Burnett's fastball stays alive in Toronto

Burnett's heater earns Jays the win

TORONTO -- Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi apparently wants to put an end to all the A.J. Burnett trade rumors. So, while Ricciardi admits that Toronto is willing to field offers for its players, he's ready to render Burnett off-limits.

"He's not going anywhere," Ricciardi said emphatically on Monday. "That's not going to change."

Ricciardi's comments came just a few hours before Burnett spun another gem for the Blue Jays, handcuffing the Tampa Bay Rays for seven innings en route to a 3-1 victory for Toronto at Rogers Centre. It was the type of performance that would undoubtedly be attractive to contending clubs in search of pitching help.

With three days remaining before Thursday's non-waiver Trade Deadline, Ricciardi might still receive inquiries about Burnett's potential availability. The Blue Jays GM said he's open to entertain talks about plenty of his players, but Burnett no longer is among those up for grabs.

"We're open to doing anything, if it's the right situation," Ricciardi said. "But we haven't been presented with that, and A.J. has been doing a great job for us."

Following the game, in which Burnett struck out 10 and allowed a solitary unearned run, the pitcher learned about Ricciardi's remarks. Knowing that he's staying in Toronto forced a small grin from Burnett, who has been more than aware of the numerous trade rumors swirling in the past few weeks.

"That makes me take a deep breath," Burnett said. "That definitely makes me happy. I'm really not trying to pay attention to it a lot. I realize my name has been thrown out there for a while, but I've been focused on this team."

Up to this point, Ricciardi said he's fielded calls about a handful of Toronto players, but the talks have been limited to the initial question-asking stage. Ricciardi added that no discussions have come close to establishing framework for any potential swaps, though the GM anticipates talks to heat up as the deadline continues to near.

"He's not going anywhere. That's not going to change."
-- J.P. Ricciardi

"As people find out that 'X' amount of things aren't available," Ricciardi said, "they may come to us. We'll see. That doesn't mean we're going to do anything. ... We're not going to dismantle our club in any way shape or form, because it's a good club.

"We're trying to keep this thing together, so we can have a good run here and be good the next few years, too."

It's a situation that has the Blue Jays (54-52) stuck somewhere between being considered buyers or sellers as this season's deadline looms. Toronto has no plans for breaking up the core of its roster unless the club were to receive something substantial in return.

"If we sell, we're selling to get something back," Ricciardi said. "So, we're both [buyers and sellers], really. Whatever we sell, it's got to help us going forward. As far as buying, there are a couple things we would buy. I don't know if they're available, though."

In light of Burnett's recent run on the mound, some teams might be upset to learn that he's now unavailable as well. With the victory over the Rays, Burnett improved to 3-1 with a 1.32 ERA over his past four starts, during which he's compiled 31 strikeouts and eight walks over 27 1/3 innings.

Burnett offered up his own theory for his success of late.

"I've felt deep down in that this is where I want to stay," he said. "I have a good relationship with everybody here and I kind of felt that way, that I wasn't going anywhere. Maybe that's the reason I'm pitching the way I'm pitching."

The lone run that Tampa Bay (61-44) managed against Burnett came in the third inning, when the Rays capitalized on a throwing error by the pitcher with an RBI groundout from Carlos Pena. Toronto designated hitter Matt Stairs later erased Tampa Bay's effort with one swing.

In the fifth inning, Stairs belted the first pitch he saw from Rays righty James Shields (9-7) deep to straightaway center field for a two-run home run that put Toronto ahead for good, 2-1. With one out in the eighth, second baseman Joe Inglett ended Shields' night with a run-scoring triple.

Blue Jays closer B.J. Ryan held the Rays in check in the ninth to pick up his 20th save, sealing the victory for Burnett in the process. Burnett's record improved to 12-9 on the year, matching the pitcher's personal high for wins in a single season -- a feat he accomplished with the Marlins in 2002 and 2005.

Burnett may get the chance to add to that win total as a member of the Jays down the stretch this season, but it remains an open question whether or not he'll be back in a Toronto uniform come 2009. At the end of this season, Burnett has the ability to opt out of the five-year, $55 million deal he inked with the Jays three winters ago.

"I'm happy to hear that [he's not going to be traded]," Jays manager Cito Gaston said. "I would be really happy if he was in Spring Training with us next year, too. That certainly is going to be his choice. That's his choice -- not our choice."

Burnett wasn't willing to discuss that forthcoming decision.

"I've got another start in five days -- that's my start, and I'm a Blue Jay," Burnett said. "I'm going to start for this team in five days and try to get us go on this postseason run. That's my focus right now."

If Burnett does opt out of his contract, the Jays would likely receive two first-round Draft picks as compensation. Should he elect to remain with Toronto, Burnett is scheduled to make $12 million in each of the next two seasons.

The Jays could also explore restructuring Burnett's contract -- possibly increasing his salary over the next two years or extending the length of the deal -- to potentially convince the pitcher to stay with the club.

Ricciardi wouldn't delve into that topic.

"I think it's premature at this point," Ricciardi said. "That's something you have to get ownership on board with. Right now, we're comfortable the way the situation is."

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