Jays prepare for Winter Meetings

Jays return to scene of their shopping frenzy

TORONTO -- Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi has a tough act to follow.

A year ago, Ricciardi turned the Winter Meetings in Dallas into Toronto's stage with a pair of moves that reshaped his roster. Now, the baseball world will keep an eye on Ricciardi as he heads to Orlando, Fla., where he says he doesn't think he'll be nearly as active as he was last December.

Of course, Ricciardi could be bluffing.

"I don't think it'll be as much of a flurry as last year, but we'll see," Ricciardi said. "It's totally different, because last year we were very defined in who we wanted. We went after them and we got them."

The first thing Toronto did at the Winter Meetings last year was sign Ricciardi to a contract extension that would keep him at the helm through 2010. Then, the Jays GM inked free-agent starter A.J. Burnett to a five-year, $55 million deal before leaving the meetings on the heels of a five-player trade that brought first baseman Lyle Overbay to Toronto.

This time around, Ricciardi has a group of targets, but the list isn't narrowed to just one or two players.

"It's hard to tell. I would probably say we wouldn't be as active," Ricciardi said. "I think we will have done all our groundwork and if we are active, it'll be in the sense of following up on things we've done."

Toronto needs one or two starting pitchers, and Ricciardi maintains that he is very interested in re-signing Ted Lilly. The Blue Jays have also talked to representatives for free agents Gil Meche, Vicente Padilla and Mark Mulder, among others.

Less than a week before this year's meetings, Ricciardi was spotted at the Air Canada Centre taking in a Maple Leafs hockey game with Meche. Ricciardi indicated that Padilla and Mulder were unlikely solutions.

"Going forward now, our concentration will be on as much pitching as we can afford," Ricciardi said. "We're trying to get two pitchers if we can, but I think that would be an extreme wish. We may end up with one, and we'd be very happy with that."

The Jays also need a fourth outfielder. Rookie Adam Lind could be an option, but Toronto would like him to continue his development with regular playing time. That means he'll likely begin the year at Triple-A, because Reed Johnson has emerged as Toronto's full-time left fielder.

"I don't want to have Lind not play," Ricciardi said. "So if we can't carry him here with enough at-bats, we'd probably be looking for someone very, very cheap to be that fourth spot."

When the offseason began, Ricciardi indicated that Toronto's payroll for 2007 stood at around $80 million, including roughly $12.5 million to spend on free agents. That cash and more is now tied up in the contracts dished out in November for designated hitter Frank Thomas ($9 million in '07), catcher Gregg Zaun ($3.5 million) and shortstop Royce Clayton ($1.5 million).

A payroll increase is coming and Blue Jays president and CEO Paul Godfrey said he hopes to make that figure public by the end of December. Ricciardi and Godfrey have an idea of what the payroll will be -- it's been speculated to be between $90-95 million -- but they don't want to reveal the number until it is approved by team owner Ted Rogers and the board of directors for Rogers Communication.

When Ricciardi arrives at the Winter Meetings, he'll presumably have around $10 million to work with -- maybe more. Even so, he may have to get creative in finishing up his offseason to-do list, especially when Lilly is seeking a four-year deal worth around $35 million or higher.

Other second-tier free-agent pitchers are hoping for similar deals, and that's one reason that Ricciardi believes pitching could be the last issue to be solved for many teams.

"At some point, you're starting to get to that bewitching hour where guys are going to have to make a decision about where they want to go," Ricciardi said. "It seems like the Winter Meetings are always the place where things happen."

Ricciardi knows a thing or two about that.

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