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Jays make progress, but no deals

Blue Jays make progress, but no deals

LAS VEGAS -- For the Toronto Blue Jays, these Winter Meetings were about coming to grips with reality, but still entertaining possibilities. The club is trying to upgrade its roster, while understanding that the coming season will include its share of difficulties.

It's going to be an uphill battle for the cash-strapped Jays in the American League East, with the Yankees' aggressive spending spree this winter and the emergence of the Rays as a legitimate playoff contender. Toronto is already looking ahead to 2010, considering the current state of its roster.

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Down a pair of injured starters, and likely to lose free-agent righty A.J. Burnett to another club, the Blue Jays are on the verge of a youth movement on the mound this year. Toronto is attempting to reel in free-agent shortstop Rafael Furcal to aid the offense, but a limited budget could make that task hard to complete.

"We're just trying to see if we can make the best out of what we have," Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said.

One consequence of Toronto's recent downturn could be the loss of ace Roy Halladay two years from now. Halladay is under contract through 2010 and there has been little talk about extending the pitcher's deal this winter. Ricciardi said he might try to gain approval from team president and CEO Paul Beeston to address that issue come Spring Training.

If the Blue Jays' future looks bleak, it could be more challenging to convince Halladay to agree to another long-term deal, especially when he would be coveted on the open market.

"We'll see him in Spring Training and any questions he's got, we'll answer," Ricciardi said. "I don't think we're going backwards. We've still got a good club, and we've got a good club going forward."

Ricciardi said trying to trade Halladay in an effort to rebuild isn't being considered.

"Doc has two years left on his deal," Ricciardi said. "So he's not going anywhere for two years. After that, who knows? But I think right now, he's committed to the next two years, as we all are. There's plenty of time to talk about going forward from there.

"We're not trading Roy Halladay."

For the time being, Toronto doesn't have much spending money to work with. The team currently has roughly $70 million tied up in 11 contracts for 2009, and the payroll will likely be somewhere around $85 million, or possibly even lower. A weakened Canadian dollar and a decrease in team sponsorship have restricted the Jays financially.

Even so, Ricciardi said he has ownership's approval for re-signing Burnett -- an unlikely scenario at this stage -- or for adding Furcal, who is reportedly seeking a four-year contract. Toronto would need to free up some payroll in order to sign the shortstop, though Ricciardi was told this week that he can sign Furcal first, if the opportunity arises.

"That was probably more of a change during the week," Ricciardi said. "Probably more so that in order to do what we want to do, we have to get the player. There's only a certain time period that you have to deal with the player. So we'll see."

For now, Ricciardi is optimistic about the Jays' chances of acquiring Furcal.

"I think we're in there," Ricciardi said. "But we've been through free agency before. You never know until you get the player. Right now, we'll just keep going like we're in there."

The Jays wouldn't require subsequent moves in order to re-sign Burnett, but Ricciardi has all but conceded his team's chances of accomplishing that goal. Burnett, who won 18 games for the Jays last season, has multiple offers on the table, including a five-year contract proposal from the deep-pocketed Yankees.

Toronto isn't willing to give Burnett a five-year deal, and the club probably isn't able to match the money being offered by the Yankees or Braves. With Dustin McGowan (right shoulder) out until May and Shaun Marcum (right elbow) gone until 2010, Toronto plans on looking internally to fill the gaps in its rotation.

"It's probably more likely that we're not going to keep Burnett," Ricciardi said. "They haven't called us and said, 'Hey, it's totally over,' but we're pretty much leaning that way."

Ricciardi has noted that the Jays will scour the trade market for pitching help, but he said no real progress was made in that regard in Vegas. Toronto is also considering taking a gamble with some reclamation projects. The team has already agreed to a contract with right-hander Matt Clement and has had talks with the agent for free-agent righty Carl Pavano.

As the offseason shifts into January and Spring Training approaches, Ricciardi said the Jays will continue to see what options are left on the free-agent market.

"We're still aggressive," he said. "We've just got to try to be creative."

Deals done: The Jays didn't complete any deals, but they made progress with a handful of players. Toronto remains in the running for Furcal, reached an agreement on a Minor League deal with Clement, and held talks with Pavano and free-agent catcher Michael Barrett.

Rule 5 activity: The Jays had no activity during the Major League portion of the Draft. Toronto did select right-hander David Shinskie (Twins) and outfielder Cody Haerther (Cardinals), and lost infielders Anthony Hatch (Dodgers) and Ryan Klosterman (Marlins) during the Triple-A phase.

Goals accomplished: The Blue Jays weren't able to scratch any goals off their offseason checklist in Las Vegas. Instead, Toronto held a number of meetings with a variety of players at the Bellagio in an effort to boost its offense and starting rotation.

Unfinished business: Toronto still has a handful of irons in the fire and will continue to wait to see what players are still available through January and into Spring Training. The Jays are hoping to add Furcal and are still in the market for pitching and a backup catcher.

GM's bottom line: "We think we have a good club. Obviously, we've got some challenges in front of us, but we think we've got a really good club in 2010." -- Ricciardi

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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{"content":["winter_meetings" ] }
{"content":["winter_meetings" ] }