Busy off-season for Jays

The Blue Jays took the interim tag off manager John Gibbons, and one wonders if he'll still be...

The Blue Jays took the interim tag off manager John Gibbons, and one wonders if he'll still be smiling next season. (Toronto Sun/Greg Henkenhaf)

MIKE RUTSEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

There was a time when Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi wouldn't contemplate trading his prospects or his rising stars.

Those times are over.

After a 67-94 season, the gloves are off.

"When you win 67 games no one's untouchable," Ricciardi said yesterday during his annual state of the union address. "But the chances of us trading someone like a (Roy) Halladay are unrealistic."

However, he added he'll listen to any and all offers in an effort to move the club forward.

And just what are his needs this off-season?

"I think we could use a starting pitcher, two or three guys in the 'pen and we could use two bats, if not three," he said. "How we go about getting all those is the challenge in front of us."

Among the other priorities Ricciardi listed was getting out of the gate quicker than the Jays have the past three seasons when their April records were just awful -- 8-16 in 2002, 10-18 in '03, 7-15 in '04.

"Spring training was a major concern last year (the team was flat for six weeks) and that's one of the things we addressed with the (new) coaching staff," he said. "We need to play our kids a little longer.

"We're going to be more aggressive in spring training and play the last seven to 10 games like it's the start of the season."

Ricciardi said their April 2005 schedule was "unbelievable" as the Jays play Boston, New York, Oakland, Texas and Tampa Bay, a team they struggle against.

"The positive side is if we come out over .500, conservatively if we could be a couple of games under .500, that would be survival at that point," he said.

"April's a big month."

In his address, Ricciardi touched on a number of issues.

Among them:

- He'll talk with Carlos Delgado and his agent within three weeks.

"I don't know if we can pay him money that's going to make him say: 'I really want to stay here.' "

- Frank Catalanotto is an option at first base if they can sign a slugging outfielder.

- Left fielder Gabe Gross will start next year at triple-A.

- Rookie catcher Guillermo Quiroz will start 2005 at triple-A and probably be joined there by Kevin Cash.

- Veteran catcher Greg Myers, who severely injured his left ankle on April 26 and never returned, may be back as a non-roster player.

- Justin Miller will have to "pitch his way on to the club."

- Rookie Russ Adams will be the everyday shortstop.

- David Bush will be in the rotation, while Gustavo Chacin and Brandon League have "good chances" to make the club.

- Third baseman Eric Hinske "has taken a step backward."

- The free agents or arbitration-eligible players he's interested in bringing back are utility infielder Frank Menechino, catcher Gregg Zaun and right-handed reliever Justin Speier. Shortstop Chris Gomez is a possibility, but Ricciardi may use the money (Gomez made $750,000 US) elsewhere.

- He'll know his budget, expected to be $50 million, by the World Series.


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