Jays sign Lilly to one-year contract

Jays sign Lilly to one-year contract

Three down, two to go.

Toronto agreed to a one-year, $4 million contract with pitcher Ted Lilly, avoiding salary arbitration with the 30-year-old left-hander. The club also exchanged salary figures before Tuesday's deadline with infielder Shea Hillenbrand and pitcher Pete Walker, the only remaining arbitration-eligible Blue Jays.

The Lilly deal and the contract negotiations came a day after the Blue Jays signed first baseman Lyle Overbay and pitcher Scott Downs to one-year deals worth $2.525 million and $705,000, respectively.

The arbitration hearings are held from Feb. 1-21, but the club can settle on the contracts any time before then. J.P. Ricciardi hasn't had to go to arbitration with a player since taking over as Toronto's general manager in 2001.

Hillenbrand, who split time between first and third base last season, his first with Toronto, is seeking $6.7 million for 2006. The Jays have offered $5 million -- a $1.105 million raise from his '05 salary.

Toronto will probably use Hillenbrand mostly as a designated hitter in 2006 due to the acquisitions of Overbay and third baseman Troy Glaus. Hillenbrand, 30, ranked second on the Jays last season in home runs (18), RBIs (82) and batting average (.291), and was the team's lone representative at the All-Star Game.

Walker, 36, is asking for $850,000 for this year, but Toronto has offered him $575,000. The right-hander made $400,000 last season -- his third with the Blue Jays -- and is expected to serve as a long reliever for 2006. He spent time in the 'pen and as a starter in 2005. He went 5-4 with a 2.98 ERA as a reliever and 1-2 with a 5.23 ERA as a starter.

Hillenbrand and Lilly are both in their final year of arbitration and will become free agents after the 2006 season.

Lilly made $3.1 million in an injury-plagued '05 campaign with the Jays. The southpaw missed all of Spring Training with shoulder issues, then missed a month with tendinitis in his left biceps. The latter contributed to some trends that Toronto hopes he can reverse this season.

A year after posting a second straight 12-win season and making the American League All-Star team in 2004, Lilly went 10-11 with a 5.56 ERA. His 25 starts were the fewest he's made in the last three years. He struggled with control and walked 4.13 batters per nine innings, the highest average he's had since 2000. He also fanned hitters at a clip of 6.84 per nine innings, the lowest mark of his career.

The Blue Jays are hoping that Lilly can stay healthy and return to the form he displayed when he joined the team prior to the 2004 season. If he does, he and Gustavo Chacin would provide a good mix of left-handers in a starting rotation that also includes righties Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett and Josh Towers.

Lilly has played in parts of seven Major League seasons with the Montreal Expos (1999), New York Yankees (2000-02), Oakland Athletics (2002-03) and Blue Jays (2004-05). He has a 44-45 career record with a 4.67 ERA in 153 games, including 128 starts.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.