Jays hoping to lock up Wells

Jays hoping to lock up Wells

TORONTO -- Let the countdown begin. By the time the ball drops in New York's Times Square, the Blue Jays would like to be able to ring in the new year with Vernon Wells' signature on a new contract extension.

All right, maybe Toronto hasn't set Jan. 1 as the exact deadline for wrapping up negotiations with Wells. The Jays do feel, though, that a long-term deal with Wells should be agreed upon by late December or early January. Otherwise, Toronto would consider exploring trade options for the three-time Gold Glove Award-winner.

"We didn't discuss a drop-dead date on this, but that's probably a realistic timeframe," Blue Jays president and CEO Paul Godfrey said on Friday. "That's a very reasonable timeframe to find out if we can or if we can't.

"I've said right from the beginning that Vernon is our first order of business after free agency," he added. "Does that mean today? It may not mean exactly today, but we'd sure like to get Vernon done and put behind us so we can move on."

Wells, who has started his offseason workouts at his home in Texas, said that he has had no in-depth discussions with Toronto, yet. He didn't think that agreeing on a deal by the new year would pose a problem if the offer was what he deemed to be fair market value, though.

"I don't see why that wouldn't be realistic," said Wells, referring to the rough deadline. "If we're able to agree on things, it could be done as quickly as it gets started. It's just a matter of where both sides are and how quickly we can get to some sort of resolution."

In the wake of the Winter Meetings, which were disappointing for the Blue Jays, Toronto has shifted its focus toward Wells. The Jays still need to add at least one pitcher to their starting rotation, but the money Toronto saved when free-agent starters Ted Lilly and Gil Meche signed elsewhere could potentially help lock up Wells long term.

Lilly signed a four-year deal worth $40 million with the Cubs and Meche inked a five-year, $55 million contract with the Royals. Toronto offered four-year deals worth around $40 million to each starter. Wells is under contract for $5.6 million for 2007, but some of the money Toronto doesn't have dedicated to Lilly and Meche for the 2008-10 seasons could potentially be put towards the center fielder's extension.

"That's true," Godfrey said. "That's $30 million in years two, three and four that you can use on [Wells] going forward."

Time will tell if that really will be enough dough for Toronto to retain Wells, who hit .303 with 32 home runs and 106 RBIs last season. If he chose to test the free-agent market next offseason, Wells could possibly garner an annual salary as high as $20 million.

"I hope we can find a number that is fair market value for Vernon in respect to the number of years and number of dollars," Godfrey said. "J.P. and I, we're on the same wavelenghth. Our first preference is to try and make a deal with him."

So what if the two sides can't reach a deal by the "deadline" that Godfrey and Ricciardi have set? The Jays could possibly deal Wells.

Striking out on Lilly and Meche left a gaping hole in Toronto's rotation. Ricciardi said at the end of the Winter Meetings that he had some Plan B free agents he'd look into, but the Jays were also going to explore the trade market. In a perfect world, Toronto would find a way to add two starters, but acquiring one is more realistic.

"Any trade amongst Blue Jays does not necessarily have to involve Vernon Wells," said Godfrey, who added later that the board of directors for Rogers Communications was meeting in about a week to discuss Toronto's team payroll.

Wells' name will certainly be in plenty of trade rumors if negotiations on an extension carry over into January, though. For now, Toronto will explore trades involving other players.

"J.P. has told my people that they're wanting to get something done," Wells said. "They're still working with ownership and going over all the pitching things that need to be done. It's just a matter of after these Winter Meetings, talking a little bit more."

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