to take care of his kid's kids.

"We'll find out pretty soon where we stand," Wells said.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press