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Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Blue Jays: Barajas backed out after signing terms sheet

Associated Press

TORONTO -- Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said Wednesday that catcher Rod Barajas backed out of a deal with Toronto after signing a terms sheet with the team.

Making another move ahead of the winter meetings, Toronto agreed to a $1.5 million, one-year contract with shortstop Royce Clayton.

Ricciardi said Wednesday that he wanted to sign a shortstop and that he planned on having Aaron Hill play second base.

"He is a veteran presence that will strengthen us up the middle and in the clubhouse," Ricciardi said.

Clayton hit .258 with two homers and 40 RBIs for Washington and Cincinnati last season. His deal also would include performance bonuses.

After Barajas switched agents and his deal with Toronto came undone, Toronto agreed to a $7.25 million, two-year contract with Gregg Zaun on Tuesday.

Ricciardi said he's never experienced anything like it in his career. The Blue Jays planned on having Barajas and his family fly to Toronto for a news conference on Tuesday.

"If your word doesn't mean anything any more, and your signature don't mean anything, what kind of world do we live in," Ricciardi said. "It's all right. It worked out for the better. ... If he feels uncomfortable, we don't want him here. I was disappointed in the fact that the player would go back on his word and a new agent just came in and said we have no deal."

Barajas at first was represented by Gregg Clifton and Terry Bross, and he signed a letter of agreement for a $5.25 million, two-year contract that also included $500,000 in available performance bonuses over the two seasons.

Barajas then switched to Dan Lozano, who had represented Barajas previously. Ricciardi said Lozano wanted to reopen negotiations, but the Blue Jays wanted no part of it.

"The original two agents agreed, and they did a great job -- a super job," Ricciardi said. "Your word is supposed to mean something. What does that say to the agents you just did a deal with? You're going to get a new agent and start renegotiating?"

Clifton declined comment. Lozano denied Ricciardi's assertion about the negotiations.

"When I spoke to J.P., I was still in the information-gathering mode," Lozano said. "I never at that point said I wanted to reopen negotiations. I simply informed J.P. that I represented Rod Barajas again, and told him that I had to call the union to get the union involved. J.P.'s response to me was: `I'm calling the commissioner's office.'

"After gathering information from Rod Barajas, it is of my opinion that there were things that were not done properly. But I'm not going to comment on those. I don't think that J.P. has the right to judge Rod Barajas' character, since he has never spoken to Rod Barajas."

Zaun was thrilled to hear from Ricciardi. Zaun represented himself in negotiations with Toronto and allowed an agent to deal with other teams. The deal was agreed to in an hour after Ricciardi called and said Zaun had to make an immediate decision.

"I thought he called to tell me the deal with Barajas was done and we were not going to be working together any more, but I sure was pleasantly surprised," Zaun said. "I can't tell you how much I feel at home here. This is where my career turned around. I was kind of spinning my wheels as a major league player for a long time."

Zaun says he'll never represent himself again.

"This is always where I wanted to be, but it was tough. I think I'll give up the agent business that's for sure," he said. "I found out that these guys play rough in the deep end. I think I'll go back to being a baseball player."

Zaun signed with Toronto in 2004 after being released in spring training by Montreal. The 35-year-old played for seven different organizations and says he struggled with a drinking problem before coming to Toronto.

Zaun hit .272 with 12 home runs and 40 RBIs last season as the backup to Bengie Molina, whom Ricciardi is not interested in re-signing. Zaun said the New York Yankees were his second choice, but he preferred to start. San Francisco, San Diego, Colorado and Boston were also interested but couldn't guarantee a starting job.

Zaun's deal calls for salaries of $3.5 million next season and $3.75 million in 2008. The deal includes a $3.75 million option that would become guaranteed if he plays in 270 games during the next two seasons.

In addition, he would earn a $25,000 bonus for 525 appearances and $50,000 more for 550 plate appearances.

Free agent starter Gil Meche attended a Maple Leafs hockey game with Ricciardi on Tuesday night. Meche was shown on the video board -- "Future Blue Jay" was written beside his name. New Toronto designated hitter Frank Thomas and former Toronto pitcher Pat Hentgen talked to him as part of the recruitment.

Ricciardi reiterated that he wants to re-sign free agent left-hander Ted Lilly.

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AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum in New York contributed to this report.