Clayton could split time at short, second

11/30/2006 - MLB Royce Clayton Toronto Blue Jays + more

TORONTO -- Royce Clayton wanted the opportunity to be a starting shortstop, a job he isn't guaranteed with the Toronto Blue Jays.

"It's not defined right now that he's our everyday shortstop," general manager J.P. Ricciardi said Thursday, a day after agreeing to a $1.5 million, one-year contract.

Utility infielder John McDonald will will play a lot at shortstop, second baseman Aaron Hill will play there too and Ricciardi suggested they might sign another middle infielder.

Ricciardi, however, said Clayton will be given a chance to play a lot.

Clayton hit .258 with two homers, 30 doubles, 40 RBI and 14 stolen bases for Washington and Cincinnati last season. The 37-year-old has played for nine teams over 16 years and he he's not ready to be a backup.

"I know I'm getting up there in age, but in the past 15, 16 years I've been able to play over a 140 games every year. I just want an opportunity until I can't do that any more, to have that opportunity to play shortstop on a consistent basis," Clayton said.

Ricciardi said Clayton could also play second -- a position he's never appeared at in the major leagues.

Toronto focused on Clayton after free-agent second baseman Adam Kennedy agreed to a deal with St. Louis. The Blue Jays were also interested in free-agent shortstop Julio Lugo but would rather spend the $8 million to $10 million annually it would have taken to get him on pitching.

"It's just a matter of putting our resources toward pitching more so than another bat. We think our lineup is good. We've always liked Lugo, but we'd rather spend the money on pitching if we could," Ricciardi said.

Ricciardi reiterated that free-agent right-hander Gil Meche and free-agent left-hander Ted Lilly are his top priorities going into next week's winter meetings.

He compared the hard-throwing Meche to A.J. Burnett, who signed a $55 million, five-year contract after going a modest 49-50 in his first seven seasons in Florida. Meche went 55-44 with a 4.65 ERA in six seasons with Seattle.

"He's a big strong guy. I think his upside is in front of him," Ricciardi said. "Probably not the same stuff as Burnett, but the same kind of upside possibly."

Ricciardi said they haven't talked money yet to Meche or Lilly.

"We like both players. We're going to try to get them," Ricciardi said. "We'll see how it plays out. There's other teams interested."

Ricciardi suggested free-agent starters Mark Redman and Jeff Suppan are fallback options.