With Lilly gone, Jays turn to Meche

With Lilly gone, Jays turn attention to Meche

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- It wasn't for a lack of effort, but the Blue Jays will not be re-signing Ted Lilly. Before scooting out a side exit at the Dolphin Hotel on Wednesday afternoon, Larry O'Brien, Lilly's agent, said that the Cubs and Yankees were the only teams left in the race.

By the end of the day, Lilly had agreed to a four-year deal worth $40 million with the Cubs, pending a physical. Toronto had tabled an offer in that range, but O'Brien noted that money wasn't the reason the Jays were no longer an option. In fact, it was Lilly who finally decided to narrow his wish list down to Chicago and New York.

"They were absolutely matching [the offers]," said O'Brien, referring to Toronto. "So it wasn't a question of dollars whatsoever. It was really just a change of scenery. Teddy has pitched in Toronto and the thought of pitching back in New York and Chicago was appealing.

"I think it was a matter of Ted doing some soul searching last night," he added. "He's had great times in Toronto, but he just felt at this time in his career a change in scenery would be good."

With Lilly now out of the picture, the Blue Jays will sit back and wait to hear if the four-year deal they offered free-agent starter Gil Meche is enough to convince him to join the Jays. Toronto has met with Meche's representatives throughout the Winter Meetings, and Toronto general manager J.P. Ricciardi said he was simply waiting to hear back from Meche.

"I think we've done everything we can possibly do," said Ricciardi, referring to Toronto's pursuit of Meche. "Really, the ball is in their court at this point. We're waiting to hear from them, but I don't think it's going to be a long wait. I think we'll find something out in the next few days."

Ricciardi had hoped to add both Lilly and Meche to Toronto's rotation, which also includes Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett and Gustavo Chacin. Adding two starters is no longer a top priority now, though. Ricciardi said that he'd be content with signing the 28-year-old Meche and letting Josh Towers, who went 1-9 with a 9.11 ERA as a member of the rotation last year, move into the fifth spot.

"Our ultimate goal was to have two guys. We tried to get two, and we didn't get one [of those two]," Ricciardi said. "We think Josh Towers can settle into the fifth role. We think last year was a tough year for him, but Chacin is fine.

"If we walk out of here with one, we'll be in the same boat that we were last year," he added. "We'll have three good pitchers in the front, and the last two guys can battle it out for the four and five spots."

The Cubs proved to be a major obstacle in Toronto's quest to retain Lilly. Larry O'Brien's brother, Pete, pitched for the Mariners in 1993, when new Cubs manager Lou Piniella was Seattle's manager. Larry O'Brien said that Pete's praise of Piniella might have influenced Lilly's decision.

"He told Larry what a good guy I am to play for," joked Piniella, who has been pitching Chicago to both Lilly and Meche this week. "Part of my job since I've been here in Orlando is I've been a little bit like a college recruiter calling these guys, but I enjoy that."

The Cubs will likely continue to be a nuisance for Toronto as Ricciardi aims to reel in Meche, who went 11-8 with a 4.48 ERA last year. Piniella was the right-hander's manager in Seattle in 1999 and 2000, and adding Lilly might not stop Chicago from targeting Meche.

"He's got good stuff -- he really does," Piniella said. "He's good young man. I mean, I really enjoyed the few years that I spent with him in Seattle."

Ricciardi knew "it wasn't going to be a slam dunk" to convince Lilly to re-sign, and Toronto's GM probably would say the same about Meche's chances to sign north of the border, too.

"We'll see. We're in on the Meche thing," Ricciardi said. "We'll see where we go there. If not, I know on April 2 we've got to show up. We'll have someone. Someone will pitch for us."

If Toronto strikes out on both Lilly and Meche, Ricciardi said he doesn't currently have any advanced talks going with any clubs for contingency plans. Free-agent starters Jeff Suppan and Mark Redman have been mentioned as Plan B types, but they weren't the only options. Internally, Ricciardi said Shaun Marcum could compete for a rotation spot.

"I think J.P. was a little bit disappointed [that Lilly turned down Toronto's offers]," O'Brien said. "But he's very resilient. I have a great deal of respect for him, and he'll get somebody and they'll be fine, I'm sure."

Ricciardi indicated that he expected to have some more news in regards to the middle infield in the next few days. Toronto signed shortstop Royce Clayton on Nov. 29 and the club is currently working on re-signing utility infielder John McDonald, who is eligible for arbitration. Ricciardi said the Jays are also interest in infielder Chris Gomez, who played for Toronto in 2004.

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