Ricciardi has another deal on table

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:28 AM ET

In November 2001, J.P. Ricciardi returned to home base in Worcester, Mass., after being named general manager of the Blue Jays.

Greeted by more than 300 phone messages, Ricciardi said he felt like Tom Hanks in the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan.

"Things were going on all around me," Ricciardi said. "I thought if I could ever get off the beach I'd be fine."

Off the beach, Ricciardi has found his own Ryan. This one is named Robert Victor and nicknamed B. J. And he's here to save games.

When B.J. Ryan was introduced yesterday at Rogers headquarters, no one mentioned Ryan's rank, but with a five-year, $47-million US deal, Ryan can call himself whatever he wants.

The Jays outbid the the Cleveland Indians and New York Yankees for Ryan's services -- much like in 1996 when then-president Paul Beeston brought Roger Clemens to town, giving him a three-year, $24.75-million deal.

And now Ricciardi is looking for another high-ranking officer/free-agent, making a five-year, $55-million offer to outfielder Brian Giles. The 34-year-old left-handed hitter batted .301 this season with 15 homers and 83 RBIs in 158 games for the San Diego Padres.

Ryan, meanwhile, has been on the job for just one full season, saving 36 of 41 attempts for the Baltimore Orioles. Now he has a five-year deal.

Sound familiar?

Third baseman Eric Hinske did a bang-up job for one year to become the American League rookie of the year in 2002 and is entering Year 4 of a five-year deal.

Hinske has been injured for one year and had two off-par years, but he no longer plays third base, no longer plays first base and goes into next season as a platoon designated hitter against right-handers.

Ryan was drafted in the 17th round of the 1998 draft by Cincinnati Reds scout Johnny Almaraz from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns.

The next year at the trade deadline, Reds GM Jim Bowden sent Jacobo Sequea and Ryan to the O's for ex-Jay Juan Guzman.

"Bowden was stuck at the time, he didn't have the money to make a deal, he was trying to make a run at winning it," said Frank Wren, then the Baltimore GM and now an executive with the Atlanta Braves. "We paid a good portion of Guzman's salary and as a result we got a better player in return."

That player was Ryan.

"We had real good reports on Ryan," Wren added. "At the time Sequea might have had the better arm -- he was (throwing) 95 miles per hour -- but he still isn't in the majors. Ryan had a quick, funky delivery and hides the ball well."

Within five weeks of the trade, Ryan was with the Orioles, working two innings in a 15-7 loss to the Cleveland Indians on Sept. 5 at Camden Yards. He allowed four runs in his debut, a two-inning stint, and just two more in his next 12 games, as he went 1-0, with a 2.95 earned-run average in 18 1/3 innings -- 12 walks, 28 strikeouts -- in 13 games.

"As a September callup, we expected him to be in awe, he wasn't," Wren said.

"You could see his heart was pounding, but he pitched like he belonged."

In fact, as the Jays wooed and pursued starter A.J. Burnett and Ryan, most GMs we spoke to chose Ryan as the best bet for expected return on the dollar, although few figured he would be given the largest contract a reliever has ever received -- although ace closer Billy Wagner and the New York Mets reached a preliminary agreement yesterday on a $43-million, four-year contract.

Pat Rooney and John Courtright, who represented Ryan, set the bar with their skilled negotiations. Not that Courtright is a behind-the-scenes background guy, but he wasn't in the Rogers atrium, choosing to watch through the glass of the video store next door.

"When we were (in Toronto) earlier for our 36-hour visit, J.P. sold B.J. on where this team is and where it could go if B.J. signed," said Courtright, of Ann Arbor, Mich., who has represented Ryan since the lefty was at double-A Chattanooga. "It was not a sales pitch. He signed here because of J.P."

Courtright was a lefty at Duke (and joked that he played the wrong sport at Basketball U) before pitching in the Reds system for seven years and blowing out his elbow at Chattanooga. How did he hook up with Ryan, a 17th-round draft choice?

"I had a lot of friends in the organization, but I can't say for sure who suggested we get together," Courtright said. "I'll probably hear from three people claiming it was their idea by the Christmas holidays."

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GETTING BANG FOR THEIR BUCK

How Blue Jays players have performed after getting a fat contract:

- JACK MORRIS (1992) Player salary: $5 million Team salary: $49.4 million Pct. of team salary: 10.12% Contributions: Became the Jays' first 20-game winner.

- ROGER CLEMENS (1997) Player salary: $8.25 million Team salary: $45.8 million Pct. of team salary: 18% Contributions: Won two Cy Young awards and 41 games.

- CARLOS DELGADO (2003) Player salary: $17 million Team salary: $51.3 million Pct. of team salary: 33% Contributions: Collected 74 HRs and 244 RBIs in two seasons before being dealt.

- ROY HALLADAY (2005) Player salary: $10.5 million Team salary: $45.7 million Pct. of team salary: 22.9% Contributions: Was headed to another 20-win season before getting injured.

- B.J. RYAN (2006) Player salary: $9.4 million Team salary: $70-75 million Pct. of team salary: 13.4-12.3% Expectations: A repeat of 36-save season.

(Dollar amount based on average annual amount of contract.)


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