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Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Rios agrees to one-year deal with Blue Jays

Associated Press

TORONTO -- By agreeing to a new contract with outfielder Alex Rios, Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi used up all the money that was left in his offseason budget.

That doesn't mean Ricciardi has stopped working on a multiyear extension for Rios.

The Blue Jays and Rios avoided salary arbitration Tuesday by agreeing to a $4,835,000, one-year deal. The 26-year-old Rios batted .297 and set career highs with 24 home runs and 85 RBIs last season.

"We're still talking to him," Ricciardi said Tuesday night at the team's fourth annual State of the Franchise event. "It'll probably be something that continues through spring training. We're optimistic. It's something that he wants to do and something we'd like to do."

Ricciardi, who fielded questions from some 500 season-ticket holders, also said he expects closer B.J. Ryan, who had ligament replacement surgery on his left elbow last April, to be ready by the start of the season.

Ricciardi, who has signed free-agent shortstop David Eckstein and catcher Rod Barajas this winter, and traded for infielders Scott Rolen and Marco Scutaro, doesn't expect to sign any more players before pitchers and catchers report on Feb. 16.

"We don't have anymore money. We're done," Ricciardi said. "What we've got is what we've got. Someone would really, really have to be looking for a job and come to us on a minor league deal. I just don't see that happening right now."

The Blue Jays are also working on an extension for third-year infielder Aaron Hill, who set career highs with 17 home runs, 78 RBIs and 47 doubles in 2007.

Ricciardi said he'd prefer not to negotiate with either player beyond the end of spring training.

"I don't think it's fair to have the talks go through the season," he said. "We've got six weeks to try and hammer something out. Hopefully we'll be able to get something."

Rios gets a $3.5 million signing bonus and a salary of $1,335,000. He would make an additional $15,000 if he is selected for the All-Star game.

Rios had asked for $5.65 million and the Blue Jays countered at $4,535,000 when the sides exchanged arbitration figures last month. Rios is not eligible for free agency for another three years. He earned $2,535,000 last season.

An All-Star selection the past two seasons, Rios was Toronto's first-round pick in the 1999 amateur draft. He broke into the majors in 2004.

Toronto has not gone to arbitration with any player since Ricciardi became general manager before the 2002 season. The last Blue Jays player to go to arbitration was right-hander Bill Risley in 1997.

Ricciardi said Ryan, who signed a $47 million, five-year contract before the 2006 season, is ahead of schedule in his recovery from Tommy John surgery. Ryan reported no pain after throwing off a mound Tuesday for the third time since his surgery last May.

"All the medical people tell us they'll be very surprised if he doesn't start the season with us," Ricciardi said. "We'll know more once we get down [to spring training] and see how he responds to throwing on back-to-back days."

If Ryan is healthy, the Blue Jays will move right-hander Jeremy Accardo back to the setup role and give right-hander Casey Janssen a chance to crack the starting rotation. Right-hander Jesse Litsch and left-hander Gustavo Chacin will also audition for the fifth spot behind right-handers Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum.

"[Janssen] will get a chance to be a starter," Ricciardi predicted. "Him, Litsch and Chacin will fight for that fifth spot and whatever makes us a better team, we'll go with."