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Lilly has many suitors for his services

Lilly has many suitors for his services

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Even Ted Lilly's agent was caught off guard. When Larry O'Brien strolled around the four-story Christmas tree inside the lobby at Disney's Dolphin Hotel Tuesday afternoon, his eyes widened when he saw the size of the crowd waiting for him.

"Wow," said O'Brien, who was quickly circled by reporters and television cameras. "Ted Lilly is a pretty important guy."

At these Winter Meetings, Lilly -- O'Brien's lone client on the market -- has at least become one of the more popular topics. O'Brien arrived on the scene Monday night and quickly found his way to the suite for Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi to begin contract discussions.

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Since then, the reports and rumors have run rampant throughout the hotel, and O'Brien was more than willing to discuss the negotiations for the free-agent starter. O'Brien said that the Blue Jays had offered Lilly a four-year contract, but they were far from being a lock to retain Lilly's services.

"Yes, the Blue Jays have made us an offer," said O'Brien, who spoke with the Jays again on Tuesday night. "But it's something that we'd have to work on. I would say that there are about three or four teams that are high-priority teams for Ted, and Toronto is one of those."

One of the other interested clubs is the Chicago Cubs, who met with O'Brien shortly before his rendezvous with the press. O'Brien also met with the Mariners, and the Yankees and Giants didn't offer contracts, but they both entered into what he described late Tuesday night as "serious discussions." O'Brien said a decision "could be [made] as soon as before the Winter Meetings break up [on Thursday]."

That kind of rapid bidding war could potentially take the Jays right out of the running, though. O'Brien planned on meeting again with Ricciardi on Wednesday afternoon.

"We've got a number that we would get to and that would be it for us," Ricciardi said. "We've said all along, if it's all about the money, that we might not be the team that has the most money.

"We've presented them with a number," Ricciardi said. "Obviously, it's probably not our last number, but it's got to stop somewhere."

According to O'Brien, the Cubs tweaked their initial offer to Lilly and were continuing to be aggressive in their pursuit of the left-hander. O'Brien added that Lou Piniella, Chicago's new manager, planned on speaking with Lilly on Tuesday, too.

"Our talks with the Cubs are becoming very advanced," O'Brien said. "I'm not going to go into detail on [financial terms], but they've pretty much indicated to me that they're willing to pay what is going to need to be paid to get Ted Lilly."

What is going to need to be offered, in O'Brien's opinion, is a four-year deal worth around $40 million. On Monday, free-agent starter Vicente Padilla agreed to a three-year, $34 million deal with Texas, and O'Brien is comparing Lilly's situation to that contract.

The Rangers had expressed interest in Lilly, but O'Brien wasn't sure if they were going to continue to be in the mix after re-signing Padilla. It appears that the Cubs and the Blue Jays are the frontrunners to sign Lilly, but the Giants could be close behind.

Lilly, who won a career-high 15 games for the Jays last year, lives in California, and San Francisco is nearing a deal for free agent Bengie Molina, who was Toronto's No. 1 catcher last season. O'Brien said that Lilly enjoyed pitching to Molina and if the catcher signed with the Giants, that move would be a plus for the pitcher.

"[Lilly's] sitting in a good spot right now," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "Pitchers are in demand -- left-handed pitchers are really in demand. Wherever he ends up, he's probably going to be pretty happy."

Ricciardi hoped everyone involved in discussions would know exactly where Lilly is going to end up soon.

"We're all getting a little tired of the talking," Ricciardi said. "At some point, it's 'Yes' or 'No.' We're getting close to that point."

O'Brien said he wouldn't be surprised if he was pushed closer to that point on Wednesday.

"I understand his concern," O'Brien said late Tuesday night as he drove back to his hotel. "J.P. could put his best foot forward tomorrow and say he needs an answer in the next 24 hours and we'd be fine with that. We could still end up in Toronto.

"We're all kind of doing the dance right now and I don't know where we'll end up."

Toronto also met again with the representatives for free-agent starter Gil Meche on Tuesday. Ricciardi is interested in signing both Lilly and Meche, but that could be unrealistic in the current market.

"I've always liked Meche. We saw him in the past few years," Gibbons said. "He's got the potential to win a lot of ballgames -- more than he's probably won in the past. We're trying to sell him pretty good right now. I think he'd be a big addition."

Ricciardi wasn't sure if the two sides would talk again in the evening. Free-agent starters Jeff Suppan and Mark Redman are two backup plans if the Jays are unable to sign either Lilly or Meche.

"We've got some Plan B guys," Ricciardi said. "We've made it known to those guys that right now our priority is [Lilly and Meche]. If that doesn't work out, then we'd go to something else."

Asides from addressing the starting rotation, Toronto has been searching for a fourth outfielder and maybe another middle infielder. The Jays are also exploring their options for the Rule V Draft, which takes place on Thursday.

Ricciardi indicated that he's interested in 38-year-old outfielder Matt Stairs -- a native of New Brunswick. Last season, Stairs made $1.35 million and had 13 home runs and 51 RBIs over 117 games with the Tigers, Royals and Rangers.

"I've always liked Matt," Ricciardi said. "I helped bring him over to Oakland [in 1996], so I've known him a long time. Unfortunately with all these things, it's opportunity and money."

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

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