Blue Jays hope to re-sign Lilly

Blue Jays hope to re-sign Lilly

TORONTO -- General manager J.P. Ricciardi has repeatedly expressed that he is interested in re-signing Ted Lilly this offseason. Larry O'Brien, Lilly's agent, isn't so sure that Toronto will be able to accomplish that goal.

"With the clubs that we're talking to and the seriousness of conversations, we're going to have a four-year deal, and were going to be north of $34 million," O'Brien said on Wednesday night. "I don't know where that's going to end up, and I don't know if that's going to have J.P. go in a different direction.

"Ted loved his time in Toronto, but I don't know at the end of the day if J.P.'s going to be in that market."

O'Brien said that 14 teams have contacted him about potentially signing Lilly, and three have entered into what he described as "serious conversations." He added that the Cubs, Yankees and Giants were among those interested.

Ricciardi couldn't be reached for comment, but earlier this offseason he said that he was confident in Toronto's ability to compete with other offers. The Jays haven't officially announced what their 2007 payroll will be, but it's believed to be between $90 million and $95 million. That could give them around $22 million to spend this winter.

"We have a number that we feel comfortable that we would go after Ted with," Ricciardi said in October. "If someone comes out and just blows that number out of the water, we're not going to get involved. But I think we'll be competitive."

O'Brien likens Lilly's situation to that of Jarrod Washburn, who signed a four-year deal worth $37.5 million with Seattle last winter. Prior to that deal, Washburn went 29-31 from 2003 to 2005. Lilly posted a 37-34 record over the last three seasons with the Jays.

"When all the dust settles, we should be fairly close to that," O'Brien said, referring to Washburn's contract.

The Jays are in the market for one or two starters to slot behind Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett, who fill the top spots in Toronto's rotation. Lilly could still be that pitcher, but reports have also indicated that Toronto has contacted free agents Randy Wolf, Gil Meche and Vicente Padilla.

Last season, Lilly made 32 starts and went 15-13 with a 4.31 ERA and team-high 160 strikeouts. Padilla, who went 15-10 with a 4.50 ERA last year, is reportedly seeking a four-year deal worth around $40 million. If Padilla signs for that amount, it could push Lilly's asking price even higher.

"We haven't really encouraged any formal offers because I don't want to get ahead of ourselves," said O'Brien, who added that he didn't believe Lilly would reach a deal before the Winter Meetings in December.

"Maybe some guys are going to sign, and that could give us a better indication [of what type of contract Lilly could get]," O'Brien said. "Ted really wants to see how the clubs are going to fill out their lineups."

Lilly's 15 wins in 2006 were a career high, but O'Brien doesn't think the 30-year-old left-hander has reached his potential. He said that pitching in the National League, as opposed to the American League, could be an intriguing possibility. O'Brien said more than one team from the NL West has expressed interest in Lilly.

"We definitely think that Ted can be a very efficient No. 2 guy," O'Brien said. "Pitching in the National League maybe. He's been pitching in the American League East in a park that's not a great pitcher's park, and he's held his own."

Though money is obviously an important part of a new contract for Lilly, O'Brien said that the lefty's top priority is joining a team that could be in contention for a playoff spot. Lilly's only playoff experience came in 2002 and 2003, when he was with the A's.

A playoff run is one of Toronto's goals in 2007, and that's something Lilly and O'Brien are keeping in mind.

"I'm going to give J.P. pretty much where I think the market is right now," O'Brien said. "Toronto is a club that Ted is very comfortable with. He likes the guys. He respects J.P., and he's fine with [manager John] Gibbons. Ted could go back there if it's the right situation."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.