Riccardi addresses rumors on Day 1

Riccardi addresses rumors on Day 1

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi stayed in his suite at Disney's Swan and Dolphin Resort and the rumors were stuck in the lobby.

When the two finally crossed paths on Monday night, Ricciardi kept his comments short and revealed nothing. After all, nothing is exactly what Toronto's GM said the Jays were up to on Day 1 of the Winter Meetings.

While the Blue Jays maintained that they were simply inactive, plenty of rumblings swirled among the reporters and baseball types who mingled inside the Disney resort. One short-lived rumor had the Chicago Cubs inking a contract with free-agent starter Ted Lilly, whom the Jays would like to re-sign.

Lilly didn't pen his name on a deal with Chicago, but his agent, Larry O'Brien, was scheduled to meet with the Cubs' brass on Monday night. O'Brien recently said that the Cubs offered Lilly a four-year deal worth more than $30 million, but Ricciardi added that his pursuit of the pitcher wasn't affected by the rumors.

"That's just hearsay from our end," Ricciardi said. "I personally talked to Ted Lilly on Saturday and had a great conversation with him. That's really all I can go on."

Ricciardi is also targeting free-agent right-hander Gil Meche, and Toronto reportedly met with the starter's representatives on Monday. Ricciardi and other members of the Jays' front office denied the report -- even though a meeting with Meche's agent seems inevitable this week.

Escaping the Winter Meetings with both Lilly and Meche in tow could prove to be a tall task for the Blue Jays. Until team owner Ted Rogers officially signs off on Toronto's payroll for the upcoming season, the Jays are keeping quiet about how high the figure will increase.

Toronto entered the offseason with a payroll estimated at around $80 million, but it's been speculated that the figure could rise to as high as $95 million. Adding two free agent starters to the rotation in the current market could mean the payroll might reach $100 million.

That has yet to be seen, but Blue Jays president and CEO Paul Godfrey said he is confident Ricciardi can complete his offseason goals.

"We know the payroll is going up," said Godfrey, who hopes to make the payroll figure public before the end of the month. "I do believe that J.P. should be able to do the things that he wants to do with the number that's being suggested."

The Jays are aggressively pursuing both Lilly and Meche, but it's not clear whether either pitcher will sign a new contract before the end of the Winter Meetings. O'Brien recently said that he would like to see a few other free-agent starters sign deals in order to better gauge what kind of contract could be in store for Lilly.

"Time goes slow sometimes," Godfrey said. "There's lots of groundwork being laid every minute of the day, and I think we're continuing to zero in on the area of pitching."

Adam Eaton recently signed a three-year deal worth $24.5 million with Philadelphia. A lot of the second-tier free-agent starters -- not including Barry Zito and Jason Schmidt, who are widely considered the top arms on the market -- will likely command similar contracts.

The asking prices could rise even higher if starters like Lilly and Meche wait to see what kind of deals Zito and Schmidt receive. Toronto is also interested in Jeff Suppan and Mark Redman if signing Lilly and Meche becomes too pricey.

"Every year is different -- it unfolds in a different way," Ricciardi said. "All I can go on is the conversations that we've had with their representatives and just base it on that. I don't know what anyone's waiting for.

"Some representatives come here with an agenda to get something done quick. Some guys are maybe still in information-gathering [mode]."

Ricciardi also indicated that no one had approached him about potential trades for center fielder Vernon Wells, who is under contract for $5.6 million in 2007. The Jays would like to sign Wells to an extension this offseason, but Ricciardi has repeatedly said that the outfielder is still part of the plans for the upcoming season even without a long-term deal in hand.

Last winter, the Blue Jays stole the headlines at the Winter Meetings in Dallas. First, Toronto signed right-hander A.J. Burnett to a five-year deal worth $55 million. Then, the Jays swung a five-player trade for first baseman Lyle Overbay near the end of the annual gathering.

Ricciardi said things are a little different this time around.

"Last year, I think we were so far down the road with some things," Ricciardi said. "There were a lot of things that took place. I don't see us in that role right now, but it could change."

There's always Day 2.

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