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Notes: Ricciardi eyeing Clement

Notes: Ricciardi eyeing Clement

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays plan on searching through the bargain bin for some pitching depth this offseason. One hurler who Toronto has already expressed interest in is free agent Matt Clement, who is returning from a major shoulder injury.

On Sunday, Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi acknowledged that the club had already been in contact with Clement's representatives. Toronto probably won't be in the hunt for the top available free agents this offseason, but the Jays are willing to take a chance on less expensive solutions such as Clement.

"We've always liked Matt, and we've had some conversations with his agent," Ricciardi said. "I think it depends on what Matt's looking for at this point, what he thinks is going to help his career to get back to where it once was."

Clement, 33, hasn't started a game in the big leagues since June 14, 2006, but there's a chance he'll be ready to return to the mound this season. In September 2006, renowned arm specialist Dr. James Andrews performed arthroscopic surgery on Clement's right shoulder, repairing the pitcher's rotator cuff and labrum.

Typically, a pitcher needs roughly a year to recover from such an operation. This past September, when the Blue Jays were in Boston, Clement took the mound at Fenway Park and threw a simulated game for the Red Sox. The Jays would likely take a shot on Clement if the pitcher agreed to a Minor League contract with a chance at competing for a job with the Jays.

"We're willing to get involved with certain guys like that, but not at the point where it's financially a bigger risk for us," Ricciardi noted.

Over nine big league seasons, Clement has won 10 or more games five times, and he logged at least 169 innings from 1999-2005. He was limited to just 12 starts in '06, but the righty went 13-6 with a 4.57 ERA in 32 starts with Boston in 2005.

As things currently stand, Toronto's rotation includes Roy Halladay, A.J. Burnett, Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum, with Jesse Litsch leading the pack for the fifth spot. Casey Janssen and Gustavo Chacin, along with any potential free-agent additions, will likely challenge Litsch for the No. 5 job this spring.

So far, so good: Ricciardi said that he's been in frequent contact with Toronto's medical staff, keeping tabs on the various players who are recovering from injuries this offseason. So far, all the ailing Jays are expected to be ready to go by Spring Training.

Hot Stove
"Right now, everyone's doing well and feeling well," Ricciardi said. "There's been no setbacks, and there's been nothing to make anyone say, 'Hey, we can't run these guys.' So we're very optimistic going into Spring Training right now."

Center fielder Vernon Wells (left shoulder), third baseman Troy Glaus (left foot), first baseman Lyle Overbay (right hand), closer B.J. Ryan (left elbow), left fielder Reed Johnson (back) and Chacin (left shoulder) are all rehabbing from surgeries. Ricciardi said all signs indicate that Ryan, who had elbow ligament replacement surgery in May, will be ready for the season.

"Right now, all indications are that [Ryan] is going to be ready," Ricciardi said. "I think we'll prepare for the worst-case scenario -- that he won't be ready -- just so we can be ready from that end. But everything the trainers tell me, everything he's been doing, he's pretty much on pace to be able to participate in Spring Training."

Leading off: The Blue Jays appear set to open the 2008 season with Johnson back as their primary leadoff hitter. Johnson struggled in his recovery from a back injury last year, but Toronto is ready to give him another opportunity to be the table setter.

"We see Reed as the leadoff guy, for the most part," Ricciardi said. "If we can add to it, we will, but I don't see us at this point having a chance to do something to upgrade. Probably, what you see is what you get right now."

One free agent the Blue Jays discussed was Kenny Lofton, who helped spark the Indians in their run to the American League Championship Series last season. While Toronto floated the idea of pursuing Lofton this offseason, Ricciardi said the club has decided to stick with Johnson, who led AL leadoff hitters with a .390 on-base percentage in 2006.

"We talked about Kenny Lofton," Ricciardi said. "But I think from a financial standpoint, where we're at, we'd probably like to allocate our money more toward building up as much depth as we possibly can in the way of pitching.

"We like our lineup, and we like some of the things that we were able to do. Obviously, we don't have the ideal leadoff guy, but if we can get Reed of two years ago, we have a pretty good leadoff guy. That's probably what we're looking at."

Fasano, Jays talking: Ricciardi said that the Blue Jays have been in contact with free-agent catcher Sal Fasano about potentially bringing him back as Toronto's backup to Gregg Zaun. The Jays' search for a No. 2 catcher may continue through the Winter Meetings, which take place from Dec. 3-6 in Nashville, Tenn.

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

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