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Ricciardi working on Jays’ future

The theme song from "The Godfather" rang out of Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi’s cell phone Tuesday afternoon at the Bellagio as he held court with reporters during Day 2 of the baseball winter meetings.

The familiar tune may have reminded the 49-year-old Ricciardi that no other team has made an offer that prized free-agent pitcher A.J. Burnett couldn’t refuse — leaving open a "50-50" chance that he could return to Toronto next season.

Despite reports to the contrary, Ricciardi also said there have been no offers for Blue Jays closer B.J. Ryan.

"We hear some of the rumors, but nobody has actually called us up and asked us if we’ll move him," Ricciardi said. "We’d listen, but I don’t think we’d be inclined to do it, because I think we’ve got a good club … and to have that closer in the back end is pretty important.

"(The offer) would have to be something to really knock us over."

Toronto, which is in the running for free-agent shortstop Rafael Furcal, and Las Vegas didn’t knock anybody over during this year’s Triple-A shuffle, leaving the two far-flung franchises no choice but to join forces for the next two years.

While Ricciardi said "we’re excited" about the partnership as he stood in the swanky Bellagio, he has yet to take a tour of aging Cashman Field — an ancient edifice by modern professional baseball standards that was the primary reason the Los Angeles Dodgers parted ways with Las Vegas after eight years here.

"I haven’t seen it in a long time. But I know one thing, it’s going to be warm every day so they can play," Ricciardi said. "It’s going to be an adjustment for our pitchers, because obviously (the Pacific Coast League) is a hitter’s league."

Despite that fact, Ricciardi said the 51s "should have some pretty good pitching," led by top prospects and left-handers Brett Cecil, Brad Mills and Ricky Romero, along with J.P. Arencibia, "our catcher of the future," and second baseman Scott Campbell, a prospect from New Zealand.

As for where Toronto’s major league rehabilitation assignments will take place, Ricciardi said that depends.

"There may be some situations where we’re on the other half of the Mississippi (River) and a guy needs a start or two, it may be best to go to (Double-A Manchester, N.H.), which is closer to Toronto," he said. "If we were on this side of the Mississippi and someone was going to join us on the West Coast, we’d be more inclined to send him to Las Vegas."

On the major league front, Ricciardi said he met with Furcal’s representatives in Las Vegas, but added his pursuit of the infielder is "probably still in the early stages."

"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," he said. "If we could move some pieces, scrape and claw and come up with the right thing, we might be a player for him."

Toronto had a team-record $97 million payroll last season, when they went 86-76 and finished fourth in the vaunted American League East.

But the Blue Jays, who recently laid off some off-field employees, since have entered a state of financial flux, due to the dire economy and the recent death of billionaire owner Ted Rogers.

"(The economy) has definitely had an effect on us," said Ricciardi, a disciple of Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane. "We’ve just got to be, hopefully, smarter and a little wiser with how we use our money and how we move it around."

Ricciardi, who said he’s looking to add another bat to the Blue Jays’ lineup and more experience to their pitching staff, has the blessing of Toronto interim team president Paul Beeston to keep Burnett, who opted out of a five-year, $55 million deal with the Jays after the third year.

But if the right-hander — who, ironically, is looking for a five-year contract — signs elsewhere, Ricciardi said he’s not sure he’ll be able to use the money on other players.

"Right now we’ve got the money for (Burnett)," he said. "But if he doesn’t come back, we’ve got to be a little creative how we do things.

"We’re not going to go to five years, so maybe if some team does, that would eliminate us."

 

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