Zaun re-signs, will be Jays' starting catcher

Updated: November 28, 2006, 9:22 PM ET
Associated Press

TORONTO -- Newly signed Frank Thomas hopes the Toronto Blue Jays can add a top pitcher to their roster. For now, they're content to keep their catcher.

Catcher
Toronto Blue Jays

Profile
2006 SEASON STATISTICS
GM HR RBI R OBP AVG
99 12 40 39 .363 .272

Gregg Zaun stayed with the Blue Jays by agreeing to a $7.25 million, two-year contract Tuesday, a day after catcher Rod Barajas backed out of an apparent deal.

General manager J.P. Ricciardi quickly resumed negotiations with Zaun after Barajas decided not to go through with the deal and switched agents.

"Zaunie was our first choice all along," Ricciardi said at a news conference to introduce Thomas, the team's new designated hitter. "We just hit a snag there at one point. We called him last night and said, 'Zaunie, if you want to be a Blue Jay, we have to make it happen now.' He was great and we were able to work it out. We're really happy that he's back."

Ricciardi thought he had an agreement with Barajas, who played for Texas last season.

"Where I come from, your word and your handshake means something," Ricciardi said. "Unfortunately, in his case it didn't. I'll leave it at that. We had more than a handshake."

Barajas needed only to pass a physical for his deal with the Blue Jays to be finalized, and the deal was originally to be announced Tuesday.

Instead, Thomas was the featured guest Tuesday. He agreed to an $18.12 million, two-year contract earlier this month.

The 38-year-old led the Oakland Athletics with 39 homers and 114 RBI this year, batting .270. Thomas has hit .305 with 487 homers and 1,579 RBI in 17 major league seasons, 16 with the Chicago White Sox.

"I want to play until I'm 42. I hope to get 600 home runs," Thomas said. "I finished fourth in MVP voting this year. I had a great year. It's not about age."

Thomas said he would like to see Toronto sign a "superstar pitcher" to compete with New York and Boston.

Ricciardi said the Blue Jays don't have the money to do that, but would like re-sign free agent left-hander Ted Lilly. Free agent right-hander Gil Meche attended a Maple Leafs hockey game in Toronto on Tuesday night. He was shown on the videoboard -- "Future Blue Jay" was written beside his name.

Ricciardi reiterated that he'd like to sign center fielder Vernon Wells to an extension. Wells is due $5.6 million next year, the final season of a five-year contact.

The Blue Jays wanted to bring back Zaun, too, but Ricciardi was initially reluctant to meet the catcher's asking price. Zaun's new deal includes an option for 2009 that could become guaranteed based on appearances.

Zaun was said to have drawn interest from Boston and New York, where he would have been a backup. He represented himself in talks with Toronto and was upset when the Blue Jays made a deal with Barajas.

"One thing Gregg probably realized after handling the situation himself is that sometimes it's not personal, it's business," Ricciardi said.

Zaun hit .272 with 12 home runs and 40 RBI last season as the backup to Bengie Molina, whom Ricciardi is not interested in re-signing.

Barajas batted .256 with 11 homers and 41 RBI in 97 games for Texas. Barajas agreed to an annual average salary with Toronto that was less than the $3.2 million he made last season. His contract with Toronto was supposed to a $5.25 million, two-year deal.


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press