Blue Jays not waiting on Burnett
Club isn't willing to hand right-hander another five-year deal
LAS VEGAS -- The Bellagio is an expansive hotel, but it might be telling that Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi has yet to cross paths with A.J. Burnett's agent two days into these Winter Meetings.
"I haven't even seen him," said Ricciardi, who then glanced to his left and right, as if half expecting to finally spot Darek Braunecker.
Braunecker has been around, holding court with reporters in the casino and dropping in on a few of Burnett's half-dozen suitors to discuss the pitcher's future. The agent maintains that Toronto is still in the mix, but the club is operating under the assumption that Burnett won't be returning north of the border.
That's the only stance that the Jays can afford to take at the moment. Toronto doesn't want to fall short in achieving some of its offseason tasks by playing the waiting game with Burnett. The club is trying to figure out a way to make a serious run at free-agent shortstop Rafael Furcal and intends on scouring the trade market for pitching help.
At some point this week, Braunecker does intend to meet with Ricciardi, but the dialogue between the two sides has definitely decreased over the last month.
"We've always left it where he knows what he has here in Toronto," Ricciardi said. "For us to keep talking to him, what could we tell him? He knows about Toronto more than any of the other teams that he's going to go to.
"He knows we're interested and we've advised him to go listen to what the other teams have to say, and we're here. He's probably still going through that process right now. He knows if he wants to come back and talk to us, we're here."
When Braunecker does eventually sit down with the Blue Jays, he won't be receiving any five-year contract proposals. On Tuesday, Ricciardi noted that Toronto isn't willing to offer Burnett a five-year pact of any kind, even ruling out a four-year contract that includes an option for a fifth season.
"We're not going to go to five years," Ricciardi said. "Maybe if some team does that, that would eliminate us. He may find that he has five years somewhere else and he may not even have to come back to us, knowing that we won't go to five years."
Braunecker said Ricciardi's latest comments don't necessarily take the Blue Jays out of the running to sign the hard-throwing right-hander.
"I'm not going to say that eliminates them or anybody else," Braunecker said. "What I will tell you is, as I've maintained for the last two weeks, if he wants five years, he's getting five years."
Also on Tuesday, Braunecker noted that Burnett doesn't need to wait for free-agent starters CC Sabathia or Derek Lowe to sign somewhere before making a decision of his own. Even so, the agent said it was "unlikely" that Burnett will pen his name on a new contract during these Meetings.
Toronto originally signed Burnett to a five-year, $55 million deal prior to the 2006 season, but the pitcher was 28 years old at the time. Burnett, who opted out of his contract in order to test the free-agent market this offseason, has a history of injury (10 trips to the disabled list in 10 seasons) and turns 32 in January.
"We did a five-year deal last time," Ricciardi said. "But he was under 30 years old."
Beyond the Blue Jays, Burnett also has suitors in the Braves, Yankees, Red Sox, Orioles and at least one unidentified team, according to Braunecker. Last season, Burnett won a career-high 18 games for Toronto and led the American League with 231 strikeouts.
"We knew there was going to be a demand for a premium arm," Braunecker said. "He put it together. He's ready to take that last step in his career and become the anchor of a staff, whether it's back in Toronto alongside Roy [Halladay] or with one of these other handful of clubs we're talking to."
If Burnett does sign elsewhere, Toronto would probably look for rotation help through trades, or Ricciardi said the club might wait to see what free agents are available come January. The Jays will also consider some reclamation projects such as free agent Carl Pavano, whose agent met with Toronto on Monday.
The Jays don't have an excess of cash to spend this winter and will have to use trades to free up payroll in order to add a high-profile free agent such as Furcal. That's not the case with Burnett, though. Ricciardi said he has president and CEO Paul Beeston's approval for re-signing the pitcher without needing any subsequent moves.
"One thing that Paul Beeston has told us is that he's the guy we can keep," said Ricciardi, referring to Burnett. "So if he wants to stay, we've got the resources to carry that."
Adding Furcal would take more creativity on Ricciardi's part.
Ricciardi has met with Furcal's agent, Paul Kinzer, at the Winter Meetings and believes there is mutual interest. The negotiation process is still in an information-gathering stage, though, especially considering some of Toronto's payroll would have to be moved in order to sign the shortstop.
"We talked to them and it was really more exploratory," Ricciardi said. "We just wanted to find out if there was interest in us and find out maybe what he's looking for, really. But for us to do anything, we're going to have to be really creative, as far as getting rid of some things from a monetary standpoint to bring a guy like that on."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.